Murky Waters: A short story

Sawyer and I found the money that the robbers hid in the cave, and it made us rich. We got six thousand dollars apiece-all gold. It was an awful sight of money when it was piled up. Well, Judge Thatcher, he took it and put it out at interest, and it fetched us a dollar a day apiece, all the year round-more than a body could tell what to do with. So I set out to the East, to where I thought the sun first rose on, and I thought to myself, “That’d be a nice place to be.” I rounded up my rags and everything in a small sack, and Sawyer and the Judge, they promised me to send any money I wanted when I gave them an address.

A year later, I’d found a place in Manhattan, right next door to some rich boy who’d just returned from the war himself and threw fancy parties over the weekends. Sawyer was true to his word, like he’d always been. Like I was saying, this chap next door went by the name of Joe Gatsby, and when we met for lunch the other day, he had me shake hands with a friend of his from the war, a young man named Nick Carraway.

We returned from lunch and I had Daisy prepare some tea. Daisy was this young widow I’d hired soon after I’d moved in on Gatsby’s word, but now I think there’s something going on between him and Daisy It’s strange. An hour passed and the afternoon was shaping up nice and fine what with pleasant conversations in the offing, and this new life with the riches was alright, I thought, though I oft missed spotting those mangoes with all those marbles Sawyer found lying around God knew where! It turned out Carraway was talking to me all this time and I was busy staring at the ceiling, so I snapped back and listened to him go on.

“It’s been a fine evening.” He looked fine to me, too. “How ’bout we host a little something tonight? I’ve been meaning to introduce you to some friends of mine, you’ll like him. One of them’s a cousin of mine, Tom, I’ve a feeling you, Jay and him’ll hit it off quite nice.”

I felt like I had to say something now. This Gatsby had been really nice, so I agreed to host “a li’l something” come the evening. I walked up to Daisy in the kitchen where she was and I trusted her to set up the requirements for the gathering. Carraway held back-since his place was all the way outside town-as Gatsby left to bring some wine from his cellars. The evening was slow to come, which was a surprise, since I had nothing to do until then and was quite looking forward to the party. About an hour afore sunset, they arrived, one by one, some in cars, some by walk, all looking weird in the evening’s light.

The first to step in were George and Martha, who both taught at the Manhattan University: George was a professor of history, he said, and Martha taught biology. They looked the least happiest of the lot, and they wouldn’t hold the other’s hands or pour each other a drink, no matter who was asking and however politely. Next in line, and pardon me here, was a demented-looking young man by name of Parry, Jed Parry, and was a butler of some sort with the Georges, and I knew immediately he was one to keep an eye out for because he had that look in his eyes. You didn’t have to look all that hard, you just had to glance and it would be there. Gatsby must have thought the same thing, so he pulled him aside, poured him some Bergin and had him sit in a corner. The last to arrive was Joe Rose, my favourite from that strange evening; Joe worked with hot-air balloons and he’d been on many fascinating journeys. He’d come with a friend, whose name I couldn’t bring myself to pronounce, and called him Owl Eyes.

Me, Owl Eyes and Joe got to talking and it seemed like it was going to be a fine time, but trouble was not far afoot. Jed Parry had overheard Joe saying he had a wife, Clarissa something, and barged in, flustered. “Clarissa! My sweetheart!”-Joe didn’t get it either-“You married her? You married my Clarissa?!” Joe was indignant. We all were.

“Your sweetheart?! Who’n Hell’s name are you?”

“Doesn’t matter now!”-we’d hoped the man was drunk-he pushed Joe told the floor and we had to hold him to keep him from getting hurt. In a flash, they were in a fight. I couldn’t believe my eyes what was happening, and Carraway and Gatsby were in it, too. After a tense bit, the scuffle was stopped and Jed was taken hold of by Martha and sent home for what he’d done. He didn’t leave silently, however, but stood glowering for a long while at Joe, before quickly moving to the door. It was some time before we’d all returned to talking; Gatsby and George had Joe sit down and talked to him and so forth. About now, I could see Martha walk up to Carraway behind her husband’s back, seducing him by the poolside.

I couldn’t believe my eyes, as it was, that I’d left behind my home to get to this place, and I had never for once thought things would be this way. I’d often heard folk say this was the place of dreams, a place to have dreams and not just dream them but actually live them. Now, in the middle of all this, I already know George and Martha are not a happy couple. Worse, I stood thinking, was yet to come, and it did.

As it so happened, Carraway was too drunk to kiss Martha back, so she’d pushed him into the pool and had stomped back in to pick up a fight with her George. At the same time, I find out Tom had a thing for Daisy, too, and it seemed already that the dream was only a… a dream. These men were at the top of their days, they lived a life that all of us in the Midwest only dreamt of, and now, I’d like to go home and tell Sawyer and the Widow Douglas and Judge Thatcher what a fool I’d made of myself coming all the way out of town to this circus.

Soon, Tom and the great Gatsby were having a heated talk.

“Who are you, anyhow?” demanded Tom suddenly, “Some big bootlegger?”

“Where’d you hear that?”

“I didn’t hear it. I imagined it. A lot of these newly rich people are just big bootleggers, you know.”

“Not me,” he said shortly.

He was silent for a moment. The awkwardness of the topic crunched under his breath.

“Well, you certainly must’ve strained yourself to get this menagerie together.”

A breeze stirred the gray haze of Daisy’s blue collar.

“At least they’re more interesting than the people you know,” she said with an effort.

“You didn’t look so interested.”

“Well, I was.”

Tom laughed and turned to face me.

“I won’t stand this!” cried Daisy. “Oh, I’m going to get out.”

“Who are you, anyhow?” broke out Tom. “You’re one of that bunch that hangs around with Meyer Wolfsheim-that much I happen to know. I’ve made a little investigation into your affairs-and I’ll carry it further to-morrow.”

“You can suit yourself about that, old sport.” said Gatsby steadily.

“I found out what your ‘drug-stores’ were.” He turned to us and spoke rapidly. “He and this Wolfsheim bought up a lot of side-street drug-stores here and in Chicago and sold grain alcohol over the counter. That’s one of his little stunts. I picked him for a bootlegger the first time I saw him, and I wasn’t far wrong.”

“What about it?” said Gatsby politely. “I guess your friend Walter Chase wasn’t too proud to come in on it.”

“And you left him in the lurch, didn’t you? You let him go to jail for a month over in New Jersey. God! You ought to hear Walter on the subject of YOU.”

“He came to us dead broke. He was very glad to pick up some money, old sport.”

“Don’t you call me ‘old sport’!” cried Tom. Gatsby said nothing. “Walter could have you up on the betting laws too, but Wolfsheim scared him into shutting his mouth.”

Joe Gatsby’s eyes were beginning to redden, with tears of sorrow or the strain of having to maintain a lie, I don’t know. They darted between me, where the rested only for a moment, Tom and Daisy, who was beginning to tremble as if a precarious truth had been revealed to her.

“Joe… is this… true?”

Gatsby couldn’t answer, and he only continued to look down. She quickly composed herself and soaked the tears away from her white cheeks. Grabbing a key that was lying by the table-most likely Gatsby’s-and stormed out of the house. It was only convenient that so many other dramas were playing out in that moment, and no one could or did witness the downfall of Joseph Gatsby. His beginning to take one a demonic sight, he lurched out for Tom’s collar and found it. Tom spoke, smug after his victory.

“Look at you, Gatsby! You’re a nothing. You have rich friends, you live here in Manhattan, you’re a stud, but there’s nothing that can happen between you and Daisy. She’s beyond you, and you know it!”

Here, the poor man crumbled to the floor, disbelieving and denying, the fingers hanging limp and his legs falling lame, and wept like a little child. There wasn’t any time, or I’d bent down to comfort my new friend, a friend I’d come to like because he had fought as best as he could with what weapons he had, he had fought not against himself, his family or against the world, but he’d fought against the hypocrisy of the American dream, and here he was. He had won the battle but the truth had come to him. There wasn’t any time because a gunshot sounded from the pool, where I knew Carraway was.

We all rushed outside together to find Jed Parry climbing atop the backyard wall, a rifle in his hand, looking at the floating body of Nicholas Carraway in a sea of red and blue colours. George was the first to find his voice. “Parry! What have you done? Where did you get that gun?!” He shouted in vain for Parry had already jumped to the other side and the sound of a car could be heard in the night’s silence. George quickly rushed out of the house, a little too late to realize that it was his rifle that had killed Carraway, that it was his car the butler had rushed home in, that it was him who would be taking the blame for all of this.

I lent him my motorbike so he could ride home. Martha, however, was inconsolable and I seemed to have lost my bearings in this hideous evening. Blood had been spilled in my house and many hopes accumulated over many years were dashed against wall as if in slow-motion. There was no way to tell if I could stay in this God-forsaken city anymore, there was no way to tell if I may be pushed to try right then, but I knew for sure that if I continued to place my faith in hollow sayings, I would no longer be the man who rode out in search of a new life but one who was embroiled in another by his own idols, and no man deserves that punishment. No man deserves to be told that his inspiration was a fake, a nonexistent truth told to children so they sleep quietly at night.

Joe Rose was sitting by the pool, and I walked up to him, the only guest of the evening who seemed alright. As I neared him, a sudden fear enveloped me and I knew that if Joe had a story to narrate of his own, then I would become a madman. It was this man’s life that stood between the way I imagined the American dream to be and the way it turned out when ordinary men and women aspired for it. I called out.

“Joe, are you alright?”

There was no answer. The man was dumbstruck, it would seem, from all the violence that had transpired around him. Slowly, in a few minutes, he began to speak in a slow and measured voice, the words coming out as if he was selecting them from a morass of thoughts.

“I saw him. I saw Parry climb down the wall and walk up to the poolside and take aim at me.”-I waited with bated breath for him to finish-“And just then, Carraway tripped him from beneath his feet. I was saved by Carraway. I was saved by Carraway for no reason.”

“What do you mean, no reason?! Carraway saved your life and now-”

“Yes, but you don’t know the story. Clarissa’s first husband was Parry. She left him because he couldn’t bless her with a son. She left him and met me. That’s when we were married.”

I was aghast, and ploughed on. “But inside, earlier, you said…”

“I know what I said! I know what I said. I didn’t know Parry was going to be here today evening. I didn’t want everyone to find out the truth.”

“Why not?”

“Because it wasn’t Parry, and it wasn’t me, who couldn’t give Clarissa a baby. It was her. She couldn’t… conceive”-here, he hugged me, and it was eerie, the very touch of him, the closeness of his emotions so quickly rising to the surfacing and evaporating into the sea of loneliness-“and she killed herself soon after.”

The night was a long one after that. Owl Eyes had summoned the police and, once all the remaining guests had been questioned, they left. I fully understood the events of the previous night the next morning. The morning edition of The Daily Messenger carried a photograph of Carraway from his younger days and screamed a title that I will remember forever: “NY Dilettante Murdered In Murky Waters”. Murky waters, that’s what my company had become. Murky waters. George had been convicted for the crime because Parry had driven home and shot himself through the head, with the detectives thinking George had committed the two murders and planned to hide himself in the Finn estate. I was pulled up, too, but was let away soon after.

A few years have passed since, and every time I passed into yard where Carraway had been shot dead, I can think of only one thing: the question that Joe Rose had asked me before the police were there. He’d looked straight into my eyes, as if searching for my soul, and whispered, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

I am, Joe. I’m afraid of Virginia Woolf.

~

Inspired by…

(Clockwise, starting top-left) Twain, Fitzgerald, Albee, McEwan

0 thoughts on “Murky Waters: A short story

  1. Pingback: The End Of A Dream « Enderanimate

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