For Rosine official mourning is over and sorrow gone. For me — only turmoil. Read this and help me — please help me
MY REASON for recording all this is not clear to me, except that in a frantic, hopeless way, I am looking for help. This problem has too long been mine alone and there is nothing more I can do with it.
I have never been as alone as I am now, living from day to night sleepless and defeated, incapable of the smallest decision.
My thoughts are overwhelmed by despair.
Even my anguish is chaotic, molded into an indescribable, patternless, malignant horror.
My lucid moments are few. Consider this while I have the courage to tell it and then help me. If you think you can.
I am an only child. My mother died at my birth. I never missed her. I had no reason to; my father was enough.
Though I had governesses in early life I have difficulty recalling them, but all my earliest memories include my father. He was always “Harry” to me and he was ageless. I don’t know if I can make you understand what his friendship meant to me, but it was my entire life.
My father and I were bound by an association completely independent of blood relationship and social obligation. We were perfect companions and confidants, complete friends, a perfect team both socially and at sport. Our personalities were one and our’ existences mutually interdependent. It is this relationship that has been destroyed, this loss for which I shall never be able to compensate.
Harry was a successful corporation lawyer. Our home was seven miles from the centre of town and was built several generations ago. At one time we had horses and we rode daily, Harry and I. We had two tennis courts and they are still there—but now have overgrown with weeds. Maggie is still with us, but will probably be leaving soon. Maggie came on with my mother and stayed on after I was born. I wonder what she thinks of all this. She doesn’t speak much any more.
Perhaps everything would have been different if I had realized as early as Harry did how abnormal our association was. When I became 17, and he 39, he began to slow up and encourage me to seek friendship other than his own. He was concerned at first with his loss of pace and joked that I should turn to classmates who could equal my distance at hiking or swimming; but I was content to adjust my own speed to his. We were swimming back from the island one day when he tired and I helped him in.
“I used to make it both ways with you on my back, George,” he said. “Pretty soon you’ll have to pull me in a boat!” We both laughed at the time, but I think that’s where everything started to change. He began to get little pains in his chest after a long game and it worried him. He would never play for any good length of time.
“No, you go alone,” he would say. “I’ll be along later. Call Henry and Jim and I’ll come later,” or “Sorry, George, I’m not up to it.” “George, I want you to have some girl friends and arrange some dates. You can have the car anytime you want. You’re almost 18!”
I had some friends. I tried. I liked them and enjoyed being with them and more might have come of it if it hadn’t been for Rosine. Harry
started bringing her home with him after work; we would all eat together and then they would go out. It was great fun. For them.
I admit I was jealous of Rosine’s friendship and bitter about her monopoly of Harry. I distrusted her; I disliked her. I looked for gossip about her; I found it, I hated her.
Of course I was right about her and Harry was wrong. Look how things turned out.
All he could see was that I was spoiled and unreasonable. There was no use arguing.
Riding, for instance. The first time we went, she got scratched, the saddle hurt, the sun was in her eyes, her hat blew off, the horse was jumpy. We never went riding again.
For swimming, the water was always too cold or her hair just set.
Tennis: “Play with George, Harry, and I’ll
watch. No, of course not, I don’t mind!” And there she’d sit, filing her nails, or distracting Harry with questions about the evening’s entertainment. It was great fun. Like bleeding.
THE FIRST time I met her, I didn’t know she was Harry’s secretary. Gradually I got the story, some from Maggie, some from school, some from Dr. Mackett, my father’s physician.
She was a girl who had married young, had become divorced with a financial settlement, then because of the bankruptcy of her former husband her income was discontinued and she was forced to work.
Harry had met her at the office of a client and subsequently took her over as his own secretary. She liked her new job. After a while she even stopped trying to arrange a new financial settlement with her ex-husband.
Rosine was tall and slim and blond and always smiling. I guess Harry was pretty susceptible. At any rate, it didn’t take her long to tie him into a knot and to untie me. Her plans were well beyond mine and, although I watched my home and security collapsing about me, I was powerless to prevent it. I guess there are a few things you just can’t fight against.
I left just before they were married, enrolling in the university and leaving home a week before the freshman year began, just to miss the wedding. There were words, of course, mostly Harry’s and Maggie’s. Dr. Mackett was called in and had a few, too. He didn’t actually come out and say he
thought I was mentally ill, but he left little doubt that he thought Freud was busy someplace nearby.
“The best thing for you, George, is to go away —develop your own life and your own friends independently. Live by yourself and think things out. It’s the best thing for him, Harry.” Sure, why didn’t I go to a nice college? Why didn’t I take a nice flying jump in the lake? Why didn’t I develop a nice tropical disease like sprue?
So I went. After a while you know that you’re licked. I didn’t say any good-bys at the station. I didn’t even look at Rosine.
I started to learn to live by myself and to think by myself. I learned to blow smoke rings. I learned to sleep four hours a night. I studied some and I faked some. My courses were light and my average was poor. For a while, I liked chemistry and I thought of majoring in it. With encouragement, I might have, but I never got around to getting encouraged. My adviser didn’t like me enough to care what I did and Harry didn’t know.
I never saw him again until he was in his coffin.
During the summer vacation I went to Mexico. Harry and Rosine wanted me to come to Burrow and they wrote that they were driving down for me. They promised great things for the summer: sport and relaxation. A point of tennis here, or a hole of golf there. On a good day, we might even go wading.
Charlie Chandler and I bought a secondhand car and drove away a day before they arrived. I left a note for them and a bottle of Scotch as a present for their coming anniversary. Harry never drank and didn’t know that I did, but Rosine liked a few —a few more than Harry ever suspected. The gift amused me because I knew it would hurt Harry. I knew Rosine would see to it that it wasn’t, wasted.
Considering our weakly inspired efforts toward the pursuit of pleasure, I guess we had a fair time in Mexico. We wrecked the car and spent a night at the local jail and Charlie had to wire back for more cash. We managed to keep away all summer and came back finally by plane to the university. Here’s the explosion. I’ve still got the letter!
This will be a shock to you, I know, and I regret that you must receive the news in this way. Your father died this morning after a two-week illness. We tried to reach you when he first became ill, but you had already left the hotel in Mexico and Dr. Mackett said he was improving, so we let things ride at that time. He did very well for a while, but early this morning he had a relapse and Dr. Mackett could do nothing to save him. He did not suffer. If you getthis within a few days, please come immediately. The funeral will be delayed until you arrive.
I sat at my window with my coat on, the letter in my hand, my eyes sightless, dry and painful. My head ached; I was nauseated; I could feel strong pulses in my brain
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and throat and abdomen. My door was opened once, but I don’t know who looked in, who hesitated, who left silently. Then the room was dark, the letter was on the floor; and there was a numb, amputated feeling in my chest. I had no plans, but there was no doubt as to what I had to do. 1 took up my suitcase, full of soiled clothes not yet unpacked and left for the station.
No one I knew was at the station. I took a cab to the Turk Funeral Home, where I knew he would be. Mr. Turk let me in and then left me alone with Henry. He looked fine. But he was dead. I guess 1 cried, because his hand was wet in the morning when Mr. Turk made me let go and leave.
Rosine walked with me to the library. It was cold, for September, and a fire was burning. Rosine was stylish in her black mourning clothes, with simple jewelry here and there. Her eyes showed no evidence of recent tears. My hate for her must have been palpable, but she ignored it. We had our first conversation since she had become my stepmother.
She said: “George, please let me
I said: “Thanks.”
She said: “George, sit down—rest
for a moment.”
I said: “No, thanks.”
She said: “You must be hungry. Let me call Maggie to fix you something while you bathe.”
I said: “No, thanks,” and went up to my room.
We had some more big conversations like that later on.
It was a large, simple but dignified funeral. Mr. Turk had all his cars shining and all his suits pressed and everything went like a well-planned show. The routine things were said; the routine tears were shed; and Harry went to rest next to my mother in the family vault.
With Rosine I guess death was a distant personal thought at that
moment. Black suited her very well and she knew it. She was watching Harry being pushed into his niche and probably thinking: “There he goes,
forever, and all I have left is my youth, and beauty, and the house, and the cars, and my furs, and my jewels, and thousands of new dollar bills . . .” Sad day.
AFTER t he ceremony we sat in the living room, silently, looking at one another. Maggie brought two glasses on a tray and Rosine took one; I refused the other. Rosine smiled and said: “Go ahead, George. It’s sherry.” I felt my face flush and I accepted the drink. Maggie* left.
We sipped for a while. 1 lit a cigarette. I didn’t ask her if she wanted one, although she probably did. After a while sht* sighed tragically and broke the silence. We* had another big conversation.
“What are we going to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“Aren’t you going back to university?”
A pause. Then: “Harry would have wanted you to.”
End of big conversation.
We tric*d an encore* on tin* sipping and sighing routine.
“Isn’t there anything you want to ask?”
“No—no—nothing at all,” I said. Nothing, except.: How did my father
die? Why did he* die? Where* were you when he* “went bad”? Did you kill him and how? No there were no questions. Just a fe*w doubts that were occupying all my thoughts, night and day; just a fear and a dre*ad of the truth behind my fathe*r’s death; an overwhelming need for this truth.
She knew I wanted to ask these t hings and she was waiting.
“No,” I said and, exhausted by the conversation, went out.
In the morning I had a headache; I took two Aspirins, a Benzedrine, had a cigarette for breakfast and left the house before Rosine got up.
Dr. Mackett’s waiting room was full and I had no appointment, but I con-
vinced his secretary that I wouldn't be more than ten minutes and she let me in after a short wait. I think he was really glad to see me again, but a little undecided. He didn’t ask how I was or anything about school. I guess he was afraid to. I said:
“Tell me about Harry’s illness, Dr. Mackett. I want to know just what happened.”
“I’m afraid there isn’t much to tell, George; it’s just as you must have already heard. He had a heart attack, coronary thrombosis, and they’re usually more serious in younger individuals. A piece of the heart muscle dies because the blood supplying it is suddenly stopped and the patient has to rest very quietly until it’s all healed up.” “Are you sure that’s what it was?” “There’s no doubt. My electrocardiograms proved it.”
“But why did he die?” I asked him. “While the dead muscle is healing a dozen unfortunate things may happen. And some of them can’t be avoided.” “What do you mean?” I wanted to know. “What are these things?”
“Well, if the patient doesn’t get his absolute rest, the amount of heart muscle involved may increase, the heart can rupture, he can go into heart failure. Nobody knows exactly why some of these patients die, but they do. It’s an extremely serious condition.” “But he was doing so well—what could have happened?”
He was beginning to get annoyed. “That’s impossible to guess—so many things could have happened, it’s unimportant just which one it was! We did everything to prevent it, but medical care can do so much and no more! He was on morphine and oxygen for several days, he had private nurses night and day, we gave him stimulants, we adjusted his diet. Sure, he was doing well at the beginning, but that means nothing!”
A few kind words, a little advice. As far as he was concerned, there was nothing unusua', no suspicion. Everybody dies at 42.
His secretary gave me the name of the private nurse who was on duty at the time Harry died and I went to see her after lunch. She was asleep because she had taken another case and was still working the midnight to 8.00 a.m. shift, but she was only too willing to get up and talk. She was about 43 or 45, plain, and she wore no wedding ring. Harry had been a good patient and she had been fond of him. She had been very upset by his death.
Harry had been doing well when she had left him the day before his death. His only visitors had been Rosine and Maggie. He had had his usual sleeping pill (prescribed by the doctor and kept in the medicine cabinet in the adjoining bath) and was asleep when she came on duty for the last time.
About 12.30 a.m. he had awakened complaining of pains in his chest and abdomen and shortness of breath. She had taken his temperature (normal), and his pulse, which was rapid and thready, and had called the doctor.
He had arrived in twenty-five minutes, by which time Harry had vomited twice. The oxygen, which was still available at the bedside, was started again and the morphine series reordered. In spite of this, however, he had lapsed into coma and died about 9.15 in the morning. It was difficult to elicit information without motivating suspicion, but as far as was obvious nothing unusual had been noticed.
“Dr. Mackett is a very cautious man. Your mother suggested discontinuing the evening and night nurses, but Dr. Mackett wouldn’t hear of it!” she said.
“Was she there when he died?” I asked.
“I awakened her just before I called the doctor and she stayed with him until he died. I must say she behaved very well at a most difficult time. She was quiet and stayed out of the way while Dr. Mackett and I were busy and she caused no fuss at all. I think she realized he was going when she first saw him and after he went there were no hysterics. She just went back to her room by herself. I didn’t see her again before I left and I never had a chance to offer my sympathies.”
“I’m sure she realized how you felt and appreciated everything you did,” I told her. “Did you get to see much of her while he was sick?”
“Well, of course I didn’t on the 12 to 8 shift, but the other girls saw her quite a bit. She and Maggie would sometimes sit in while the girls went down to eat, or sometimes she came up and helped your father with his own meals. She was very patient and helpful.” Florence Nightingale. FlorenceMata - Hari - Cleopatra - Jack - the -Ripper Nightingale!
A DAY passed without my leaving the house. Rosine got up early and left, presumably on some business at Harry’s office. I took the opportunity to stay in and look around. I went through Harry’s room, with Maggie interrupting frequently, and selected a few pictures and personal items I wanted to keep.
There were a good many things I knew were missing and Maggie hadn’t removed them, so Rosine must have been through the room and supervised the cleaning. There were no medicines in the cabinet. The shades were drawn and the room had the appearance of being unused, impersonal, made up and awaiting tenants.
Rosine’s door was locked, which I thought was curious. I could have gotten in through the window, but not without a fuss from Maggie, so 1 let it ride.
1 was up early the next morning and had come into the dining room before 1 realized that Rosine was already there. She was at the far end of the table, in a blue housecoat, her hair in a turban, smoking a cigarette with her coffee. I sat down, she said hello, I answered. Maggie brought me some toast and tried to talk me into some eggs, without success, and Rosine poured out some coffee and passed it down. We sat for a while, admiring my smoke rings. Then we got conversational again.
“What did you do yesterday?” she wanted to know.
“Any plans for today?”
“No,” I said, after a pause.
“I cleared up a lot of details at the office yesterday, but there’s still a lot to be done and I think you’d better join on some of it. It concerns you and your signature is required on a few forms. Will you come with me?”
She went upstairs, came down in about an hour, dressed to the teeth in green, with yellow gloves the color of her hair. She smiled at me without humor, knowing my thoughts and being amused. Mourning was officially over. Sorrow was officially gone, for Rosine at least.
IN THE afternoon I drove back alone, leaving Rosine to catch the late train. On the highway I stopped at a roadhouse, where the cocktail-hour crowd ignored a hyperthyroid pianist ■banging out “Tea For Two” with more speed than skill.
I felt lost and without purpose, like a neurotic rat following the aimless pathways in the psychologist’s maze or a hunter turning circles in a dark, friendless forest. Although still anxious to uncover the truth behind this tragedy
which had consumed my entire existence, I could see no prospect for clearing the doubt, dispelling the fear. I had become so intensively centred upon conflict and turmoil that I suddenly felt a complete exhaustion, a need for flight.
I drove with new purpose back to the house. I felt that I had achieved direction for the first time in weeks, even though my decision was to leave immediately. Specific plans were unimportant; 1 had to leave. I should never have gone back, of course, I should have fled as soon as I had decided.
The sky was black when I returned, though it was not yet evening, and rain threatened momentarily. The house appeared larger and darker as I approached it, solid and ominous, with enough granite to fortify Belgium. Winds began to rise suddenly and whip about corners with mocking, laughing noises. An evil, mammoth force had arranged the set and I walked right in.
Maggie was at the door, asking if I wanted supper. I told her I had eaten. She asked if Rosine would be back soon and I was surprised to hear that she was not yet back. As I passed her door I tried it and found it unlocked. I stepped in and turned on the lights.
THE ROOM had been changed completely, from a pleasant guest room to a colorful, perfumed boudoir, personally and distastefully Rosine’s. Even had I been invited in, I am sure I would have felt its resentment. There were many ash trays: by the phone, by the bed, on a sink in the bathroom, on the dressing table.
The medicine cabinet contained highball glasses and spoons, a bottle of bitters, a dried piece of lime. Cosmetics of all types were everywhere: false lashes, false nails, paints and powders, shampoos, soaps shaped like everything but soap.
There were no pictures, no letters in any of the drawers. The jewelry must also have been well-hidden, because 1 could not find any. The closets were full of clothes, a few black items, but mostly bright and dressy.
On the floor of the closet was a row of bottles, mostly unopened, a few partially empty and one completely empty. 1 had this last one in my hand and was looking at it when she spoke: behind me.
“It’s a good brand, George. Too bad there’s none left.”
I felt panic and fear, knowing the moment had come. I wanted to escape before she could say more; I wanted to leave her to her wealth, to free her of all traffic with me, if only she would say no more and let me go. But I stood there, holding the bottle, wishing I would die, knowing there was no longer any doubt. I heard her close the door, light a match, sit on the bed.
“Put down that bottle and sit down. We’ve got some talking to do.”
I put it down in the closet and turned around. She wasn’t smiling. I think she actually pitied me—like a broken dog she was about to kill. Nothing existed for me in the room hut her eyes, which stared into mine.
“You’ve wanted to know for a long lime, haven’t you, George? Do you know now, George, or shall I tell you?” I couldn’t speak.
“I don’t think I would have hated you if you hadn’t hated me, George. You weren’t important enough. I was fond of your father, but you both had yourselves so tightly sewed up that no one else could get into the ball game. Even after we were married, I couldn’t break in. You took care of that, too, George. You knew he would never be happy until you came back.
You knew this marriage couldn’t last if it broke you two up permanently; you thought you could break it up sooner or later. You were pretty smart, George.”
hear of an individual is difficult to endure and hate is painful and demoralizing, but fear and hato and naked, uncovered shame are intolerable. Had 1 seen pity in her eyes? There was none now; her words were sharp with venom.
"You almost won, George, but you didn’t know it ! You didn’t realize that if you had come home t his summer you would have seen that, it was me or you; hut you didn't come! You bought a car and went to Mexico and you left me a nice bottle of Scotch! Hard-togot , prewar Scotch ! With the wrapping cracked and a pin point piercing the cork !"
Didn't she know she had won and she had everything she wanted, I was no longer in her way? She went on.
"Yes, George, I fully appreciated your gift and I saved it. 1 wondered for a while, and then, one day, I found out. 1 was acting under doctor’s orders. Dr. Mackett said that alcohol was good for your father when he had the heart attack and he told him to start using some. We started him on wine first, sherry, then a highball. And then he started to improve and you were on your way hack from Mexico and I was on my way out. 1 gave him a drink of your Scotch. It didn't work for hours, George, and 1 t hought I had been wrong. What was in it, George? Was it one of your chemical mixtures? Is t hat why you got your best grades in chemistry, George?"
I That was it. Then 1 knew. 'There [ was no more' doubt. She stood up j abruptly.
i "Good-by. George.’’
That was last night.
I have' been in mV room ever since and e've'n Maggie has given up bringing up trays and trying to call me*. I gue'ss she' has geme* for Dr. Murkett again.
1 lere l remain in this house, my tomb.
I have ne> eh'sire te> continue to live, hut I am afraid to die, for l could ne>t face Harry. Help me, please lie'lp me. Read this and he*lp me, if you can see a way ... ★