Celebrated (part nineteen)
This third day of Tom’s visit, they sat on the studio futon, a cat between them, Gingerpie; a stack of typewritten sheets, and the manuscript’s tattered manila envelope, under the cat.
It was her own topic, The Lost Man, and it mattered—
To the extent that she found herself chasing this insistently. From yesterday, when she’d brought up Ian.
She knew the book, and all its notes, and the letters back and forth—the ones Ian had initialed below the name of a copy editor she had never met—were in the trunk where relics lived. Petra had let herself pretend she needed to think. “Oh, let me see what I’ve done with it.”
Shyness, a student’s fear of a teacher’s criticism. Of course Tom was a teacher.
“So Hector gets himself out of a jam, but…I was wondering, anyway…he does meet Dorrie? She must factor in the plot. What about the money? How’s Hector deal with that?”
“Well, it’s not so hard. At the hotel they know him…they know respectable Harold Carter. So far everything has been, ‘No, no, sir, don’t trouble yourself…’ Poor Harold is a sufferer, it’s almost an honor to have the job of looking after him. But Hector sees it’s getting time to move on, that waiting on people wears thin. Dorrie’s letter comes with a check in it for fifty dollars. Cow must be daft, Hector says to himself. How she thinks a piddling sum’ll go for paying off Carter’s mate…! They let him cash the check at the reception desk. But he knows fifty won’t do, not even for settling the bill. Then something crops up…”
She looked at Tom. “Because I think you’re thinking the story gets a little meandery…”
“If you don’t mind.” The mental notes she’d watched cross his face popped out at once. “The art shop scene… Comic relief is better after the tension has been at least partly resolved. I just, myself, as a reader, would wonder here if he’s going to wander around the city having character moments…”
“When does the story develop a plot, you want to say. No…Hector has been at the station looking at maps, hoping serendipity will speak some message in the name of a town, White Plains, New Rochelle, Perth Amboy… He’s lost in thought…he needs to write Harold’s thank you to Dorrie…is he ready to pull it off? On any pretext, though, can he get more money out of her? In the lobby of his hotel, the desk clerk comes running—Mr. Carter! Harold’s father has written him.”
“I know, Dorrie. I’m not going to tell you that now. And not because I never quite worked their relationship out. Although, it’s really the crux, if you like…what I wanted, what Ian wanted. But I need to explain how the book ends.”
What Harold had wanted, and what Hector wanted, were two things as well.
June 1, 1912
I hear from Dorrie you are at the Empire Hotel! If this letter finds you, I should take it as proof of a kind, maybe. She thinks you are down in spirits, but you have got somehow in contact with that friend of yours. You would rather not come home, and I don’t mind saying I would rather not have you at home. But I don’t say I would close the door against you, if the story were only that. I don’t inquire after your health, since I may never hear back from you, but I will offer the hope that you are recovering. Dorrie has sent you money, from her shopping. Don’t bother her again. If you are staying there alone now, though what you think you’ll do to pay the bill, I hardly know, then if it suits you, I may stop, when I go up to New York. If you find employment, you may write and tell me.
June 3, 1912, 3.00 p.m. A nice touch, Hector thought. The old man be pleased Harold had sat himself down to answer soonest. Dear Father. You needn’t worry, as to…
The friend ought to have a name. Dorrie…Hector shuffled out hers from the growing stack of correspondence…Dorrie called Harold Pish. He saw nothing helpful in it, as to what a man who could earn himself such a nickname might call his bosom chum.
But, say, John… No. Say just the initial. You needn’t worry, as to J.
Hector grinned. Room there.
I was not, after all, well befriended, as the saying goes. (If one did, by any chance.) I am quite my old self again, and I thank you for asking to know. The cost of things is a concern, as I am not set up stateside in my old line of trade. I would be sorry to be in arrears, but I have fallen on this hotel arrangement by charity.
Hector studied the words of Mr. Carter again, for any other avenue of endearment worth the pursuit. Father, I have already written Dorrie with my gratitude, this very morning. The shopping bit I hadn’t known. Be assured, I will make my own way, as I am able.
“Making the long story short, Hector was…I read that to you…an orphan. He had never met his father, never had a fatherly figure in his life…”
“No. Not the priests at the orphanage. And bear in mind, Hector is an uncaring father himself…he has never seen it done right. He begins the letters back and forth with Mr. Carter, calculating, angling to apologize to Harold’s father. For getting into debt. For making bad friendships, for not appreciating what his cousin tries to do for him. He doesn’t, because he doesn’t have an ear for the filial, understand what he’s setting in motion, pushing himself towards Carter, promising a reconciliation…with a man who has lived in the hope of it, more than Hector can know. Despite the years he and his son haven’t spoken.”
(2019, Stephanie Foster)