NEAR THE END OF ANY VACATION SHE WOULD START TO WANT THE hours back, reclaiming whole days in her mind, the ones squandered on bad company and poor restaurants, on visits to art galleries that displayed nothing but minor talent. Mostly, she regretted the mistakes she made with Scott, episodes during which she tried his patience or ran off spur of the moment without telling him where she was headed. He might promise not to hold them against her, but they hung over them—how could they not?—as further proof of her illness. She refused to dwell, however, inside the betrayals and recriminations. “What’s done is done,” she whispered to herself, a mantra reminding her that sorrows and regrets mattered only insofar as they placed limits on what might happen next. Still, a sickly envy infected her behavior, an envy not so much for other people’s lives or the adventures that remained open to them as for her own better days.
Dejected, she spent the night in bed, drained of expectations, wondering how much of it was her own fault. Maybe she really was asking too much of him. She knelt for a while at the foot of the bed, read from the Field novel, dozing off with a finger in the pages of the book only to be visited by silhouettes adrift on the weak orb cast by the lamp, glinting in splashes of red and gold. She prayed, still not fully awake, Dear God, we’ll try again, please say we’ll try again, but her petitions provoked the sibilant whispering. In half-sleep she pulled herself up in the bed, listening for words from guests in an adjacent room, from revelers in the room above, trying to locate a source, any source, that might account for the noise. She tried to evaluate herself objectively. The voices were bothersome but not yet ominous, she reasoned. Saying aloud to herself: “It’s my choice.” And: “It’s not yet illness as long as there’s choice involved.”
Sometime after midnight she awoke with a start and walked onto the second-floor terrace to inspect the courtyard, leaning on the balustrade to peer down into the recesses of the arched portals, the cement cool beneath bare feet. Rather than returning to bed she pulled the chair from the desk onto the terrace to keep watch on the courtyard staircase. Without dread or fear, with only the grim certainty that she must stay alert for what came next, she kept herself erect in the stiff-backed wood chair.
She was still sitting, just so, as a buzz mounted from the courtyard. “Which room is it, which is Mr. Fitzgerald’s?” “Will we wake her, do you suppose?” Scott’s was not among the murmuring voices. “This staircase, are you certain?” Now a woman’s voice in a French accent, Maryvonne most likely: “Yes, it’s the only one possible because their balcony faces the sea.” As the voices climbed the stairs, someone asked whether after yesterday’s events the wife would be able to handle the news, and another member of the party replied tersely, in Cuban-inflected English, “I do not see that there is another option.”
Zelda braced herself for the worst. Two men rounded the corner, stumbling forward as they supported a wastrel of a man between them, but they started at discovering her sitting there alone, in that stiff-backed wood chair, the door of the room propped open as she gazed into the dark. She could only have been waiting for them, yet she said nothing. They called her by name, “Is that you, Mrs. Fitzgerald?”, then more formally, “Mrs. Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, is that you?” Several additional people now gained the terrace, clustering behind the two men who shouldered the slumping figure who was most likely her husband, though she couldn’t be sure from here, the eaves of the terrace projecting long shadows over the faces of those assembled at the top of the stairs.
“It’s about Mr. Fitzgerald. He is hurt,” a distinguished, statuesque stranger announced. The panic rose in her chest. Time to face it again, time to see what her husband had done to himself. The stranger asked permission to enter the room and lay Scott on the bed, and as he drew close she could see that his companion was their handsome guide from Havana, who raised a finger to the brim of his hat and nodded politely.
“Zelda,” Scott mumbled, recognizing her, trying to raise his arm, but it only flopped uselessly against his body. His face a bloody pulp, lips swollen, a white gauze bandage taped over his eye, he was covered in cuts and blood that had seeped into the cloth of his fine blue shirt. “Zelda,” he whispered as though she alone could hear him, “you have to help me, we have to get the bastards who did this.”
“Revenge is a dish best served cold, Mr. Fitzgerald,” counseled the distinguished man in the beige linen jacket who had placed himself in charge of delivering Scott to safety.
“Or at the very least sober,” Famosa Garcia said.
“Serves them right, though,” Scott remarked, more or less in conversation with himself.
“Scott,” she whispered as the men carried him through the small foyer, embarrassed by her own words, ready to take them back even as she spoke them, “if you can’t take care of yourself, who’s going to take care of me?”
The strangers, though, didn’t need to hear any of this. She wished them gone at once, out of her room, out of sight, but first she wanted answers. Someone owed her a story: who had done this to her husband? Just then Maryvonne rushed into the room, straight to Scott’s side, now propping pillows behind him, now raising his head and his chest, announcing that she would need to inspect his wounds again.
“What’s she doing here?” Zelda asked, addressing herself to Scott, though he was the person in the room least capable of answering.
“I am a nurse, I can help him,” Maryvonne insisted.
“Did you do this?” Zelda said and the Frenchwoman straightened, misunderstanding the question until she perceived the finger pointed at the bandage over Scott’s eye.
She had been enjoying a drink on the hotel patio, she said, when her husband and these men came back from their night out, recounting Scott’s preposterous attempt to break up a cockfight. So Maryvonne truly hadn’t been with Scott at the cockfights. Immediately Zelda’s jealousy subsided. Maryvonne could be of use, for a while at least.
“I ask the man behind the desk please find medical supplies,” Maryvonne explained.
“Naturally, he was beginning to do this very thing,” said the stranger who had carried Scott up the stairs and dragged him to his bed.
“I am the most competent medical professional,” Maryvonne continued, “in la voisinage, in the region, perhaps you say.”
The stranger in the beige linen suit and Panama hat introduced himself, tipping the hat: Colonel Eugenio Silva, owner of the Club Kawama. Zelda remembered the couple on the beach speaking of a wedding involving the daughter of the resort’s owner, who was a military man.
“Your daughter was married only this past weekend,” she said. “I’m awfully sorry, I wish you did not have to bother with any of—”
“Oh, no,” Maryvonne cried dramatically, hustling toward the French doors, scolding Famosa Garcia as he swung them open to let in cool night air. “The wet air cannot be good for him,” she said, nodding toward Scott, who lay on the bed succumbing to spasms of hollow hacking that ebbed into a moist, sputtering rumble. His lungs, his lungs, she lamented. Famosa Garcia might choose to step outside or stay put, but at any rate the doors to the balcony must remain shut.
“This is solid advice. We have sent for a doctor,” the owner of the Club Kawama informed them.
Maryvonne began to recount what she had heard about Scott’s ill-fated protest of the ceremonial slaughter of a Spanish black gamecock, her voice thick with admiration. It was noble, in her opinion, to stick up for tortured birds. Zelda didn’t bother to argue the point. She did notice, however, that Maryvonne hardly spoke to Aurelio, who several times floated into the room to gape at Scott before retreating from the reproachful glance of his wife to the terrace, hovering near the door, sharing a cigarette with Colonel Silva.
“I hold my husband responsible for this,” Maryvonne said, struggling with the buttons as she tried to remove the shirt of her patient, who in fitful drowsiness slapped playfully at her hand. “He must take better care of Scott.”
“How could he know his guest would dart into a cockfighting pit—”
“It is a stupid sport, the gambling, the violence.”
“But really how could he know that my husband, bolstered by infallible drink, would try to bring an end to a tradition with more than two thousand years of cruel pleasure behind it?”
“I suppose you are correct,” Maryvonne whispered, not wishing to let Aurelio hear this concession: though he might eventually be exonerated, it wouldn’t happen all at once. So she reviewed for Zelda’s benefit the steps taken on Scott’s behalf, how she had rinsed his eye with water and administered an analgesic to keep Scott from writhing in pain before exploring it for damage. No lasting injury to the cornea as far as she could tell, though it appeared to be scratched rather badly, the swelling in a three-quarter moon along the orbit of the eye a cause for concern. Also Scott winced in pain anytime someone touched his left arm or his chest near the clavicle, and, of course, there was the cough, sounding worse and worse. She recommended a hospital, preferably tonight.
“Let me check the bones,” she said, “to see if they are broken. Would you help me calm Scott in case the pain alerts him?”
“Couldn’t you ask Aurelio to do it?” Zelda suggested. “He’ll be better able to hold Scott still. My husband can be fierce when drunk, especially after he’s been wronged.”
Laying a palm on her shoulder, Famosa Garcia asked if he might speak with her on the balcony. She hadn’t known this man was even on the peninsula, and she couldn’t begin to understand how Scott had ended up again in his company. It might mean Mateo Cardona was still tracking them, though whether to keep the Havana police off or on their trail she couldn’t have said. Still, she followed this man with the square, strong chin onto the balcony, distracted for several seconds by the chatter of the palms. He returned Scott’s wallet to her after describing how the assailants had rolled her husband while he was on the ground in the pit. It had been a struggle to retrieve the wallet because the men felt cheated. Choosing words carefully, Famosa Garcia impressed on her that the men who’d done this to Scott were not in the wrong. “It was no easy matter,” he said. “If not for the friendship with Senor Cardona, I might be forced to wash my hands of this matter.”
She flipped through the billfold, still a large amount of cash inside, though considerably less than before. She had no way of measuring how much might have been pilfered.
“How much do you suppose is missing?”
“One thing at a time,” Famosa Garcia said. “I have made arrangements for a car to transport you to Havana this night.” He also recommended a call to Senor Cardona, who could arrange for Scott to be checked into one of Havana’s finest hospitals. It was a lot for Zelda to take in at once. It meant packing up the room in a quick hour or so; it meant leaving the beach and sun behind before they’d even had a chance to enjoy them. But Scott’s health could not be left to chance. For the next few hours at least, while her husband was too enfeebled to protest her decisions, it was up to her to assure his well-being.
“What you propose makes sense.”
“Would you like to speak with Mr. Cardona first?”
“Order the car, if you would be so kind,” she said.
“I have done so.”
“Please arrange for the hotel to ring Mr. Cardona,” she said, exercising an authority that depended on her former life, on reserves of charm and worldliness but little else. “Perhaps a half hour from now, when things have calmed down.”
“Did I ever tell you who you remind me of?” she asked, kissing the Cuban on the cheek by way of thanks. It was impossible to say which of them now held the upper hand, whether she was charming him to procure his assistance or whether she was being baited, drawn along some course charted by Mateo Cardona for inscrutable reasons. “Remember, the other day, I mentioned your resemblance to a friend of ours? After studying the photograph and your strong chin I noticed it. Ernest Hemingway, you have heard the name?”
“Of course; he is a famous American author who lives in Cuba. You know him?”
“One of my husband’s oldest and dearest friends,” Zelda said formally, glad that Scott could not overhear her dropping Ernest’s name to increase their standing in this man’s eyes.
Inside the room chaos had erupted, or rather, Scott had erupted in the form of chaos. Roaming between the bed and the dresser unsteadily, tilting over his suitcases, ransacking hers, he muttered, “I demand to know where it is.” Maryvonne apprised Zelda of what had happened. She had been examining his wounds, the clavicle that made him wince whenever she touched it. Nothing broken as far as she could tell: a series of bruises shaped like the toe of a boot formed a kind of necklace on his skin, several bearing the imprint of a medallion, and also there were open cuts where the boots’ metal toes had sliced into the skin. As she next sterilized the wounds, the sting of iodine stirred Scott, prompting him to curse Famosa Garcia and Colonel Silva, accusing them of being in league with his assailants and vowing to avenge himself once he found a weapon. It was for this reason he now tossed the contents of the luggage, glancing up every few seconds to threaten the two men, warning them they would be sorry if they hung around much longer.
“Was it wrapped in his shirt?” Zelda interrupted.
“The medallion?” she said, staring at her husband’s bandaged ribs and naked, bruised chest. “It was around his neck, strung on a piece of twine, a gift from me.”
“I did not see it, I am sorry,” Maryvonne said.
“Somebody has hidden it, obviously,” Scott protested abstractly, rummaging through the suitcases.
“Perhaps all of you could step out onto the terrace for a minute,” Zelda said, and lest they mistake her order for a request, added, “Immediately, please.”
“What did you do with it?” Scott complained, turning on her now.
Famosa Garcia herded the others out of the room onto the central terrace in the courtyard, Maryvonne professing reluctance to leave Zelda alone with Scott.
“He is not himself,” she reasoned.
“He is my husband and I know all his selves,” Zelda assured her as Famosa Garcia ushered Maryvonne outside and shut the door, which Zelda locked from the inside.
“Did you hide it on purpose?” Scott said, hovering over his suitcase.
“It’s on the damned desk where you left it this afternoon,” she replied. He followed the trajectory of her finger and skulked across the room, hanging his head, eyes averted, cupping the handle but aiming the gun at the ground, away from her. He cursed several times, threatening to go after the men who had done this to him.
“Problem is,” he said, slurring the phrase, taking a swig from a flask of brandy, “simple problem’s this: I don’t who they are.”
“It does make them difficult to target,” she said lightly, and he smiled at her, tickled by the absurdity of his predicament.
“Where did you get that?” Zelda inquired, merely nodding at the flask.
He was pleased enough with his deception, with his well-kept secrets, to indulge her brief sermon on why he shouldn’t be pouring liquor on his misery, not after the drugs he’d been given to quell the hurt in his eye. “Fair enough,” he said, but he would keep the flask for now, also the gun in the event that the men from the cockfight came looking for him. He shuffled bare chested through the French doors onto the small balcony overlooking the beach, the winds off the ocean sharp and raw, the moon-bright sky scrubbed of clouds.
“Do you know how easy it is to kill birds?” he asked as he turned to her.
“Watch this. See the gull perch there on top the palm.” He aimed the gun and fired at the tree, the shot ringing out in the air as the startled bird flew off. Her body lurched, the percussive explosion echoing in her chest as Scott turned to warn her, “Cover your ears.” Immediately there was pounding at the door, followed by desperate shouts from the courtyard terrace, the words muddled, predictable, exactly the kind of cries, she thought, that people utter in emergencies to compensate for their helplessness.
“Scott, won’t you please put the gun down?” He fired a second round into the trees as the gulls clawed and circled in the air above the palms, crowing chorally, warning one another.
“Apparently not that easy,” he said as though considering a change in philosophy. “It’s tougher when you can only see out of one eye.”
“How is your eye, Scott? May I look?” she asked, approaching him, the pounding at the door of their room urgent now, Maryvonne’s high-pitched clarion call carrying over the male voices.
“You’re just trying to get the gun,” he said, pulling away from her.
“Scott,” she cried, losing patience. “I must ring Havana to arrange a doctor for you. Can you promise me not to harm any gulls while I’m gone?”
“I can do that,” he said, smiling sadly. “If you had ask’ me to kill one, not so sure.”
Leaving Scott on the balcony, walking through the hotel room to unlock its door, she joined the party nervously assembled on the courtyard terrace, Maryvonne immediately rushing to her side with a barrage of questions, the others joining in. Are you harmed? Is Scott okay? Where did the gunshots come from? Guests cracked doors along the terrace, poking their heads out to cast inquisitive stares, wanting to know what all the damned noise was about but hesitant to complain, not wishing to put themselves in danger.
“Would you be so kind,” she asked Aurelio, “as to step onto our balcony and help me separate my husband from the gun he is using to shoot at seagulls?”
“Surely Scott would not be shooting at birds,” Maryvonne protested.
A veteran of the Republican Army of Spain, stronger and infinitely more sober than Scott, Aurelio followed Zelda onto the balcony.
“Scott, Aurelio has come to stop you from making a fool of yourself and most likely hurting an innocent in the bargain.”
“Can I have the gun, Scott?” Aurelio said, stepping in, prepared for a fight if Scott drew on him.
“Oh, it’s out of bullets anyway,” Scott replied.
“Where is it, Scott?” Zelda asked, staring at her empty-handed husband, observing that Maryvonne now stood just inside the French doors. “Give the gun to him.”
Scott, elbow propped on the balcony rail, gestured toward the base of a palm tree. “See over there, hard to see in dark, but I threw’t in the yard, tired of that damned Smith ’n’ Wezz’n, doesn’t shoot straight anyway.”
Aurelio announced to no one in particular that he would retrieve the gun.
“I just kept the gun loaded with one or two bullets,” Scott continued, surveying the desolate beach, shirtless, shivering as he spoke, interrupted by his own hacking cough. “I just kept it on hand all this time, in case you slipped away, in case things got too terrible for us.”
He was referring, of course, to the years when she had seemed past recovery. He could be so maudlin when he drank. Maryvonne glanced at Zelda, sympathy and embarrassment in her smile. Aurelio, standing near the doors, tilted his head to beckon Zelda into the room, and Maryvonne stepped aside to let them pass, then hastened toward Scott, cooing his name, coaxing him to come out of the night air because it wasn’t good for his lungs.
“I do not recommend putting trust in this Famosa Garcia, whoever he is,” Aurelio said as Zelda listened to Maryvonne pleading behind her. “Scott,” the Frenchwoman implored him, “you must obey me because I am a nurse,” as Scott forlornly, half-flirtatiously replied, “My own nurse?”
“He is friends with men who did this, you understand,” Aurelio said. “For a long time he talks to them in the pit as Scott lies on the floor, beaten and bleeding. I do not expect him to assist me afterward and I cannot figure out what he is doing. I do not trust him, that is all.”
Zelda conceded that she had already enlisted Famosa Garcia’s help in arranging transportation to Havana tonight. Maryvonne, arms wrapped around Scott’s torso, palms clamped to his naked chest as she rubbed his stomach and kidneys, led him out of the night air.
“Be careful what you ask,” Aurelio warned, before hurrying off in search of the gun.
Mateo Cardona lifted the receiver of the phone on a small table in the corner of the lobby of the Hotel Nacional. His network in the city was extensive, and when he wished to be found, he was not a difficult man to find.
“Hello,” he said, in a tone that suggested he had been expecting the call for several days. “How can I be of further service to you, Mrs. Fitzgerald?”
Famosa Garcia had rung an hour earlier from the peninsula. On hearing his report about what had transpired at the cockfight, Mateo applauded his associate’s plan to have the wife speak with him as soon as possible. “Resourceful of you,” he remarked, not wanting anyone else to lay claim to the Fitzgeralds, wishing to make sure that he was the one to help them, the one to whom they were indebted. And when Famosa Garcia asked to have his own assistance remembered to Mr. Fitzgerald, Mateo replied curtly, “Of course,” assuring his underling that he kept a mental log of favors received, favors paid out.
“Can you help me?” the woman on the other end of the line asked after explaining her predicament, blunt but altogether dignified in her directness.
“Did your husband truly try to break up a cockfight?” Mateo replied, laughing. “He is most imprudent in his bravery. Those are dangerous men he crossed, lots of money in play, it is a serious sport. He seems to have a talent for finding trouble.”
“It was you who took us to that bar on Saturday,” she said.
“I did not intend any insult,” Mateo replied quickly, adopting a tender if paternalistic tone. “It is good to recall who your friends are, Mrs. Zelda Fitzgerald. Do I not deserve your gratitude for the assistance I have rendered so far? Our acquaintance is brief, and though I have not known your husband long, I feel not unlike a brother toward him.”
“Well, then, you’ll help us,” she said.
“For just such an emergency, my man is there on the peninsula.”
“Why is that, may I ask? Why exactly is Senor Famosa Garcia here in the first place, and why was he also at the cockfights?”
“Oh, this is not so important—Famosa Garcia conducts business of mine. I often use him as courier, as a liaison, since he is reliable, discreet. As for cockfights, they are a passion of his, none of my affair.”
As she ended the phone call, she wondered which of her own words were genuine, how much of Mateo’s persistent hospitality honest. She wanted to believe in the generosity of other people, but Aurelio’s warning not to trust Famosa Garcia or anyone he knew lingered in her thoughts.
“Should I have asked more questions?” she muttered to herself, hanging up the phone.
“Did you say something?” Maryvonne asked from the bed, where she continued to dote on Scott, having removed the old bandage, now in the midst of rinsing the rapidly blinking eye with a mixture of water and boric acid.
“You have been so awfully helpful, Maryvonne, and we will not forget your kindness.”
Zelda cleared out the bathroom first, next the dresser drawers, pitching Scott’s personal items into her luggage, flinging hers in with his, vowing to sort them later at the hospital. She found his soft Alpagora overcoat in one of his suitcases and set it aside.
“I wonder whatever has become of that doctor,” Maryvonne mused aloud as she applied some sort of gelatinous salve to the eye, preparing to dress it. It was as though she was attempting to prove herself indispensable. “He might at least do something for the pain.”
Soon Famosa Garcia knocked at the door to announce that the car was waiting below, but Zelda wasn’t ready. Panic washed over her. She didn’t know where Scott had stored the return plane tickets, where the rest of their money was, what he’d done with the passports. It might all turn up later in one piece of luggage or another, but still she combed the room, the desk, the dresser, the bathroom, asking Maryvonne to help perform a quick sweep. “Look under the bed, could you,” she instructed. Her inability to locate the medallion saddened her, but there was too much else to do and she could not concentrate on its loss.
Downstairs a maroon four-door Nash sedan waited before one of the archways of the villa. Neither the colonel nor a hotel manager anywhere in sight, Zelda decided their bill was most likely paid several days in advance. There would be no way to recover the money. She and Maryvonne lowered Scott into the backseat of the car, while the driver and Famosa Garcia loaded bags into the trunk.
“I will ride with you, as far as Havana,” Maryvonne offered.
“So kind of you, but altogether unnecessary,” Zelda said.
“He needs tending, he needs someone to monitor the pain and make sure there is nothing unexpected in the next few hours.”
“I will look after my husband,” Zelda snapped.
Aurelio still hadn’t returned from his search for the gun, and his absence made the reproof of Maryvonne seem harsher somehow. Like Zelda herself, Maryvonne was an exile—banished from all who had once constituted the core of her life, from familiar sorrows, from acquaintances new and old, set adrift on the currents of things done and those she might still do if given the chance. She wished only to be of use somewhere in the world.
“We do not have a permanent home in Cuba,” Maryvonne said. “It is hard to say where we will settle. I would wish to write to you and Scott. At which address, though?”
On principle Zelda refused to give out the address of the Highland Hospital. Maybe the couple had extracted the story from Scott, maybe they hadn’t, but Zelda wasn’t about to advertise herself as someone enrolled in the ranks of the mentally wounded. She couldn’t recall Scott’s address at the studio and didn’t have an address for him in Encino, so she suggested that Maryvonne write them at Scribner’s, care of Max Perkins.
“Well, goodbye,” Maryvonne said, bowing forward robotically, her puckered lips brushing the soft skin above Zelda’s jaw, before she leaned into the car. “Bon voyage, Scott,” she said, bending to kiss him, her lips lingering at the corner of his. “Please take care of yourself.”
Zelda was surprised to discover that Famosa Garcia was nowhere in sight. She had expected him to travel with them to Havana, and the prospect of riding off into the night with a complete stranger worried her. The tires of the car rolled slowly forward, gravel popping, when all of a sudden headlights shone behind them, brighter by the second, Maryvonne jerking open the back door with the car still in motion and jumping onto the runner to stick her head in and announce, “I will see who is this arriving, perhaps the doctor.”
Sure enough, it was Colonel Silva with news of the village doctor, whom he expected to appear within the next five minutes, not much longer than that. Maryvonne strongly recommended waiting, since it was best to be armed with as much information about Scott’s condition as possible. “Is he bringing morphine?” Zelda asked, having encouraged the colonel to make the request earlier, but no one knew anything for certain. “It’s the only reason to wait,” Zelda said, overriding the Frenchwoman’s frustrated objections, her confidence mounting with each small decision. For the first time all night she felt as though she were truly in charge. “Besides, I’m certain the doctor is strictly small-time, and Scott will soon be a patient at an excellent hospital in Havana.”
“He is in considerable pain,” Maryvonne repeated. “If we could give him a shot of morphine, maybe it is wise to wait.”
She was just stalling, though, buying herself a few more minutes with Scott. Zelda affectionately squeezed the Frenchwoman high on the arms, saying it was okay, she would get Scott to a hospital. Only as she started to pull the door shut did she consider again everything Maryvonne had done for Scott. This refugee couple, though honeymooning at a resort their first week here in Cuba, probably didn’t have much in the way of funds.
“I should pay you for your help,” Zelda said. “I don’t want to insult you and we’re hardly in high cotton ourselves, but would you take something as a gesture of gratitude?”
“But I did exactly no-thing,” Maryvonne protested.
Zelda pulled her husband’s billfold from her purse, extracting a twenty and a ten-spot. Maryvonne refused to extend her palm, but Zelda held the bills forward, saying, please, as a favor, so they wouldn’t feel so bad. Still the Frenchwoman’s hand didn’t move, so Zelda stuck the ten back in her wallet and said, “Here, a fair compromise,” extending the twenty-dollar bill by itself. “Maryvonne, please, it’s hard to go through life never paying one’s way.”
“But, of course, it is not for money,” the nurse protested.
“Of course not,” Zelda said kindly, and the Frenchwoman slowly unfolded her arm, palm upward, accepting the cash, embracing Zelda again, wishing her luck in Havana. “You know where to reach me the next few days,” she said, not mentioning Aurelio at all, “if you require advice on medical matters—there can never again be a question of money.”
As the car drove off, Zelda flipped through the diminished cash in Scott’s wallet, estimating there might be a hundred dollars left, a hundred and twenty at most. She prayed Scott had stashed money elsewhere, or they might run out within the next two days, stranded in Havana without a friend in the world. What would she do if that came to pass? Whom could she wire on short notice? Maybe Scott had scribbled the numbers for Harold Ober and Max Perkins in his Moleskine. She searched the pockets of his sport coat, and on finding them empty realized that the men who’d filched his wallet might also have stolen the journal or that Famosa Garcia, recovering it, might have kept it for himself so as to have something on her husband.
In a stupor Scott snarled, “Why is someone trying to wake me?”
She fell back against the seat of the car.
“Where are we going?” he asked repeatedly, though she was certain she’d told him several times already. He protested that he couldn’t make it all the way to the city without alcohol or painkillers. Squirming in pain, he demanded that the driver turn the car around this instant. If she hadn’t emptied the flask back at the hotel, and then for good measure left it behind, she might have given him a drink just to quiet him for a while. “Stop the car,” he commanded as she tried to imagine what the driver would do if Scott became ugly, unruly, and altogether too much to handle. “Where’s the luggage?” He had Luminal in his bag, which would take the edge off. So they pulled to the side of the road and Scott tore through the luggage in search of the pills. The driver kept saying it was dangerous to be parked roadside, and Zelda couldn’t tell whether he was worried about a speeding truck coming wide off the curve ahead to smash into their car, or perhaps marauders from some nearby village finding them undefended in the night. “Esto es peligroso, muy peligroso,” the driver murmured over and over. “Por favor, date prisa, porque esto es peligroso.”
“Scott, get into the car,” she pleaded. She was near tears. “Why are you doing this? I keep waiting for you to get on your feet, some stroke of fortune that will tell you everything’s okay again—”
“Enough,” he shouted, his words echoing from inside the trunk of the car. “I won’t listen to any more. It all started with your dis’ppearing act. Everything els’s just neurotic chatter.”
He was right on some level, she decided. It was a bout of nerves and she mustn’t let it get the better of her.
“But I’m tired too,” she said. “Tired of your fears of me, for me, about me. And even if the big break came tomorrow, if you finished the novel and made it a bestseller, there’d always be one more thing, Scott, the latest in a long list—”
“Zelda, it stops this instant or I’m not getting back in that car. Next week you’ll be writing me saccharine-sweet letters, saying I’m so sorry, saying you had a nice time on holiday, you didn’t mean to be so ungrateful, but I won’t open them. Stop this now or it’s the last trip we ever take.”
Ah, there it was, the bottle of Luminal stashed in one of her silk purses. He swallowed three pills without water, tucking the bottle into his jacket for safekeeping, the clothes scattered across the floor of the trunk as he slammed it shut. She worried he had taken too many pills, but his tolerance for narcotics was high.
“Is that supposed to be a threat?” she murmured, more for her own ears than his. “Because you’re such a joy to travel with? Showing up drunk at the Highland to pick me up.”
She gestured for the driver to get back into the car.
“Which I’ll hear about from the doctors and other patients at the Highland for weeks after my return, don’t think I won’t; and then to top it off you go and befriend dubious characters, drag us to a dangerous juke joint, get beaten up at a ghastly cockfight, leaving me to manage you and your rummy friends.”
The echo of her voice trailing in the dark as she got into the car made her sad. Scott stayed conscious long enough to say he was sorry for being irritable, he had been in tremendous pain. He was so much more peaceable when sleepy. Also he didn’t want to check into a hospital in Havana, he was okay, truly, his eye stung but not unbearably, nothing permanently wrong with it. And then there was the tuberculosis, and the drinking, what if the doctors recommended treatment, attempted to hold him over here in Havana?
“Because it would be terrible to have to recover from illness in a foreign country,” she said as he nodded off.
Scott’s head slanted, bobbing against the leather seat, his own snores every now and then awakening him. “Don’t worry, I won’t let them commit you,” she said, sliding a finger along his jaw, pulling together the lapels of the overcoat she’d retrieved from his luggage earlier. His head now rested on her shoulder, the unbandaged side of his face smooth and fleshy against hers. Something in her still enjoyed taking care of him, experiencing herself as necessary, but it felt like long ago. “Being in love with you,” she said aloud, her hand tucked beneath layers of jacket, stroking his stomach in circular movements, “is like being in love with one’s own past.”
As her thumb circled the cotton fabric of the shirt near his belt, it caught on something, maybe a stray thread, but, no, it was too coarse to be a thread. Eagerly, she followed the woven twine into her husband’s pants, parting the two jackets to unbuckle his belt, loosening the slacks, fingers exploring his lap while Scott slumbered on, dead to the world, the twine leading her to the waistband of his BVDs, catching there, some of it looping down like a lasso along the crease of his groin. And as she tugged at it, she whispered the beginning of a novena to St. Anthony taught to her by one of the patients at the Highland, able to remember only a few key phrases (“glorious Saint Anthony” and “condescension of Jesus”), but improvising others (“obtain for me this medallion, a sign of my devotion to my husband and my trust in you and God and the company of saints”), promising someone—God, the saint, or only herself—to look up the words later and say a weeklong novena all the way through once back at the hospital in Asheville. Then she heard the tinking of metal against the belt buckle and suffered, yes, on a smaller scale, but nevertheless something akin to the blissful rapture of the saints—Lazarus spared the grave and walking back into the light; his medallion spared the filth of the cock pit, cradled in the waistband of her husband’s BVDs to be returned to her, so that she might get it properly blessed by a priest, secure it on a sturdy silver chain, and present it again to Scott.
Published as Beautiful Fools: The Last Affair of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald by R. Clifton Spargo (NY. Overlook Duckworth, 2013).