Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

fic: The Measure of Love

Fic: The Measure of Love

(2234 words, Maurice/The Great Gatsby crossover.)

This fic was inspired by exponential63's Tumblr post, "Mmm, Clive Durham at the AU Diner". Heartfelt thanks to Kalypso for beta brilliance and to Kate_Lear, ginbitch, thimpressionist and my fellow MiFus at WriSoMiFu for cheering me on. Title from Jeanette Winterson, Written on the Body

“Mind if I sit here?”

Clive looked up from his newspaper, preparing to make his usual excuse about waiting for a friend. He didn’t care for sharing a table with strangers; who knew where it might lead? Even here, his instinct was to be cautious about striking up acquaintance, and Americans seemed to have very little idea of keeping themselves to themselves.

Still, this fellow didn’t look like the sort of hearty barbarian Clive had come to dread over the last three weeks. The man’s suit suggested Wall Street, but the vague expression on his thin, pleasant face was nothing like the brokers and financiers Clive knew. Dark shadows under his eyes, Clive saw: he looked as if he’d recently been through some great strain or shock, and couldn’t quite believe it yet.

The diner was busy with lunchtime customers, hardly a seat to spare. Clive suppressed a sigh.

“Please, sit down,” he said, gesturing to the seat opposite him.

“Thanks,” the man said, sitting down heavily. “You’re a long way from home, aren’t you?”

Home: the word caught him on the raw. Home meant Pendersleigh, and Anne waiting to hear when he’d be coming back; dutiful, stilted letters that said nothing of what really mattered.

“Coffee, please,” the man said to the waitress. “Sorry,” he remarked to Clive, “I didn’t mean to interrupt your reading.”

“That’s quite all right,” Clive said, though it wasn’t what he’d meant to say. “I’d just finished the crossword.”

The man smiled: a nice smile that made him look even more tired than before. “You like crosswords?”

Clive considered. “Yes; in the same way I used to like doing Latin prose,” he said, and the man laughed.

“What’s so funny about that?” Clive asked. He’d thought it a perfectly reasonable comparison.

“I was wondering how many people here could say the same,” the man said. “Are you an Oxford man?”

“Cambridge,” Clive said, half expecting the man to say Aren’t they the same thing?

Not for him; never for him. The memory of those lost times was still sharp in his mind: that winter afternoon when he’d rested his head against Maurice’s knee, leaning into the touch as Maurice stroked his hair. And then Maurice’s arms around him, their faces touching, almost kissing, the moment before Chapman and his ridiculous friends burst into the room demanding tea…

“Are you an Oxford man yourself?” he asked, though wouldn’t the fellow have said so, if he was?

“A friend of mine was at Oxford for a time,” the man said, his face clouding. “Just after the war.”

“Ah,” Clive said. “I’m afraid that’s rather after my time. I doubt we’d have any acquaintance in common.”

“He’s dead,” the man said abruptly.

Clive wasn’t at all sure what he was supposed to say to that. “I’m sorry.”

“Thanks,” the man said.

They sat for a while in silence, drinking their coffee. The man gazed over Clive’s shoulder, as if he were seeing something a long way off. Eventually he said “Nobody came.”

“Nobody came?” Clive echoed.

“To the funeral,” the man said. “There were three of us besides the priest and the undertakers: his father, and me, and a man who hardly knew him. None of his friends –” He broke off, and cleared his throat.

“That’s rotten,” Clive said, thinking how feeble it sounded.

“He had hundreds of them, or so I thought,” the man said bitterly. “They used to be up at the house all the time. Sorry. I ought to leave you in peace.”

“Not at all,” Clive said automatically, and could have kicked himself. Now he’d given this stranger licence to unburden himself still more. He couldn’t even make an excuse and leave without seeming obviously rude. It was the sort of awful conversation one would have with a drunkard in a bar – except that this man wasn’t drunk.

“What was your friend’s name?” Clive asked, not knowing what else to say.

“His real name was James Gatz,” the man said. “But he called himself Gatsby. Jay Gatsby.”

He sounded as if he expected Clive to know the name.

“I’m sorry,” Clive said, “but I don’t –”

“No, of course,” the man said. “Why would you?”

“Was he very well known here?” Clive asked, feeling more and more out of his depth.

The man grimaced. “You could say that.”

Clive took a gulp of his tepid coffee and signalled to the waitress for more.

“What did he do?” he asked. Stupid to embroil himself further, but the stranger’s grief tugged at him.

“I never knew exactly,” the man said, and his face twisted again. “Some people said he was a bootlegger. He was a crook, or at least his business associates were. He started out with nothing and made a fortune, nobody quite knew how. It was obscene, how wealthy he was, but it was magical, too. Like a fairy tale.”

He tried to light a cigarette, fumbling with his lighter. Clive cupped his hands and held them steady, feeling the shock of the contact go through him. How long was it since he’d done anything so intimate, even casually, even for a moment?

The man inhaled deeply. “Thanks,” he said, and held out his case.

Clive took a cigarette and lit it. None of this – the plain metal case and lighter, the ordinary cigarette – seemed like what he’d expect from the friend of a millionaire.

“How did you know Gatsby?” he asked.

“We were neighbours,” the man said, as if the fact still astonished him. “And then he wanted to know me because of my cousin.” His face clouded again. “He was in love with her.”

Clive recognized that look only too well: he’d seen it in the mirror, too many mornings, thinking of Maurice and remembering the last time he’d seen him. Remembering Maurice’s grotesque announcement that he’d slept with Alec Scudder, of all people. The thought of it clawed at his gut, even now. To lose someone you loved to such an unworthy object, to a servant… This man couldn’t possibly share the worst of Clive’s pain, those words of Maurice’s that echoed in his head night after night, I was yours once till death, if you’d cared to keep me. Knowing he’d lost Maurice through his own fault, though the magnitude of that loss had been hidden from him at first. He'd been so sure that Maurice must see how impossible the situation was, that he would come and dine with Clive at his club and they'd talk the thing over properly. But as months and then years went by with no word from Maurice, Clive had given up hope of seeing him again.

“Your cousin,” he said, pushing the memory away.

“Daisy,” the man said, his voice hard. “He’d be alive now if it wasn’t for her and Tom.”

Clive didn’t ask who Tom was; the way this conversation was going, he would know soon enough.

“They weren’t there either,” the man said, stubbing out his cigarette.

There meaning at the funeral, Clive supposed.

“I saw him just yesterday,” the man said.

For a moment Clive thought he meant Gatsby. He’d had that experience himself: thinking he saw Maurice, then realizing with a sick jolt that it wasn’t him. But Maurice wasn’t dead, as far as Clive knew. He’d scanned the casualty lists day after day, right through the war. Fearing to find Maurice’s name, half-hoping to find Scudder’s; and all the time with a creeping sense of dread that they might both have enlisted under false names and he’d never know…

“On Fifth Avenue,” the man said. “Looking in a jeweller’s shop window. He didn’t even try to deny what he’d done.”

“What had he done?” Clive asked, feeling out of his depth again. He wasn’t even sure who the fellow was talking about.

The man looked startled, then shook himself like a wet dog. “Of course you wouldn’t know.”

“No,” Clive said. There was no way to escape it now. “How did your friend die?”

“He was shot,” the man said. His voice was quiet and matter-of-fact, nothing to attract attention. Clive still had to fight the impulse to look round in case anyone was listening.

“There was a woman who died, Myrtle Wilson,” the man said. “She was Tom’s mistress. Her husband killed Gatsby.”

“Good God,” Clive said, horrified. “Why on earth would he do that?”

“Wilson thought Gatsby was his wife’s lover,” the man said. “And her killer.”

“What happened?” Clive asked, before he could stop himself.

“Myrtle was hit by a car,” the man said. “Gatsby’s car, but Daisy was driving. And Tom let Wilson go on thinking Gatsby had killed his wife, told him how to find Gatsby’s house…”

Cold in here all of a sudden. Clive shivered.

“Wilson shot himself afterwards,” the man said.

“How horrible,” Clive said, wincing at the words’ inadequacy.

The man lit another cigarette. This time, his hands did not shake.

“He just went into the jeweller’s, as if nothing had happened,” he said. “What do you suppose he was going to buy?”

Clive was pretty sure now that the man outside the jeweller’s must be Tom, but it didn’t sound like the kind of question that needed an answer.

“You folks want to order something else?”

The man shook himself again and looked up at the waitress. “Not for me,” he said. “I ought to be going.”

“I – I haven’t decided yet,” Clive said. What a fool she would think him, still not to have made up his mind! But she only shrugged and said “Okay.”

“Sorry,” the man said again. “I must have talked you into the ground.” He looked half-dazed, as if he was still reliving the encounter with Tom.

“Don’t mention it,” Clive said. “My name’s Durham, by the way.” It felt absurd to be introducing himself now, but wrong not to do it.

“Carraway,” the man said, holding out his hand.

Clive grasped it and shook it, feeling again the shock of Carraway’s hand, warm and dry against his.

“Must you go?” he heard himself ask.

“I must,” Carraway said wearily. “I’m packing up tonight. Moving back west. I can’t stay here any longer.”

Ridiculous to feel a pang of disappointment at that. “What’s your destination?” Clive asked.

“Minnesota,” Carraway said. “I grew up there.”

“You’re a long way from home too, then,” Clive said.

“I am,” Carraway said, with a faint smile. “Thank you for keeping me company.”

“I was glad to,” Clive said, surprised at himself but knowing it to be true. “Good luck with your packing.”

“Thanks,” Carraway said. He looked at his watch. “Time to go. And I never even asked you what you’re doing in New York.”

Running away from a failed marriage and a stalled career. Hiding from myself. Trying to forget what I lost.

“My cousin Philip was married to an American,” Clive said. “He died in January and she died last month. I’m winding up her estate.”

“I’m sorry,” Carraway said.

Clive nearly said There’s no need, but stopped himself in time. He had never been close to Ellen; Philip was the one he’d cared for, at sixteen, hating himself for that love.

Carraway grasped his hand again, and pressed it. “I don’t suppose I’ll ever come to England,” he said, “but if I do, I owe you a drink.”

“I don’t suppose you will either,” Clive said, “but here’s my card.”

Pendersleigh would still find him, or his club would, whatever happened now with Anne.

Carraway took a card from his own case, crossed out the address and wrote another on the back. “That’s home,” he said. “The Carraway house. If you’re ever in St Paul, which I don’t suppose you will be.”

“No,” Clive said. “I don’t suppose I will be. But thank you.”

“Goodbye, then,” Carraway said, tucking his scarf around his neck and pulling on his light overcoat.

“Goodbye,” Clive said, and watched him go.

Clive sat there for a long time, turning Carraway’s card over and over in his fingers. Of course nothing would come of the exchange: Carraway wouldn’t call, even if he came to England, and Clive had no conceivable reason to go to Minnesota. Better they shouldn’t meet again, in any case: he knew that kind of intimacy wasn’t for him, however much he yearned for it. The risks were too great, even of a Platonic affection; he’d learned that the hard way when he lost Maurice. One must keep one’s desires in check, like Plato’s charioteer. Anything else was simply courting disaster. Look what had happened to those people Carraway had described.

Still he didn’t tear up the card, but tucked it away in his waistcoat pocket, a memento of an unexpected encounter. What harm could it do to keep it?

Past the lunch-hour now: the diner emptied out around him. He’d have to go back to the hotel eventually, but he wasn’t ready to move yet. He sat gazing at the two cups on the table and the cigarette-ends in the ashtray, his head still full of that strange conversation. Unbidden images played across his mind, like the scenes of a motion picture: glittering revellers dancing to a jazz-band in a moonlit garden; autumn leaves and rain falling on a sparse funeral procession; a train pushing steadily westwards through the night, across the miles between the exile and his home.

Also posted at http://fengirl88.dreamwidth.org/137263.html with comment count unavailable comments.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 25th, 2013 02:10 pm (UTC)
I must say I've never felt the slightest sympathy for Clive before, you make some good points. I suppose anyone can regret a decision when it's too late. And maybe it's to do with Forster's presentation of Maurice's spontaneity and resistance of social (and legal) pressures: makes it look so much easier than it really can have been at the time.

Sly Charioteer ref., huh? Virago reissuing it, I guess it's back in vogue. *disinters Noel Coward to give him the glad tidings*

I never even realised until quite recently that Nick is read as having at least gay tendencies. *raps head, solid wood* Nice last lines, very melancholy!
Nov. 25th, 2013 09:55 pm (UTC)
thank you - glad you liked it!

I haven't usually felt sympathy for Clive either but exponential63 got me thinking again. and given his views on Plato, I thought the charioteer might come to mind...
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


scallop voices


Powered by LiveJournal.com