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By Tom Ray

The Last of Salinger

The new fellow in the old folks' home catapults Hazel back to an incident in the past she'd rather never think about again.

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Realism, Relationships/Family

Story Details

  • Title : The Last of Salinger
  • Author : Tom Ray
  • Word-Count : 6015
  • Genre : Realism, Relationships/Family

About The Author

Author

Tom Ray is a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War. He retired from the U.S. government after 35 years in the civil service, with all of his career spent in Washington, D.C. Currently he resides with his wife in his hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee, where he practices his new vocation of fiction writer. Tom's website is tomrayshortfiction.com.

Paula leaned forward over the Scrabble board and whispered, “That’s the new fellow there.”

“The gentleman in the brown sweater?” Hazel didn’t like Paula calling a professional-looking man she didn’t know a “fellow”.

“Yes. Good God, Grace, try not to be so obvious staring.” Grace was the third Scrabble player, and Hazel’s other close friend at Afton Forest. She was not as worldly as Paula, but was still mentally alert. That counted for a lot in an assisted living facility for seniors.

Grace said, “Look how bald he is. The top of his head looks so slick, a fly would slip on it like ice.” They all snickered.

As the game progressed, the women stole glances at the man, sitting in an easy chair and reading a thick newspaper, possibly the New York Times. He was a little shorter and slimmer than average, and he wore rimless glasses.

Paula said, “From the way he’s reading that newspaper I’d say he’s the kind of guy who likes to play Scrabble. Let’s invite him over.”

“No.”

“Why not, Hazel? Don’t you remember being new here? It’s hard to make new acquaintances. Go ahead and invite him over, Paula.”

“The man must take the initiative. We don’t want to look desperate.”

Paula didn’t say anything, but kept her seat at the Scrabble board. They finished the game and went to their rooms to rest and get ready for dinner.

They usually sat together at meals. There was a vacant chair at their table now. As soon as they sat down to dinner the new man approached. “Is this seat taken?”




“Unfortunately, it’s not.” The man looked confused at Grace’s response.

Paula said, “What my friend means is, we had a friend who used to sit there, but she recently passed. It’s unfortunate that Lee passed, but this seat where she used to sit is available, if you’d care to join us.”

Hazel had wanted to reply to the man, but didn’t have time to formulate her response. Paula was only seventy-nine, while Hazel was eighty-eight. A few years difference in age can make a lot of difference in reflexes.

“I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m happy to join you.” He was ugly with his bald head and frog face, but his smile was pleasant and his tone was winning.

“I’m Paula Vaughn. This is Grace Burger, and to your left is Hazel Eustis.”

He took Paula’s hand and then Grace’s, saying “I’m Bill Hurley. Nice to meet you, Grace,” and then, as he extended his hand to Hazel he said, “Oh, I know you. Of course, Hazel. You’re the Catcher in the Rye girl. And still with that beautiful chestnut hair. Haven’t changed much in all these years.”

As soon as he said that she recognized him. She felt herself flinch, and hoped Paula and Grace hadn’t noticed. She recovered quickly, and, arching her eyebrows at Bill as she took his hand, said, “Excuse me?” She glanced at Paula and Grace with a knowing look, and they laughed.

“You know what I mean.” He grinned at her conspiratorially.

“I’m not sure that I do. But that’s all right. We all get a little confused around here sometimes.” She threw another glance at Paula and Grace, who smiled.

The rest of dinner went off without further unpleasantness. They were having the tilapia with a sauce that Hazel loved, but she couldn’t enjoy it. She was worried that Bill might say something else to embarrass her, but he remained civil.

After the lime sherbet and decaf coffee he said, “I’m going to have to excuse myself. Moving in today has tired me out more than usual. I look forward to seeing you in the morning.”

When he’d gone, Grace said, “What was that he said to you, Hazel, that seemed so odd?”

“I don’t know. He seemed to have all his wits about him, except for that little lapse. We’re all at that age.”

* * *

She had, of course, known exactly what he was referring to. It was one of those memories she tried to forget, but it would return to her at odd moments, usually in bed at night.

It was over fifty years ago, when she was teaching tenth-grade English at Overton High School. She was the faculty sponsor for the National Honor Society chapter. One of the Society’s annual fund-raising projects was a book sale. She had been teaching for fifteen years, and had been the Honor Society sponsor for most of that time. The annual book sale was one of her innovations, and she was proud of it.

That particular year the book sale started out the way it always had. The students selected the titles to be offered, and picked up the books from the wholesaler. Teachers had been asked to announce the sale in homeroom, and during classes. The revolving display racks were brought out of storage, cleaned, stocked, and positioned in the foyer at the main entrance.

She became aware of the problem at the beginning of her ten o’clock free period, when she was smoking in the teacher’s lounge. Alice Hurley, who taught ninth-grade English, said, “I think your kids did a great job on the book sale selection. I was just telling Bea how much I admired your courage.” Bea Douglas was the twelfth-grade English teacher.

“I’m not aware of doing anything courageous.”

“One of the books is The Catcher in the Rye. Undoubtedly a modern classic, but controversial. I agree, though, we need to defend free speech in the schools.”

Hazel was stunned. She had taken a cursory look at the titles for sale, primarily looking for cheap crime fiction or romances with lurid covers. She hadn’t noticed The Catcher in the Rye. She’d never read the book, but she knew it had been criticized in a lot of school systems for vulgarity. Teachers had lost their jobs over it.

“Why would you say anything to Bea about it?”

“Why not?”
“You know Bea can be rather… restrictive in her views. That book will cause her some concern, if she’s heard of it.”

“Oh, she’s definitely heard of it. She mentioned the controversy.”

Bea, whose father had been a Methodist bishop, was nearing sixty and had never been married. She would be scandalized by the Salinger book, and would probably report it to the principal, Mr. Wolfenbarger. Alice must have known that.

“Did you call it to her attention just to get me in trouble?” Alice had only been teaching there a couple of years. Hazel had thought they had gotten along. Now she couldn’t decide if Alice’s smile was naïve, or sadistically malicious.

“I’m sure it’ll be all right.” Alice sounded like she was trying to be comforting, but Hazel found her tone condescending and there was a smugness about her smile.

Hazel headed for the foyer. She tried to keep control of her emotions, but she was becoming frantic at the thought of a scandal. She could lose her job. She was proud that her husband George was a vice president in the Holston River Bank, but he didn’t make all that much money. A lot of the compensation for a bank officer was in the job title. Her teacher’s salary was vital to maintaining their lifestyle. And what if the controversy became so heated that George lost his job, too? She couldn’t bear the thought of being poor again, living like her parents and grandparents, cleaning houses, doing laundry and ironing for strangers.

The school office was right off the foyer. Florence Easterday, the school clerk, came out of the office as Hazel approached.

“Hi, Hazel. Mr. Wolfenbarger wants to see you right away.”

She nodded at Florence and smiled, then went to the bookracks and spun the carousels, trying to find the offending volumes. She finally gave up and went into the principal’s office.

“What’s this about you selling dirty books?” A smile was playing on his lips, but his eyes were frowning. They had started teaching at about the same time at Overton, she just out of college, Wolfenbarger the football coach and driver’s ed teacher who had transferred from a smaller school. When he became principal she stopped calling him “Cliff,” but he still called her Hazel.

She knew he was teasing her, in his rough coach’s way. “I’m sorry, Mr. Wolfenbarger. I gave the students a little too much of a free hand in picking the books. I checked them hurriedly, looking for obvious trash, and didn’t pick up on the Salinger book. It was just pointed out to me by another teacher.”

“Bea was upset about another book. I didn’t know about Salinger.”

“Salinger wrote The Catcher in the Rye.”

“Oh. OK. Anyway, she came in here huffing and puffing,” (she was a large woman) “talking about that one you just said. I don’t think she’s read it, but she heard that it had been banned by some schools.”

“I can understand her concerns. I was just about to pull it from the rack when Florence called me in to see you.”

“OK. Good. Go ahead and pull it, and that’s that.”

With more time she was able to find the three copies of the book. She felt like she needed to say something to the students on the committee that selected it. Two of them, Gerald King and Michele Webb, were tending the bookstall.

“Goodness, we have to get this off the rack. I hadn’t seen this. It’s not appropriate to sell in school.” She pulled the copies out of their slot.

Michele spoke hesitantly. “Well, it was a national best seller.”

“I know, but that doesn’t mean it should be read by high school students. Who selected this title?”

The two students looked at each other, and finally Gerald said, “I guess I did.”

Michele said, “We both did.” They knew they were in trouble, but didn’t try to avoid responsibility. She was glad for that, but disappointed. They were seniors. When she’d had them for tenth-grade English they’d both been excellent students. The brightest young people could cause that kind of trouble, testing the limits of propriety.

She examined the rack again for lurid covers, then asked to see the consignment list. She couldn’t think of all of the so-called classics that could be controversial. She looked for Tropic of Cancer, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Ulysses, and prayed she wasn’t missing less well-known titles. By that time her free period was over, and she returned to her classroom.

She’d hoped that was that, as Mr. Wolfenbarger said, but Bea brought it up at faculty meeting.

“I think we should all be aware that a pornographic book was offered at the Honor Society book sale. If any of your students are carrying it to class, it should be confiscated. That would be my thought, anyway, Mr. Wolfenbarger.”

Hazel had thought Bea was a friend. “No copies of the book were sold, Bea. I checked to make sure of that. It was a little oversight on my part that the student committee selected it. I apologize for that.”

“Yeah, it’s already been taken care of, Bea, like I said it would be. Not a big deal. Some of Hazel’s honor students got a little ahead of themselves, that’s all. No harm done.” Mr. Wolfenbarger sounded annoyed at Bea for bringing the subject up.

Hazel thought Alice Hurley might say something about free speech or censorship at that point. That would have made matters worse, dragging the issue out into a controversy, and she was glad Alice kept quiet.

* * *

A few weeks after the book sale one of the University foundations had a fundraiser at the Hiwassee Country Club. George would represent the bank, and Hazel was expected to attend with him. She loved those kinds of affairs, spending hours planning what to wear, then getting dressed. She felt good as she looked in the mirror, not carrying much extra weight, her hair kept at the rich chestnut brown it had been when she was young. Her jewelry was simple but elegant, and her evening dress stylish and a little sexy, showing her bare shoulders.

She was proud of George in his tuxedo as they entered the country club. He’d kept in shape, and still had all of his hair, even if it was graying. They were a stunning couple.

It was a cocktail party, with an auction as the main fund-raising device. She was stimulated by having to be on her toes, to say the right thing to the right people to help George’s career.

There were two groups there: the real guests from the business and professional community, who were the targets of the fundraising; and the University crowd, who were there to flatter the first group and encourage their financial support. Hazel felt superior being in the first group. She and George mingled with the real estate developers, automobile and appliance dealers, and bankers. She noticed Martha Graves across the room, a junior high school English teacher she’d known for years. Martha’s husband Seward was Dean of the College of Engineering, and they were in a cluster of University people.

She excused herself and went across the room to greet Martha. They embraced, and she hugged Seward. She chatted with them briefly, not wanting to leave George alone too long. She had just started back to the other side of the room when she saw Alice Hurley approaching.

“Hazel! I didn’t know you’d be here.”

Hazel was surprised to see Alice, and at her friendliness. After the book sale incident Hazel had been intentionally cool toward her. Alice’s husband Bill was a full professor of English at the University, and probably wanted to play up to George.

“Hello, Alice. Good to see you. I have to get back to George.”

“Oh, he’ll be fine. Come over and say hi to Bill.”

She was flattered that Bill would want to greet her, although it was probably because of George and the bank. Alice led her to a group with Bill at its center. She’d met him before when he attended a function at Overton High, a bald little man with a frog face.

“Look, Bill, it’s Hazel.”

“Hey, look everybody, it’s the Catcher in the Rye girl.”

The group, three men and two women besides Bill and Alice, looked at Hazel. She knew he was referring to the book sale incident, but couldn’t fathom why he was bringing it up here, or how she should respond.

“Hazel’s students at Overton High School had a book sale. Fortunately, she was there to make sure they didn’t sell any trash like The Catcher in the Rye.” Several of the people laughed at Bill’s remark, all of them looking at Hazel quizzically.

“A couple of my students got a little carried away selecting titles, and picked that one, which isn’t appropriate for high school. I wouldn’t say it’s trash.” She thought it was trash, but knew she shouldn’t say that in this group.

One of the men, smiling, said, “No doubt Salinger will be glad to hear your opinion. I’m sure high school teachers are an audience he’s concerned with.” She recognized him as a history professor who had written a published novel. He was young, and handsome, and in the local newspapers a lot.

The group laughed loudly. One of the women said, “I think it’s priceless that you’re protecting your teenagers from reading the kind of language that teenagers use.” More laughter from the group.

“What do you teach, Hazel?”

Alice said, “She teaches tenth-grade English.”

“My God, I thought she would have taught religious studies or something.” More laughter.

“Have you read Catcher in the Rye, Hazel?”

“Why, of course.” She’d hesitated as she said it. They must have guessed she was lying, and all laughed again.

“I said it was a classic, but our principal, a former football coach, wouldn’t hear of it. Hazel agreed with him, of course.”




“I don’t remember you saying that, Alice.”

“You may not have wanted to hear it, Hazel, but I said it in faculty meeting.”

She was stunned that Alice would lie so blatantly.

“As usual, artistic freedom is alive everywhere except East Tennessee.” It was the history professor again.

One of the women said, “I think you did a brave thing, Hazel, standing up against the literary establishment to protect your kiddies.” Her tone was ironic.

After each comment there was another burst of laughter. Other people, noticing the commotion, were gathering around, all University people. The original group, led by Bill and Alice, kept making snide comments about Hazel and the school system. She felt trapped. She was determined not to walk away, but she couldn’t defend herself against so many against her. She wished Martha Graves would come take her side, but this was all liberal arts faculty. The engineering, business, and agriculture professors didn’t mingle with this group.

She was rescued by the start of the auction. She said, “Excuse me, I have to go join my husband as he contributes the money you seem to so desperately need.” That quieted the raucous group as she made good her escape.

She wanted to leave immediately, but George had to be there to bid. Her stomach was churning, and she resolved not to throw up. She was perspiring when she got back to George.

“Are you all right, Hazel? You’re pale, and your hand is cold and all sweaty.”

“I’m fine, dear. Let me get a drink of water, and I’ll join you in a minute.”

During the auction George was one of the most generous bidders, buying all sorts of memorabilia that would be displayed at the bank. She stared coldly at her main tormentors, Bill, Alice, and the history professor. They avoided eye contact with her. She hoped her husband’s big donations on behalf of the bank were intimidating them.

That was on Friday night. At school on Monday, Alice was as cordial as usual. Neither she nor Hazel mentioned the incident at the country club. She continued to keep her distance from Alice, who didn’t seem to notice. Near the end of the school year Alice even seemed to be going out of her way to be friendly toward Hazel.

On the last day of school they happened to be leaving the building at the same time, and Alice said, “Have a nice summer, dear. I really look forward to seeing you in the fall,” touching Hazel’s arm as she said it.

She would have been moved if she had thought Alice were sincere. But the sunny smile and warm voice were the same as they had been before the incident of the book sale, and the painful night of the university auction. Bill was picking Alice up from work, and he waved vigorously at Hazel, grinning as he peered at her through his windshield. That almost spoiled the beginning of her summer.

She decided not to let the thought of Alice and Bill worry her. That held through the summer, but gave way a little at the beginning of the new school year. Faculty and staff began work the week before classes started. During that week they brought their lunches from home, and ate their noon meal together in the cafeteria. One day at lunch Alice said, “Is the Honor Society going to hold the book sale again this year, Hazel?”

Hazel paused for what she hoped was an imperceptible period of time, and answered in what she hoped was a relaxed tone, “I wouldn’t know yet, Alice. I have to let the students make the decision on what kind of fundraiser they want to do. I like the book sale, but there are alternatives, and I don’t know what this year’s group will want to do.” This was theoretically true, although Hazel was in fact the decision maker. She had already made up her mind there would not be another book sale. She wondered if anyone besides herself and Alice remembered The Catcher in the Rye from the previous year’s sale.

One day after classes had started she found herself in the teacher’s lounge with Bea Douglas, who had become friendly again after the Catcher dust-up. Bea said, “I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired of hearing about Alice’s children and that private school they go to. She’s always talked about them, but it’s been getting worse. She’s a public school teacher like we are. If private school teachers are so superior, why doesn’t she teach over at Alexander Academy where her kids go? If public school teachers are so terrible, she’s part of the problem isn’t she?”

Hazel had been thinking along the same lines. Alice did tend to emphasise her superior children and her important husband. Hazel tried to be objective, and thought maybe she was exaggerating Alice’s behavior in her own mind because of her bitterness. She welcomed Bea’s confirmation of her opinion, but tried to sound neutral in responding.

“Well, I can understand her pride in her family. I would have to agree with you, though, she does seem to be talking about them a lot lately.”

She began watching Alice, who no longer interacted with others at the faculty table. She would stare off into space, then begin talking about Bill and her children without regard to the ongoing conversation. She had started slurring her speech. The other teachers were beginning to avoid her. Her rants were not only monotonous, but also insulting to colleagues. Alice had mentioned in the past that she had a weekly hair appointment, and she had looked it. Whether because she stopped going to the hairdresser, or because she was failing to groom herself every day, her hair now looked unkempt. Her clothes were wrinkled, and didn’t seem to fit properly.

One day when Hazel was in the school office picking up her distribution, Florence, the school clerk, called her back into the conference room.

“Do you know Alice Hurley very well?”

“Just professionally. I did meet her once socially at a University function, but I don’t really know her outside of school.”

“Mr. Wolfenbarger is getting concerned about her. Does she seem to you to be having problems?”

“What kind of problems?” Hazel tried to sound surprised.

“She’s talking funny, and doesn’t seem to be taking care of herself. Do you know anything about that?”

“No. There is something different about her, but I don’t know the reason for the change.”

“You don’t talk to her about personal stuff?”

“No.”

“OK. Nobody here seems to know her well. Mr. Wolfenbarger asked me to check around to see if anybody could give him an idea of what’s bothering her. He’ll probably have to call her husband. Keep this under your hat.”

“Of course.”

Alice began missing work. One day a week at first, then several days, then she was gone. Mr. Wolfenbarger announced in faculty meeting that Alice had been suffering from depression.

“She’d had the problem before, and had to quit teaching at Mountainview High. After that she was able to start working in administration at the Board of Education central office, but wanted to teach again. Bill Hurley is good friends with the Superintendent of Schools, who asked me to give Alice the freshman English vacancy here. I thought it was worth a shot. I apologize to you all for any inconvenience that her working here may have caused.”

A young man who had been substituting at another school was given a permanent job to replace Alice. He was tall and thin, not handsome, but bright and funny. He was a bit of a rebel but respectful of others, and he livened up the lunch table and faculty meetings. Alice was soon forgotten.

Her obituary was in the newspaper a few months later. The wording was vague, but it appeared that the death was a suicide. There were murmurs of sympathy among the Overton faculty, in contrast with the critical comments made about Alice before she resigned. Hazel realized that Alice must have been suffering when she was at Overton, but she was unable to feel sorrow for her. After all, Alice had never confided her problems to Hazel, and the memory of that night at the country club still stung.

After Alice’s death, Martha Graves came up to Hazel at a teachers’ union meeting. “Wasn’t it shocking about Alice Hurley?”

“Did you know Alice, Martha?”

“No, but I have a friend in the University Faculty Wives’ Club who knew them both. Bill is known for his wit, very biting at times. He was a notorious lady’s man when he was younger, believe it or not, having affairs and so on. Once he met Alice he settled down. He was very protective of her, but obviously she was beyond help. Her story is so sad, and he is such a kind man.”

Hazel didn’t want to hear about what a great lover that ugly little man was, or how witty and kind he was, or how sad Alice was. She was worried that Martha might have heard about her humiliation at the country club, and might even have had a good laugh about it with other University people.

“I’m surprised you hadn’t met Alice. She was at the fundraiser at Hiwassee I saw you at a while back.”

She was relieved when Martha didn’t recall the fundraiser. She carefully pursued the question until she was sure that Martha had been oblivious to Bill and Alice’s attack on her. It hurt that Martha was so sympathetic toward them, but at least she didn’t know anything of Hazel’s humiliation.

* * *

She sat at the dinner table with Paula and Grace until they went to bed, then watched TV in the common room. She put off going to bed herself, knowing she would have trouble sleeping because of Bill Hurley. There was a time when she would have read herself to sleep, but she had trouble concentrating on reading these days. She knew it was silly to worry about incidents that were over and done, but she couldn’t help it. She told herself Bill Hurley couldn’t hurt her now, but she worried that maybe he still could after all. She finally fell asleep after convincing herself that Bill wouldn’t mention the Salinger book again after the puzzled reception he received when he brought it up.

He joined Hazel and her friends at breakfast in the morning. He greeted her with “Hello, Rye girl,” and just said “Hi,” to Paula and Grace. Hazel gave the women her nuanced arched eyebrow look at the “Rye girl” comment, and they smiled. Still, she didn’t have much appetite for breakfast after that. She picked at her scrambled eggs and sausage. Her normal favorites, the English muffin with butter and the fresh strawberries, tasted flat.

She crocheted in the common room that morning to get her mind off of Bill. The large room was her favorite refuge. When George died she couldn’t imagine how she was going to take care of the house, and herself for all that went. She had no children, or close relatives. She had dreaded moving into an “old folks home.” She shopped for an assisted living facility, and was impressed by Afton Forest. Her room was small compared to the huge bedroom she and George had shared, but it was comfortable. She loved the rest of the facility, with thick carpets and wood paneling. She felt like the staff were her servants, and the common room and dining room her own property. Afton Forest was where she had chosen to die, and she had been confident that her final days would be bearable, even enjoyable. Now her home had been invaded by this little man who liked to laugh at her.

At lunch he didn’t mention The Catcher in the Rye directly, but asked Hazel with a grin, “Read any good books lately?” Paula and Grace didn’t pick up on it, fortunately. The lunch was baked chicken and asparagus, two more of her favorites, which didn’t taste as good as she’d remembered.

He didn’t say anything upsetting at dinner, just talked away about current events, his children, popular culture, and any subject the women brought up. Even so, Hazel knew she was going to spend another sleepless night. She told herself that the other residents of Afton Forest wouldn’t care about alleged censorship half a century ago. Most would probably agree with her that the book shouldn’t be allowed in high schools. Paula was more permissive than most residents of Afton Forest, though, and might think that Hazel was wrong, even silly not to fight the ban. She couldn’t stand the thought of Paula siding with Bill against her. She fell asleep thinking of how to resolve the problem.

The next morning at breakfast Bill just said good morning to everybody without any reference to rye. Hazel said, “Good morning, Professor Hurley,” which caused him to smile.

Grace said, “Did Hazel call you Professor?”

Before he could answer Hazel said, “Yes, I did. And I have to say I owe Bill an apology. When he introduced himself the other day I really didn’t recognize him, and I should have. He was married to Alice Hurley, a very dear friend who taught with me many years ago. And, yes, he was a distinguished professor of English at the University.”

Paula and Grace each murmured how impressed they were. Bill looked puzzled at first, but seemed to appreciate the adulation.

“Oh, like I said yesterday, I was just an English teacher. Not a big deal, really.”

“Teacher? My goodness, Bill, you’re overly modest. You should have been head of the department.”

“The dean of the College of Liberal Arts had a different idea from you, Hazel. But I appreciate you saying that.”

“I always felt badly about missing Alice’s funeral. If I had known about it I would certainly have been there. I understand your being discreet about it, but I wish I could have said my farewell. She was a lovely person.”

The pleasant smile on Bill’s face gave way to a stare. He finally said, “Yes, she was. Thank you.”

“Was there something that led up to her death? I know she wasn’t feeling well when she left Overton. Did she just keep getting worse?”

His reply was again delayed. He finally spoke in a low voice, not quite a mumble. “Yes. She just never got better.”

“How sad. What was wrong with her?” Grace had come through with the question Hazel wanted to get around to.

“She suffered from depression.” Bill’s voice was a little stronger, but his tone was grim.

“That must have been terribly hard on you and your children,” Paula said.

“Yes, it was. A very difficult time.”

When breakfast was served Bill only ate a little of his scramble eggs and bacon, and didn’t touch his croissant. He had no light banter for the table. The three women were also subdued, although Paula and Grace tried to bring up subjects to lead the conversation away from the Hurleys’ tragedy. He excused himself before the others finished eating.

“I’m sorry. This has brought up some sad memories. I’d like to be alone for a while.”

When he was gone Paula said, “That seemed to hit him pretty hard, Hazel. Maybe you shouldn’t have brought up his wife. I thought he was going to cry.”




“I meant to be hard on him. If I’d realized who he was before I wouldn’t have sat at the same table with him. Alice was one of my dearest friends, and the way he treated her was inhuman. She committed suicide.”

Grace was wide-eyed. “What did he do?”

“He was, and I suppose still is, a closeted homosexual. He didn’t tell her when they got married, but over the years he made it known to her. He became more and more outrageous, going to that homosexual club downtown, and hanging out with other men.”

“But they had children.”

“I know, Paula, but homosexuals want to have a domestic life, with a family, like most other people.” She’d remembered that from an article about Oscar Wilde. The memory of that article was the inspiration for her disguised attack against Bill Hurley. “The children were also camouflage, of course. The University would be less likely to suspect he was homosexual if he were married with children. So he forced himself to have sex with her to get her pregnant, but that stopped entirely after their third child was born. She felt rejected, of course, and thought it was her fault that he was that way. I tried to reason with her, but I couldn’t snap her out of it. She had depression all right, caused by him. That prissy little sorrowful act he put on here made me sick. By the time she resigned from teaching she was a basket case from his shenanigans. Notice how he didn’t want to talk about what caused her death.”

“Good God,” was all Paula could say.

Grace said, “Men like that don’t deserve to live.”

He didn’t sit with them at lunch, but at the end of the meal he approached their table and said, “Hi, Paula. When does that poker group meet again? I’m anxious to join.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Bill. I checked with the guys, and they pointed out that the group is up to its maximum size. I’ll let you know when it opens up.”

“Too bad. Thanks for checking. Yeah, let me know when I can join.”

After he left, Paula leaned into the table and said, “That was close. If you hadn’t told me about him this morning, Hazel, he’d have joined our poker game. I had enough trouble getting in myself. Walt’s an ex-Marine! He would have drummed me out if I’d brought in a person with Bill’s leanings.”

They all laughed, but Hazel gave a fake admonitory “Paula!” Grace said, “My brother was in the Marines. He said there’s no such thing as an ex-Marine,” and they all laughed again.

“I understand the same thing can be said about homosexuals.”

Hazel gave another fake “Paula!” as they laughed.

Later, Paula let Hazel know that she’d been able to alert her poker-playing friends about Bill, just in case he approached any of them about joining the game. She and Grace also let other people know, so that the south wing of Afton Forest got the word.

Bill moved to the north wing in a couple of months. A middle-aged woman who must have been his daughter helped him move. Hazel tried to avoid seeing them, but she was in the corridor on the way to the common room when she was passed by the daughter pushing a hand truck with boxes on it, followed by Bill. The daughter looked a lot like Alice.

Bill said, “I’m moving on, Hazel. I don’t seem to fit in here. I’m going to try my luck in the north wing.”

“Oh? I’m so sorry to see you go, Bill. We’re a little eccentric here in the south wing sometimes.” She smiled at the daughter, who gave Hazel a stony stare. Hazel wondered if they suspected the cause of Bill’s not fitting in.

“It’s not like I’m really leaving, though. See you around campus, as they say. Don’t let them sell any dirty books over here, no Catcher in the Rye.” He smiled.

She saw him once more after that, at the Afton Forest Christmas party. He seemed happy among his friends from the north wing. He talked briefly to Hazel, Paula, and Grace, without mentioning The Catcher in the Rye. His conversation with Hazel the day he moved out of the south wing was the last she heard of Salinger for the rest of her life.

 

END

 

Tom Ray asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work

 

 

 

 

2 reviews for The Last of Salinger

  1. 5 out of 5

    :

    The fact that I was able to truly sympathize with the main character despite her horrible behavior, speaks to the mastery of the author to pull you in. No matter how awful she could be, this story had me hooked. The Last of Salinger is worth re-reading.

  2. 5 out of 5

    :

    Enjoyed the story tremendously since it had more twists and turns in the plot than could be expected by the Title. First thought was that Mr. Hurley was going to be the real Pierre Salinger and then the story line quickly reveals this is not the case. This short story covers addresses current society topics but with the perspective of a retro time period. I love an element of mystery in story lines and this one definitely has that element.

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