Maurice stayed for dinner at our apartment tonight. He was in good spirits, but a tad too weak to walk to the underground and go home. ‘You can spend the night here,’ I said. ‘Under one condition…that you phone Alec.’
Maurice did and got Alec’s blessing. Then our loyal friend wanted to speak to me.
‘Perhaps it’s for the best, mate. Poor Maurice is wearing himself out in New York. Put him to bed after tea and feed him some brandy. I’d rather know he’s safe with you than have him travel back to West Egg. And no carnal sin in your guest room, ye hear? I want him back in one piece tomorrow.’
This was Alec very much being Alec, like he had been when we met again in New York in July 1927.
He had taken Maurice’s two-months absence with the braveness of those who know that separation would turn into reunion. Our dear, wonderful Alec.
Adelina and our new maid Topsy made a feast tonight. Chicken soup, filet mignon, green asparagus and buttered potatoes and fresh strawberries and cream for dessert.
Of course Maurice would not go straight to bed after dinner. James coaxed him into borrowing a pair of his pyjamas and his dressing gown. They are the same size.
Maurice changed into these night clothes and then joined us in the lounge for coffee and brandy.
I watched the two men, astounded as always at their likeness even though one was blond and green-eyed and the other dark and blue-eyed.
‘You read my chapter about us on the SS Weserland tonight,’ I said to Maurice. ‘Did you catch the unveiling of the secret like I did?’
Maurice shook his head. ‘A reader’s view may differ from that of the writer’s,’ he said.
This was a very astute observation because it went for every book in the world. But I explained anyway, knowing his opinion would match mine.
‘When we were having wine and cheese at your cabin,’ I said, ‘you told me how you loved dark-haired men.’
‘Oh God,’ James sighed.
‘No, no!’ I laughed. ‘Maurice always loved your honey-blond hair, my beauty.’
‘Thank heavens,’ James smiled.
‘But it’s this,’ I went on. ‘You, Maurice, were attracted to me, even though you wore glasses so you might had a better look at me. I’m a scarecrow…Anyway, you coveted me because my hair is dark, like Alec’s and Clive’s.’
‘Your eyes and Alec’s are brown, Nick,’ Maurice said. ‘Clive’s are blue. Ever thought of that? You are very much like Alec. I missed him when I was in England. But you were there. And we both enjoyed it.’
‘And you,’ I said to James. ‘You slept with another dark-haired man too. I do hope you did so because Clive reminded you of me in a fashion.’
‘He did, he still does,’ James said. ‘In fact, I would not have shared a bed with him if he had been a blonde or a redhead. I never fancied those colors.’
‘You never did,’ I said. ‘Daisy has black hair and brown eyes too.’
‘So has Anne,’ Maurice pointed out. Then he slapped his forehead and made an annoyed sound. ‘Listen, this is too confusing. If your book ever makes it into the literary canon and reading lists at colleges, it will cause students to fail exams. You can’t do that, it would be monstrous.’
We laughed until Maurice wheezed alarmingly. He was prone to spells of shortness of breath, but he overcame his sickness quickly enough to have another glass of brandy and a cigarette.
The evening wore on as we talked, allowing our beloved guest many breaks to restore himself.
We went to bed agreeing that our story was too intricate to ever provide a plot clear enough to be of any value to readers.
Maurice was looking better this morning. He phoned Alec again, bathed, shaved, got dressed and had a vast breakfast with us.
‘I’ve been thinking,’ he said.
‘You haven’t!’ Nick cried. ‘You promised us to go straight to sleep last night.’
‘Calm down,’ Maurice grinned. ‘It didn’t take much time…Well, now that the war is over and traveling has become possible again, why don’t we all go to England to visit Clive and Anne? Alec should come with us. His head mechanic can run the garage.’
Nick and I protested. It would be to strenuous on Maurice, even if we chose to travel by sea instead of by air.
‘Please,’ Maurice begged. ‘Let’s all go while we still can. I’m fifty-eight, Alec is fifty-six, we’re not that old yet.’
We agreed. Soon we would be to old to cross the Atlantic indeed. It made me wonder why Maurice had brought up the idea now.
‘Because of the way we set foot on American soil again in 1927,’ he said. ‘It reconciled us with all we had been through and told us that being crazy is the spice of life…Have either of you gotten to that part yet?’
‘No,’ Nick said. ‘But I remember that day too. Thank you, you gave me inspiration for the last bit.’
My beautiful James, colored like mountain springs and beach sand and wild honey, has graciously allowed me to write about the very last day of our journey.
The seagulls were already sailing over our heads at the same speed of the vessel long before any land came into sight.
We were standing on the first-class deck, hatless and shielding our cigarettes from the wind that bore the smells of concrete and gas from the city.
I’ll spare the reader a description of the first sight of the New York skyline dominated by the Statue of Liberty, of what we felt then. So many writers have painted this picture.
Only when we went down the gangway much later did we notice that summer had struck in full force. It was unbelievably hot, close to one hundred degrees.
We hurried to the office to turn in documents in order to retrieve our trunks that had arrived on another ship a few days before us. Then we went through customs. It would be the last time Maurice had to show a British passport.
Alec had written to us while we were still in England. He had even very meticulously indicated where we could find him. This enabled us to have the trunks carted to this spot so that they could be loaded into his van.
We crossed a road and found a row of cabs with drivers loudly offering rides. Then we entered the car park, a sea of metal and dusty canvas covers.
A weak horn wailed. Once. Twice. We walked on.
‘Hel-loooo!’ we then heard. ‘Hiii-yaa…I’m over here, you tosspots!’
And then we saw Alec leaning against his Overland sounding the horn with one hand and waving with the other. Next to the car was his faithful, rickety van with his junior mechanic dozing at the wheel.
Alec was all smiles and laughs and shook hands with us. This was all he could do since we were in public. The boy would drive the van. Alec would take us home in the car. I knew he would kiss us as soon as we had gotten to the safety of Maurice’s house on West Egg.
‘Let’s wait until the bloody trunks turn up,’ Alec said lighting a cigarette. ‘Blimey, it is too hot.’
‘How have you been?’ Maurice asked.
Alec smiled. ‘Fine! Got me a cracking DeSoto to repair and sell the other day.’
He forgot about our journey and quickly gave us a list of other cars he had come across. Business was booming.
‘And yerselves?’ he suddenly interrupted his story. ‘Have you been all right? Done anything interesting?’
‘Not a lot,’ I said, producing a pack of Lucky Strikes from my pocket. ‘We’ve just grown a bit older, that’s all.’