A BRIGHT NOON-DAY sun shone through the window of my sitting room. I sat at the typewriter. Scott, comfortable in slacks, slippers, and a sweater over his shirt, paced up and down, dictating. It was a letter to Scottie from me, informing her that for Christmas I was sending her my fox-fur jacket and an evening dress. I knew Scottie, now in her junior year, could make good use of them. I felt a pang at giving up my jacket—but I wanted to please her. I had said to Scott, “I don’t want her to think I’m patronizing her or sending cast-off clothes— will you tell me just what to write?” I wrote as he dictated:
December 21, 1940 Dear Scottie:
I bought this dress to go to Dallas for The Westerner. The winter is slipping away and because of natural unpopularity, I find no reason to use it. So there it sat in my closet, losing style week after week. I mentioned this to your father and he told me that you burned up dresses at the rate of one a month and suggested that instead of selling it down the river, I contribute it to the conflagration. The coat also seems to have been waiting in my closet for the victory celebration and I don’t think now we will win before 1943. By that time it will be unusual for English people to wear furs. Why don’t you send your father a picture of how you look now, or he won’t be able to recognize you when you meet again. I hope you have a very happy Christmas and everything you want in the New Year.
P. S. Your father has not been well, but he’s getting better now. He hasn’t had a drink for over a year.
Scott had awakened only a little before, having slept well. I brought him coffee as he sat up in bed, making notes for a new chapter. Then, restless, he had gotten up and dressed.xDr. Wilson was to come after lunch.
Frances dropped in, bringing Scott’s mail, which still went to his apartment. There were a few bills, several advertisements, and the current issue of The Princeton Alumni Weekly. I gave Frances my dress and jacket which she promised to pack and mail. She left.
It was a little after two o’clock.
I prepared sandwiches and coffee for lunch while Scott glanced through the newspapers. I heard an exclamation. He began to read aloud: Germany, Italy, and Japan had signed a mutual-aid pact. He shook his head as he read. Though he was contemptuous of Mussolini, he respected Japan as a fighting power. This would force the United States into the war. Sooner or later we would be in it. If his book was a success, he went on, he would like to go to Europe and write about the war. And with a rueful smile, “Ernest won’t have that field all to himself, then.” Hemingway had written brilliantly about the Spanish Civil War: now he was sending special dispatches from Europe. And after the war, Scott was saying—if The Last Tycoon was a hit—I would give up my job, we would both live in the East and travel a great deal. He would care for me. Once before he had said, “If ever I get out of this mess, I’U make it up to you, SheUo—”
After lunch he was restless. He went mto the kitchen and I heard him moving around, opening cupboards. Then he reappeared. “I’m going to Schwab’s to get some ice cream,” he said.
“But you might miss the doctor—if it’s something sweet you want, I’ve got some Hershey bars.”
“Good enough,” he said. “They’ll be fine.” I brought him two chocolate bars from the box I kept by my bedside table. He picked up The Princeton Alumni Weekly, sank into his green armchair next to the fireplace, and began reading. As he read, he munched on the chocolate. I picked up one of my music books, curled up on the settee, and began reading about Beethoven.
Every Uttle while we looked up and exchanged smiles. I noticed that Scott, with one of his stubby pencils, was making notes on the margin of an article about the Princeton football team. Again our eyes met: he grinned as he deUberately licked the chocolate from his fingers and bent down to his magazine again. I turned back to my book.
I saw, out of the comer of my eye—as you see something when you are not looking directly at it—I saw him suddenly start up out of his chair, clutch the mantelpiece and, without a sound, fall to the floor. He lay flat on his back, his eyes closed, breathing heavily.
When he stood up so unexpectedly I thought, oh, he’s stretching. When he fell I thought, oh, he’s stumbled. And then: he’s fainted!
In the split second of that realization, as I sat there, willing myself to rise, yet not able, there was a choking, gasping sound in his throat.
Then I was up, and kneeling on the floor beside him, saying, “Scott—Scott—”
My mind whirled with thoughts. He’s fainted. What do you do when someone faints? You pour brandy down his throat. But Scott’s not been drinking—won’t the taste of brandy start him off again? In the movies they loosen the collar—yes, that’s sensible. That’s harmless. I loosened his collar.
I was on my knees, looking at him. I thought, this faint has lasted a long time. His body seemed to heave gently. I ought to do something. I’ll call Dr. Wilson. No, he’ll be here any minute. No, I must call him, I can’t wait. What doctor will I call? No, the brandy. It must be brandy, right away.
I clambered to my feet and rushed into the dinette and found the brandy bottle and poured some into a glass and rushed back and poured some into his mouth. His teeth were clenched. 1 poured the brandy between his clenched teeth. It spilled over on his face and ran down his chin and neck. I felt embarrassed. This was sacrilege —it was taking advantage of Scott. He wasn’t there to wipe it off. I wiped it off with my hand.
I found myself at the telephone, calling Dr. Wilson. There was no answer. I ran my finger down the list of doctors and called one. “Someone’s very ill—he’s unconscious—can you come right over?”
Then I rushed out of the apartment and pounded on the door of Harry Culver, the manager of the building. “Come quickly—Mr. Fitzgerald has fainted and it’s lasted so long, I’m getting frightened.”
Mr. Culver was at my heels as I ran back. He knelt beside Scott and felt for his pulse. He looked up at me. “I’m afraid he’s dead.”
I thought, oxygen. I was at the telephone calling the fire department. Then the police. The door opened and Pat Duff, my secretary, entered. Then everything became confused. It seemed that I was still at the telephone when the apartment was full of people and soft voices and firemen with a Pulmotor were working over Scott and I heard myself saying again and again, “Hurry up, please, hurry up, please save him.” Unexpectedly Buff Cobb was holding me close to her, the firemen were gone, and a white sheet covered Scott’s body. I became hysterical. “Take that away, he won’t be able to breathe, he’ll suffocate, please, please!” Buff was leading me into another room. “You’ll stay with us tonight,” she was saying gently. “We’ll take care of everything—” I broke away to rush into the sitting room and Scott’s body was not there.
I began to cry. I cried but no sound came. The tears rolled down my cheeks but I made no sound.
Buff Cobb said, “We’re going to take you to a doctor, Sheilah.” Then time passed, and it was night, and I was in her home, at the table, and her father, Irvin Cobb, at the head of the table, was addressing his remarks to me. I have no idea what he said or I said. I sobbed without a sound. Sometimes I stopped and talked but most of the time I was shaking and sobbing. I slept in Buff Cobb’s room that night.
Then it was the next day and Scottie was on the telephone from Harold Ober’s home in Connecticut, where she had gone to spend Christmas. Her voice was broken. How had it happened? I told her. There was a strange calm upon me. We talked for some time. “Poor Sheilah,” she said at one point. “How awful for you!”‘ And she said, it must be a comfort to me to know that I had made her father’s last years happy—and that this should be my solace. I was grateful for her words. Then she said she would leave school as soon as possible. Oh, no, I replied, she must not. “Scott’s dearest wish was that you complete your schooling.” She said, “No, I want to quit and earn my Uving. I don’t think there’s much money.”
She must not do that, I repeated. She must stay at Vassar. She must not worry about the money. It would be found, somehow.
“Well, I’ll think about it,” she said.
Then, in her eighteen-year-old voice she went on, “By the way, Sheilah—we’re going to bury Daddy in Baltimore. I don’t think it would be advisable for you to come to the funeral, do you?”
I had never intended to go to the funeral. I would not have gone to the funeral. I was able to choke out, “No, of course not—good-by.” I put down the phone and for the first time I began to cry aloud. I sobbed loudly and could not control myself. I had had Scott, he had belonged to me, and now he was dead and everyone had taken over, they had taken him away and I had nothing. I thought, if he were alive, he wouldn’t have allowed them to do this to me. Yet I knew if he were alive he, too, would have said to me, Sheilo, you cannot come to my funeral.
I remained in my apartment. I could not bear to leave it. Friends came. How can you stay here? they asked. Get out. Go somewhere. It’s morbid. Don’t stay in this room where he died.
Why? I asked. This is where Scott is. WTiy should I leave Scott?
People were kind to me. I was invited to three Christmas parties. I was in a whirl: people took me and spun me around and when I stopped they thrust a turkey leg in my mouth. I had three dinners and ate none of tiiem.
I drove to a Christmas party at Dorothy Parker’s. On the way a strange thing happened. Suddenly my car would not go forward. It went only backward. Sitting there, I began to cry. I put on the brake in the middle of the street and got out and said aloud, “Will someone please help me?”
A man approached. “What’s the trouble?”
“My car keeps going backward,” I said, crying.
He got behind the wheel and tried it. “What direction are you going?”
“That way—to six-o-two North Bedford.”
“If you get in, I’ll drive you there.”
I got in, the tears running down my cheeks. I thought, he probably’ thinks I’m on a drunken crying jab, but I don’t care what he thinks. I almost said to him, “The man I loved has died,” but I managed not to let the words escape.
We drove past the house. “This is six-ten,” he said.
“I want SIX-o-two,” I said.
He turned the car around and stopped on the far side of the street, “I’ll walk across,” I said. I was weeping hysterically. “Thank you.”
“Oh, that’s all right.” He watched me take a few steps. They were so uncertain, now, that I was sure he thought I was drunk. Again I almost told him about Scott. But it seemed undignified to tell him, and Scott would have thought that, too. Yet Scott’s heart would have been torn to see my misery. He would have comforted me and we would have been very close.
The man gently took my arm and walked with me across the street. And carefully and stumblingly I found Dorothy’s house and walked inside. I could not bear the laughter and the talk. I went into her bedroom and lay on her bed. I lay there, crying. “I’ve had such a loss,” I said, over and over. “I’ve had such a loss.” I was fuU of poetry. I recited Christina Rossetti’s “When I am dead, my dearest, sing no sad songs for me.” I recited, “Bold Lover ... do not grieve, She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, Forever wUt thou love, and she be fair—”
And then I wept again. “I’ve had such a loss. Oh, such a terrible loss.”
And Dorothy sat with me, and wept with me.
I SIT in the quiet study of my home in Beverly Hills. It is September, 1958, and the autumn out the window is the autumn Scott knew, and loved. How many years have passed, and still I feel his presence. Before me on my bookshelves, their paper covers faded by time, are row upon row of the Encino edition. I open one volume at random. It is Outline for Review: Greek History. On the flyleaf there is written:
For S. G. For her proficiency in pre-Socratic philosophy, Hellenistic anthropology, and Trojan archeology from Her Loving Prof
T. Themstocles Smith Olympic Games, 1910
Here, folded in the pages of Palgrave’s The Golden Treasury, is a poem Scott wrote to me—when, I do not know:
Once you were so far away
Nothing was so far On the edge of space you lay
Like an outer star Even your most tender word
On that week we met Was a station dimly heard
On a short-wave set Was a lost imperilled boat
Sending far alarms Oh, so infinitely remote
Even in my arms.
Now you are so near, so near That no furth’rest wing
Takes you where I cannot hear
Your faint whispering Hear the clamor of your hands
Thunder of your eyes Your most far-sent wish commands
Me to Paradise— —There! You’ve phoned—ten minutes late
Driving me insane Why’d you make a downtown date?
I’m stood up again.
I think, how do I grasp the essence that is Scott, the charm, the tenderness, the quick, alert, infinitely sensitive mind, the integrity that was the very measure of the man? What had he done for me that keeps him so alive for me? He taught me, above all, what no one else had ever taught me: that I am valuable: that every human being has value. He enlarged my capacity for every experience —for joy, for suffering, for understanding. When he died, I thought, I have been greatly honored: I shall wear my four years with Scott like a crown.
If Scott were sitting beside me in my study on this September day, what would he think, how would he feel, to know his high estate in the world of letters today? That he has been the subject of critical studies, of a biography, a novel, and a play; that his own stories have been dramatized for audiences of millions; that college students read him today not only because he is required reading in the universities but because they love his writing. He would have been delighted to know this, for they were the audience he believed he had lost, the audience of young people. He thought they considered hun too old fashioned. He thought, nobody ever reads F. Scott Fitzgerald any more.
He is a myth and a legend: his fame is secure. The other day a book dealer came to buy cartons of old books from me. Among them were first editions of Faulkner and Hemingway and Dreiser and Dos Passos —Scott’s contemporaries. The dealer said, “I see you have first editions of Scott Fitzgerald. If you care to sell them, I’ll give you as much for them as I’ve given you for all the rest put together.” Scott would have taken his own ironic enjoyment from this. What would he say if he knew all this, if he knew that were he and I to wander into a bookstore today, his books might be unavailable not because no one wants them but because there is so great a demand for them?
I see him now. He’d square his shoulders, like a boxer who has been tired, and has suddenly renewed his strength. He’d walk to the window and look out with a happy smile—he’d regained his position. I can ahnost hear him say, “Yes, they’ve come around at last.”
He would be so pleased.