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F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

Esquire (February 1937)


'Let--go--that--Oh-h-h!  Please, now, will you?  DON'T start
drinking again!  Come on--give me the bottle.  I told you I'd stay
awake givin' it to you.  Come on.  If you do like that a-way--then
what are you going to be like when you go home.  Come on--leave it
with me--I'll leave half in the bottle.  Pul-lease.  You know what
Dr Carter says--I'll stay awake and give it to you, or else fix
some of it in the bottle--come on--like I told you, I'm too tired
to be fightin' you all night. . . .  All right, drink your fool
self to death.'

'Would you like some beer?' he asked.

'No, I don't want any beer.  Oh, to think that I have to look at
you drunk again.  My God!'

'Then I'll drink the Coca Cola.'

The girl sat down panting on the bed.

'Don't you believe in anything?' she demanded.

'Nothing you believe in--please--it'll spill.'

She had no business there, she thought, no business trying to help
him.  Again they struggled, but after this time he sat with his
head in his hands awhile, before he turned around once more.

'Once more you try to get it I'll throw it down,' she said quickly.
'I will--on the tiles in the bathroom.'

'Then I'll step on the broken glass--or you'll step on it.'

'Then let go--oh you promised--'

Suddenly she dropped it like a torpedo, sliding underneath her hand
and slithering with a flash of red and black and the words: SIR
GALAHAD, DISTILLED LOUISVILLE GIN.  He took it by the neck and
tossed it through the open door to the bathroom.

It was on the floor in pieces and everything was silent for a while
and she read Gone With the Wind about things so lovely that had
happened long ago.  She began to worry that he would have to go
into the bathroom and might cut his feet, and looked up from time
to time to see if he would go in.  She was very sleepy--the last
time she looked up he was crying and he looked like an old Jewish
man she had nursed once in California; he had had to go to the
bathroom many times.  On this case she was unhappy all the time but
she thought:

'I guess if I hadn't liked him I wouldn't have stayed on the case.'

With a sudden resurgence of conscience she got up and put a chair
in front of the bathroom door.  She had wanted to sleep because he
had got her up early that morning to get a paper with the story of
the Yale-Dartmouth game in it and she hadn't been home all day.
That afternoon a relative of his had come to see him and she had
waited outside in the hall where there was a draught with no
sweater to put over her uniform.

As well as she could she arranged him for sleeping, put a robe over
his shoulders as he sat slumped over his writing table, and one on
his knees.  She sat down in the rocker but she was no longer
sleepy; there was plenty to enter on the chart and treading lightly
about she found a pencil and put it down:

Pulse 120

Respiration 25

Temp.  98--98.4--98.2


--She could make so many:

Tried to get bottle of gin.  Threw it away and broke it.

She corrected it to read:

In the struggle it dropped and was broken.  Patient was generally

She started to add as part of her report: I never want to go on an
alcoholic case again, but that wasn't in the picture.  She knew she
could wake herself at seven and clean up everything before his
niece awakened.  It was all part of the game.  But when she sat
down in the chair she looked at his face, white and exhausted, and
counted his breathing again, wondering why it had all happened.  He
had been so nice today, drawn her a whole strip of his cartoon just
for fun and given it to her.  She was going to have it framed and
hang it in her room.  She felt again his thin wrists wrestling
against her wrist and remembered the awful things he had said, and
she thought too of what the doctor had said to him yesterday:

'You're too good a man to do this to yourself.'

She was tired and didn't want to clean up the glass on the bathroom
floor, because as soon as he breathed evenly she wanted to get him
over to the bed.  But she decided finally to clean up the glass
first; on her knees, searching a last piece of it, she thought:

--This isn't what I ought to be doing.  And this isn't what HE
ought to be doing.

Resentfully she stood up and regarded him.  Through the thin
delicate profile of his nose came a light snore, sighing, remote,
inconsolable.  The doctor had shaken his head in a certain way, and
she knew that really it was a case that was beyond her.  Besides,
on her card at the agency was written, on the advice of her elders,
'No Alcoholics'.

She had done her whole duty, but all she could think of was that
when she was struggling about the room with him with that gin
bottle there had been a pause when he asked her if she had hurt her
elbow against a door and that she had answered:  'You don't know
how people talk about you, no matter how you think of yourself--'
when she knew he had a long time ceased to care about such things.

The glass was all collected--as she got out a broom to make sure,
she realized that the glass, in its fragments, was less than a
window through which they had seen each other for a moment.  He did
not know about her sister, and Bill Markoe whom she had almost
married, and she did not know what had brought him to this pitch,
when there was a picture on his bureau of his young wife and his
two sons and him, all trim and handsome as he must have been five
years ago.  It was so utterly senseless--as she put a bandage on
her finger where she had cut it while picking up the glass she made
up her mind she would never take an alcoholic case again.


It was early the next evening.  Some Halloween jokester had split
the side windows of the bus and she shifted back to the Negro
section in the rear for fear the glass might fall out.  She had her
patient's cheque but no way to cash it at this hour; there was a
quarter and a penny in her purse.

Two nurses she knew were waiting in the hall of Mrs Hixson's

'What kind of case have you been on?'

'Alcoholic,' she said.

'Oh, yes--Gretta Hawks told me about it--you were on with that
cartoonist who lives at the Forest Park Inn.'

'Yes, I was.'

'I hear he's pretty fresh.'

'He's never done anything to bother me,' she lied.  'You can't
treat them as if they were committed--'

'Oh, don't get bothered--I just heard that around town--oh, you
know--they want you to play around with them--'

'Oh, be quiet,' she said, surprised at her own rising resentment.

In a moment Mrs Hixson came out and, asking the other two to wait,
signalled her into the office.

'I don't like to put young girls on such cases,' she began.  'I got
your call from the hotel.'

'Oh, it wasn't bad, Mrs Hixson.  He didn't know what he was doing
and he didn't hurt me in any way.  I was thinking much more of my
reputation with you.  He was really nice all day yesterday.  He
drew me--'

'I didn't want to send you on that case.'  Mrs Hixson thumbed
through the registration cards.  'You take T.B. cases, don't you?
Yes, I see you do.  Now here's one--'

The phone rang in a continuous chime.  The nurse listened as Mrs
Hixson's voice said precisely:

'I will do what I can--that is simply up to the doctor . . .  That
is beyond my jurisdiction . . .  Oh, hello, Hattie, no, I can't
now.  Look, have you got any nurse that's good with alcoholics?
There's somebody up at the Forest Park Inn who needs somebody.
Call back will you?'

She put down the receiver.  'Suppose you wait outside.  What sort
of man is this, anyhow?  Did he act indecently?'

'He held my hand away,' she said, 'so I couldn't give him an

'Oh, an invalid he-man,' Mrs Hixson grumbled.  'They belong in
sanatoria.  I've got a case coming along in two minutes that you
can get a little rest on.  It's an old woman--'

The phone rang again.  'Oh, hello, Hattie. . . .  Well, how about
that big Svensen girl?  She ought to be able to take care of any
alcoholic. . . .  How about Josephine Markham?  Doesn't she live in
your apartment house? . . .  Get her to the phone.'  Then after a
moment, 'Joe, would you care to take the case of a well-known
cartoonist, or artist, whatever they call themselves, at Forest
Park Inn? . . .  No, I don't know, but Dr Carter is in charge and
will be around about ten o'clock.'

There was a long pause; from time to time Mrs Hixson spoke:

'I see . . .  Of course, I understand your point of view.  Yes, but
this isn't supposed to be dangerous--just a little difficult.  I
never like to send girls to a hotel because I know what riff-raff
you're liable to run into. . . .  No, I'll find somebody.  Even at
this hour.  Never mind and thanks.  Tell Hattie I hope that the hat
matches the négligé. . . .'

Mrs Hixson hung up the receiver and made notations on the pad
before her.  She was a very efficient woman.  She had been a nurse
and had gone through the worst of it, had been a proud, idealistic,
overworked probationer, suffered the abuse of smart internees and
the insolence of her first patients, who thought that she was
something to be taken into camp immediately for premature
commitment to the service of old age.  She swung around suddenly
from the desk.

'What kind of cases do you want?  I told you I have a nice old

The nurse's brown eyes were alight with a mixture of thoughts--the
movie she had just seen about Pasteur and the book they had all
read about Florence Nightingale when they were student nurses.  And
their pride, swinging across the streets in the cold weather at
Philadelphia General, as proud of their new capes as débutantes in
their furs going into balls at the hotels.

'I--I think I would like to try the case again,' she said amid a
cacophony of telephone bells.  'I'd just as soon go back if you
can't find anybody else.'

'But one minute you say you'll never go on an alcoholic case again
and the next minute you say you want to go back to one.'

'I think I overestimated how difficult it was.  Really, I think I
could help him.'

'That's up to you.  But if he tried to grab your wrists.'

'But he couldn't,' the nurse said.  'Look at my wrists: I played
basketball at Waynesboro High for two years.  I'm quite able to
take care of him.'

Mrs Hixson looked at her for a long minute.  'Well, all right,' she
said.  'But just remember that nothing they say when they're drunk
is what they mean when they're sober--I've been all through that;
arrange with one of the servants that you can call on him, because
you never can tell--some alcoholics are pleasant and some of them
are not, but all of them can be rotten.'

'I'll remember,' the nurse said.

It was an oddly clear night when she went out, with slanting
particles of thin sleet making white of a blue-black sky.  The bus
was the same that had taken her into town, but there seemed to be
more windows broken now and the bus driver was irritated and talked
about what terrible things he would do if he caught any kids.  She
knew he was just talking about the annoyance in general, just as
she had been thinking about the annoyance of an alcoholic.  When
she came up to the suite and found him all helpless and distraught
she would despise him and be sorry for him.

Getting off the bus, she went down the long steps to the hotel,
feeling a little exalted by the chill in the air.  She was going to
take care of him because nobody else would, and because the best
people of her profession had been interested in taking care of the
cases that nobody else wanted.

She knocked at his study door, knowing just what she was going to

He answered it himself.  He was in dinner clothes even to a derby
hat--but minus his studs and tie.

'Oh, hello,' he said casually.  'Glad you're back.  I woke up a
while ago and decided I'd go out.  Did you get a night nurse?'

'I'm the night nurse too,' she said.  'I decided to stay on twenty-
four-hour duty.'

He broke into a genial, indifferent smile.

'I saw you were gone, but something told me you'd come back.
Please find my studs.  They ought to be either in a little
tortoiseshell box or--'

He shook himself a little more into his clothes, and hoisted the
cuffs up inside his coat sleeves.

'I thought you had quit me,' he said casually.

'I thought I had, too.'

'If you look on that table,' he said, 'you'll find a whole strip of
cartoons that I drew you.'

'Who are you going to see?' she asked.

'It's the President's secretary,' he said.  'I had an awful time
trying to get ready.  I was about to give up when you came in.
Will you order me some sherry?'

'One glass,' she agreed wearily.

From the bathroom he called presently:

'Oh, Nurse, Nurse, Light of my Life, where is another stud?'

'I'll put it in.'

In the bathroom she saw the pallor and the fever on his face and
smelled the mixed peppermint and gin on his breath.

'You'll come up soon?' she asked.  'Dr Carter's coming at ten.'

'What nonsense!  You're coming down with me.'

'Me?' she exclaimed.  'In a sweater and skirt?  Imagine!'

'Then I won't go.'

'All right then, go to bed.  That's where you belong anyhow.  Can't
you see these people tomorrow?'

'No, of course not!'

She went behind him and reaching over his shoulder tied his tie--
his shirt was already thumbed out of press where he had put in the
studs, and she suggested:

'Won't you put on another one, if you've got to meet some people
you like?'

'All right, but I want to do it myself.'

'Why can't you let me help you?' she demanded in exasperation.
'Why can't you let me help you with your clothes?  What's a nurse
for--what good am I doing?'

He sat down suddenly on the toilet seat.

'All right--go on.'

'Now don't grab my wrist,' she said, and then, 'Excuse me.'

'Don't worry.  It didn't hurt.  You'll see in a minute.'

She had the coat, vest, and stiff shirt off him but before she
could pull his undershirt over his head he dragged at his
cigarette, delaying her.

'Now watch this,' he said.  'One--two--three.'

She pulled up the undershirt; simultaneously he thrust the crimson-
grey point of the cigarette like a dagger against his heart.  It
crushed out against a copper plate on his left rib about the size
of a silver dollar, and he said 'Ouch!' as a stray spark fluttered
down against his stomach.

Now was the time to be hard-boiled, she thought.  She knew there
were three medals from the war in his jewel box, but she had risked
many things herself: tuberculosis among them and one time something
worse, though she had not known it and had never quite forgiven the
doctor for not telling her.

'You've had a hard time with that, I guess,' she said lightly as
she sponged him.  'Won't it ever heal?'

'Never.  That's a copper plate.'

'Well, it's no excuse for what you're doing to yourself.'

He bent his great brown eyes on her, shrewd--aloof, confused.  He
signalled to her, in one second, his Will to Die, and for all her
training and experience she knew she could never do anything
constructive with him.  He stood up, steadying himself on the wash-
basin and fixing his eyes on some place just ahead.

'Now, if I'm going to stay here you're not going to get at that
liquor,' she said.

Suddenly she knew he wasn't looking for that.  He was looking at
the corner where he had thrown the bottle the night before.  She
stared at his handsome face, weak and defiant--afraid to turn even
half-way because she knew that death was in that corner where he
was looking.  She knew death--she had heard it, smelt its
unmistakable odour, but she had never seen it before it entered
into anyone, and she knew this man saw it in the corner of his
bathroom; that it was standing there looking at him while he spat
from a feeble cough and rubbed the result into the braid of his
trousers.  It shone there crackling for a moment as evidence of the
last gesture he ever made.

She tried to express it next day to Mrs Hixson:

'It's not like anything you can beat--no matter how hard you try.
This one could have twisted my wrists until he strained them and
that wouldn't matter so much to me.  It's just that you can't
really help them and it's so discouraging--it's all for nothing.'

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