Saturday, March 13, 2010

8. RHETT'S DECLINE

         The failure of his marriage was devastating to Papa, and we tried to keep an eye on him and I knew his calendar.  One day, I couldn’t find him.  He had always returned home at midday to water his nag, because the city was so hard on animals.  The pavement broke their hoofs and the streets crowded them together.  They collided with each other constantly, even on thoroughfares like
Piedmont Road
.  Of course, saddle horses were still scarce, due to the war,   so most of the animals on the streets were mere colts.  His yearling, Nag, was as valuable to Papa as the buggy it was harnessed to. 
            GONE WITH THE WIND fails to identify Nag at all, despite the fact that it mentions nineteen events when she played a significant role.  Nag was a more important character and appeared in more scenes in GONE WITH THE WIND than Honey Wilkes, for instance, or Tony Fontaine.  They were addressed by their proper names, whereas Nag was ignored.  The author,   Mrs. Mitchell was no animal lover, since she relegated all animals to the lowly status of props, only to be used by humans for dramatic effect.  Despite the mention of no fewer than twenty horses and four dogs in the novel, only the villainous Mr. Butler,  Bonnie’s steed, was identified by name.  Perhaps Mrs. Mitchell would argue in her own defense that the horses in her book spoke no lines.  Consequently, they had little effect upon the minds of her characters.  The depth of Papa’s grief over Nag’s injury from a certain buggy accident tells the tale of Papa’s love for the horse. 
After I returned from Belle’s, Papa wasn’t home.  Still no sign by one thirty, so I mounted-up again to search for him.     
The intersection of Piedmont and Ponce De Leon is where I found Papa and the Buggy, which was parked on the shoulder.  Nearby was another horse and buggy that seemed unharmed.  A few spokes were all that was broken on ours.  Below it, on the pavement laid Nag, with her head on Papa’s knee, while he wiped the blood from her neck and jaw.  He was cringing and gritting his teeth so hard he could barely speak, but he was okay and I saw no wounds on him.  His top hat and waistcoat sat nearby in a heap, and his white shirt was spattered with red - - soaked, in front.  I could hardly get a word from him. The other driver stood by wringing his hands, apologizing to anybody who’d listen.
The veterinarian arrived and took stock of the scene.  He paused at Papa.  “Alright?  Did you fall?”
“Yes - - no.”
“You don’t seem alright.”  Papa didn’t argue, and held still while he looked him over.  The vet turned to me and said, “You better keep him out of the saddle this evening.”  I harnessed up my horse in Nag’s place while we watched the vet work.  Papa paced from our carriage to the buggy, and back, cringing and cursing to himself as he plodded along.  
“No broken legs,” the Vet said conclusively.  “We’ll sew her up.”  The vet’s men slid rails under Nag’s stomach, and lifted her to her feet.  Her legs were a little weak, but they held.  Papa sweetly coaxed Nag up the planks into the ambulance, while the men held the rails under her.  Papa slipped by Nag and shut the ambulance doors behind him.      
On way home, he kept cursing under his breath, first “That blind son on a bitch,” and then “I’ll be a goddamned.”  To me, it felt strange to take the reins from Papa, while he rode shotgun in my place.  Worse, was his morose look which I hardly recognized.  Not a glance he gave to the landmarks of the town, which he could have shook from their foundations with the flick of his wrist.  His head hung and he squinted at the pavement below as it passed under us.  He was taking Nag’s injuries too hard.
“Nag’s a battle ax,” I said, but he didn’t seem to hear.  I let him be, since he didn’t need to hear chatter.  I was dying to ask him whether he was moving out of the Chalet, so I had to bite my tongue.  In the silence, I took pride in being the only one by his side in his moment of need.  While driving, I kept an eye on him.
Then he embraced me, which surprised me and nearly brought me to tears.  His arm completely cloaked my shoulders, and squeezed me.  Suddenly, all I knew was warmth and safety.  I needed to breathe Papa’s breath and absorb his touch.  I left the reins slack and Trotter followed his own nose home.
Before then, Papa had never done that.  He was always formal with me, back in New Orleans, when I could’ve used a hug.  I never expected any more from him, since I was scared of all adults.  None of them had shown me any warmth, and they only spoke to me in order to put me to task shoveling dog droppings or scrubbing one thing or another.  So, I was grateful to Papa for simply letting me be.  His handshakes were never intended to wrestle me into submission.  My childhood was short, having endured abuse and neglect early on.  I’d begun answering to “Mr. Boudreau” before I’d reached the age of ten years.  So, I took his handshakes as a gesture of respect, almost man to man.  No calling me “laddie” and patting my head.
Lately he’d come closer, and he’d begun patting me on the back. 
*                                  *                                  *
He straightened-up tall after we reached the Chalet, as if he was there to call upon the Governor.  He marched inside and headed straight for the great room which served as his parlor, shedding his hat and jacket as he went.  Still in his boots, he poured himself a brandy and dropped into an armchair. 
By the time I had hung up my hat, Dilsey had already accosted me.  “What happened to him?”
The burden upon me of protecting Papa’s privacy and pride was frightening.  At home, I kept quiet and I relied upon Dilsey’s ignorance of the obvious signs of truama all over Papa’s face.  Mammy - - different breed of woman - - could’ve seen them from fifty paces.
Dilsey took my news of the accident straight to Scarlett, which was her chief duty.  She was bound to talk, which made me dread the sight of her, though I knew she meant no harm.  If she had failed, and Scarlett had later been blind-sided by the news, Dilsey would’ve been taken to the woodshed for a hard lesson. 
Prior to that day, he had trusted me with nothing more personal than his calendar and his wishes regarding Scarlett and the children and the house niggers, what he hoped to accomplish around the house, and occasionally, his candid thoughts about someone we had encountered along our way.  Papa himself hadn’t confirmed my suspicion that divorce from Scarlett was imminent, but it seemed a sure thing.  Ironically, the fact that he hadn’t confirmed it made a barrier between us.  But the hug he gave erased the barrier, and created a new trust that acknowledged his weakness for the first time and my strength. 
*                *                *                          
The next day, I suddenly found myself face to face with Scarlett.  It almost seemed like an ambush, the way she surprised me as soon as I stepped in the door.  It was an unforgettable moment when Scarlett actually frightened me by the blunt ferocity on her face.  Her eyes had always pierced me, so I had grown used to it.  This was fury, and I was cornered, with no way out.  I remember suddenly wishing I could hide, because of what I was carrying in my breast pocket.  It was a note bearing Belle Watling’s greetings to Papa, signed and scribbled in her own hand.  Carrying messages to Papa was my routine, so I hadn’t worried about the appearances of receiving a message from Belle.  Suddenly, when I found myself under Scarlett’s suspicious gaze, I felt like I was carrying a firecracker.
“Where’s Captain Butler been lodging?”
“Lodging or - - or visiting?”
“You know what I’m asking, you scoundrel.  Don’t mock me.  If he moves out of this house, I’m gonna blame you.  You’re the one scouting out a new place.  And where?  A brothel!  You’d have him rooming in Belle Watling’s brothel, with all the riff-raff.  I’ll make you sorry.  You’ll be unwelcome here, you beggar.”
I didn’t dare deny it.  “I only delivered a message to Ms. Watling.  I don’t know anything.”
“You think you’re something, but you’re nothing - - nothing but a beggar.  A beggar dressed in fine woolens.  I rescued you from the gutter in New Orleans.  Since then, you’ve lived like a prince, so you think you’re something.  You’ve never shown me any gratitude.”
“I want him to stay - - here with us.”
“You’re nothing,” she continued.  “You’re not Rhett Butler.  You’ll be locked out.  That whore doesn’t want you - - you’ve got no money.  You’ll be stranded, out in the cold, while Rhett’s happy as a pig in a poke.
“I’ll have you run out of town.  You’ll wish you were back in the gutter in New Orleans.”

1 comment:

  1. Awesome! My family on my husbands side knew Marilyn and Clark Gable. You would love the story about the stuff about Gone With the Wind. So much i can tell ya, it is neat. My aunt ruth was head of the screen actors guild. yes, i have the paper work. she is gone today. She met clark and shehad the dining room table hutch that was 15 ft long appx and the table was mahogony 12 feet long with ornate chairs heavy carved from Gone With The Wind, she should still be on the web, my aunt. she lived in the hollywood hills in the outlook on carmoncrest dr. Clark was a mans man according to her. she loved him. great guy. very hard worker she said. he was a graduate of stanislasky of NY getting excited. any questions let me know. love your pic peter

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