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Authors: Thomas McGuane

Panama (17 page)

BOOK: Panama
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At Clarence S. Higgs Memorial Beach, I walked out the plank dock. It goes out on the water a considerable distance and then stops at the ruins of an older dock that goes another fifty yards. At this point, there is a great spoked wheel which prevents you from trying to get on the ruined dock. Turning when I got to the wheel, I was able to see the wedding crowd. I could see that boat too. And Jorge Cruz's orchestra sent its strains of Old Key West across this new seascape where pilings sucked in the tide like regret. It was time to start for the wedding.

I turned into the hotel by the old octagonal lounge, whose weird acoustics had put the bar out of business. The wedding was still not in sight but Catherine was waiting for me. She was wearing a silk dress with angular shoulders, like Billie Holiday; and she had a red flower in her hair. She was wearing about a half of a coffee can of old jewelry and carrying a little beaded purse in both hands. When I looked at her, I fell in love all over again. At the same time, it was like watching something through a window. My heart had lost its purchase, its ability to do anything for anyone, and could only register. But it had perhaps never registered more.

“How is the wedding?” I asked.

“Very well. They all are taking it very seriously. Roxy has her man and Peavey has his waterfront.”

“God, Catherine. I miss my old show. It was like this in many ways.”

“I thought about their marriage. It's fair. Let's go in and dance.”

We walked into the old homeland of the cats. There was a small crowd among the abandoned buildings. The swimming pool was empty and on the concrete ramp for the long-gone diving boards I thought I glimpsed a familiar figure and that he was staring at me.

I watched the wedding as closely as I could. There was the turmoil of the party behind which the slower geometry of ceremony could be seen, to the extent that I
see, knowing what a meat cleaver daily history is and how we trend, despite our most luminous acts, steadily toward oblivion. Whether I refused to look or refused to remember just didn't matter any more. For me, viewing the perpetual stream of leftovers, I could only conclude once more that the dog ate the part we didn't like. I had the only reasonable motive in the place: I wanted to dance.

I took Catherine in my arms. I thought the orchestra was playing the same song I'd heard from the dock. They were dressed in yellowing linen. There were many people dancing and I cast my eyes about blindly, avoiding, for the moment, any recognition while my beloved and I danced at the edge of the sea.

My uncle Pat soared past, wearing one of his twenty-year-old seersucker suits. I knew that the dress would hang reproachfully in his closet forever. I winked over Catherine's shoulder and he winked back. He knew that I knew.

Nylon Pinder wore white shoes and pants with a white patent-leather belt secured by a Wells Fargo replica buckle. He sported a polyester nik-nik shirt with pastel clouds and the faces of women of the 1930's superimposed on flying borzois. Nylon was hugely moved by the ceremony. He shook my hand with both of his and said simply: “It is the dawn of a great era.” The morning paper had spattered his tongue with new phrases. Nevertheless, he still bore the livid scar on his cheek, one further mark of the all-consuming dog.

Catherine had put her head on my shoulder as we danced. When Roxy and Peavey came into our view, I asked if we could double-cut, and we did.

“Well, I've done it,” said Roxy.

“My congratulations.”

“I think you will agree the end is always in sight.”

“The end of what?”

“The end of the absinthe.”

“Is that what you meant?”

She said, “No.”

*   *   *

I guess Catherine and I had danced a half hour or so when I first spotted Marcelline with her boyfriend. I might have seen them earlier but I was not looking in the direction of the diving board; and I believe the two of them had been lurking in the sea grapes over there.

The boyfriend wore a sparkling Hawaiian shirt and Marcelline had, once more, her air of corrupt glamour, bits of bright string and ribbon tied in her hair, blatant paste rings on every finger.

“Your family have been here a long time, haven't they?” asked the boyfriend indulgently.

“Yes, yes they have.”

“Isn't that your father?”

“No,” I said.

“How up are you on local history?”

“Not that up.”

“You ever heard about Lieutenant Pomeroy?”

“I don't think so.”

Our dancing came to a complete stop. Marcelline put her hand in my back pocket.

“Well,” said the boyfriend, “he was a native of Key West who fought the pirates two hundred years ago.” They were leading us toward the sea grapes. “He was killed escorting a slave ship from Havana.” We were in the trees at the edge of the sea now. I could hear hermit crabs in the awkward roots where the tide glided unmercifully. “He might have been kin to you.”

“Why are you telling me about Lieutenant Pomeroy?”

“Well uh, Marcelline and I are kind of low, kind of cash-poor right now—”

“And what?” Dread arose. The boyfriend picked up the sack from between the roots.

“Do you want to buy him?”

He stretched open the sack and there was Lieutenant Pomeroy.

Marcelline said, “It's purely historical. I mean, there's no jewelry. There's some military buttons and a sword handle. But we guarantee he's complete.”

I glimpsed the bones glowing in the sack and turned suddenly. “No,” I said. Catherine was already gone. I hurried to the dancers and still I couldn't see her. Then, from nowhere, she passed close to me, carrying her wrap.

“It was awful,” I said, aching with hope and guilt.

“You attract that sort of thing like a lightning rod.”

“I do not!”
I said desperately. I could see it coming.

“Then why why why do these things always happen to us?”

“Oh please, darling, don't blame me for it. I didn't do it.”

“Sweetie, I can't stand it.”

And then she was gone. I watched her in her silk dress go shimmering through the palms and vanish. Then a bright car filled the space she'd gone through and spilled dancers onto the lawn.

When I turned around, he was walking from the diving board toward me. Roxy and Peavey stood amid applause and elevated glasses. He said, “This is a sham but it's not my money. I'll see you at your place at twelve. No sense staying beyond that.”

By the time I got to Catherine's, there was a cab in front and suitcases on the sidewalk. There were bones all over the yard.

“Is that Lieutenant Pomeroy?” I asked.

“Yes, they said they'd have never gone and gotten him if we were going to take it like that. They said we made them feel like second-class citizens.”

“Going to the bus?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Can I ride over with you?”


“Aren't you going to change?”

She was wearing her wedding clothes.


“Can we make love one last time?”


“Is there anything I can do?”

“There's nothing in the house I want. Marcelline and that guy took the stereo in exchange for the skeleton. They were blown out and I was afraid to argue with them.”

We got the suitcases into the cab and sat in the back. When tears first came, the red flower in Catherine's hair blurred until it filled the air. Then I stopped.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“Thinking of going to Panama.”


“It's the last place I saw you.” She pressed her beautiful hands to her face and said, “In Panama I'm married. I have a man and he'll stand up for me through thick and thin. Everywhere else I'm in pieces.”

I will say for myself, when it all comes rattling down, that I bought her ticket to the mainland. She said, “You can die trying.” And the hydraulic doors closed behind her before I could tell her it was still the best way to go. When the bus swung around I saw the red flower in the window; and because I thought our souls would be together forever, I believed it was the third window from the left. I knew I would never see Catherine again.

At twelve o'clock Jesse came, a cane in the scabbard, his years at sea, the difficulties with the smokey subways of Boston behind him. He said, “We want the same thing.” He stepped through the door as though he owned the place and asked what I called him Jesse for. I told him you have so many names for things that matter. He walked across the room, leaned down, and turned on the lamp. Then he cut his eyes straight up to his portrait on the wall.

“When was that taken?” he asked.

“Ten years ago.”

“I'm wearing out fast,” he said and reached his hands out in front of himself. He gazed at their age spots. “I never thought I'd look like this.”

“Well, you do.” I sat down.

“You know who I am,” he said quietly. “Can't you say hello?”

When I was young, we used to dive into the swimming pool from the highest board on moonless nights, without looking to see if there was water in the pool, knowing that it was emptied twice a month. I felt the same blind arc through darkness when I spoke to my father. He just watched me say the word and after that either of us could go, knowing there was more to be said and time to say it. Perhaps we wished there was not so much time.

Thomas McGuane

Nothing But Blue Skies,

Keep the Change,

To Skin a Cat,

Something to Be Desired,

Nobody's Angel,

An Outside Chance,


Ninety-two in the Shade,

The Bushwhacked Piano,

The Sporting Club,

Thomas McGuane


Thomas McGuane is the author of several highly acclaimed novels, including
The Sporting Club; The Bushwhacked Piano,
which won the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Award of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters;
Ninety-two in the Shade,
which was nominated for the National Book Award;
Panama; Nobody's Angel; Something to Be Desired; Keep the Change;
Nothing But Blue Skies.
He has also written
To Skin a Cat,
a collection of short stories; and
An Outside Chance,
a collection of essays on sports. His books have been published in ten languages. He was born in Michigan and educated at Michigan State University, earned a Master of Fine Arts degree at the Yale School of Drama and was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford. An ardent conservationist, he is a director of American Rivers and of the Craighead Wildlife-Wildlands Institute. He lives with his family in McLeod, Montana.


Copyright © 1978 by Thomas McGuane

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., New York, in 1978. This edition published by arrangement with Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

McGuane, Thomas.

Panama / Thomas McGuane.

p. cm. — (Vintage contemporaries)

ISBN: 0-679-75291-9

I. Title.

PS3563.A3114P36   1995

813'.54—dc20   94-41583


eISBN 9781466858305

First eBook edition: October 2013

BOOK: Panama
13.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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