The Disappearance of Gregory Pluckrose

The Disappearance of Gregory Pluckrose

by Elizabeth Gundy


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781497638143
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media LLC
Publication date: 09/23/2014
Pages: 202
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Elizabeth Gundy is the author of such highly praised novels as BlissThe Disappearance of Gregory Pluckrose, and Love, Infidelity and Drinking to Forget. She also coauthored the bestselling children’s series Walter the Farting Dog. She is married to the writer William Kotzwinkle.

Read an Excerpt

The Disappearance of Gregory Pluckrose

By Elizabeth Gundy


Copyright © 1985 Elizabeth Gundy
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-2491-7


Let me make clear from the outset, I detest adventure.

It's tasteless, showy, vulgar, and uncalled for.

This having been said, let us plunge to a time not long ago, and two islands approachable only by boat. The first resembles a crocodile, sunning in the warm Caribbean, slumbering, smiling, waiting with open jaws; the second rises like a serpent from the cold North Atlantic, its silver scales composed of sea-weathered mansions of a more opulent era.

On this privileged island (six miles off the Maine coast, where ocean breezes float in from each terrace, yachts dot the sheltered harbor, and no cottage is younger than the income-tax act or boasts fewer than twenty-eight rooms), an art show was, at the moment, in progress.

"That Indian," insisted Houston oilman Clayton Blunt, planted in front of a superb Remington, "is holdin' his tomahawk wrong. If he really wanted to kill the guy ..."

Or was it the Indian's leap that was faulty? I don't recall the specifics, except to say that my employer described at remarkable length the proper way to attack with an ax, while I kept wishing I had one.

To be fair, I have to say that though Blunt was impossible in public, he wasn't such a terrible chap in his own world, on the back of a bucking rodeo bull.

Fuffie Blunt nodded sagely. Their son and heir, eight-year-old Clyde, was staring, price list in hand, at a heroic early Homer as if it were a Popsicle. Son, like father, was not a bad sort, when kept to video games and ponies, but public appearance tended to bring out the family foibles. "Eighty-five thousand," he yelled, "can I have it?"

Having recently purchased one of the finest old residences in the summer community, my employer would presently purchase some of the finest art in the country; now he strode from painting to painting in his eleven-hundred-dollar boots and ten-gallon hat, a good-natured cowboy who liked to own masterpieces. Fuffie paused at a starkly poetic Hopper, striking her patroness-of-the-arts pose, and inquired loudly, "D'you think it's worth a hundred thousand, Gregory-pie?"

"The question, Fuffie darling," I replied, "is do you love it?" As family art consultant and interior designer, these painful conversations were part of my day's bread and butter, a diet of exquisite torture. There was no denying the Blunts a certain flagrant charm, and they frequently gave me extravagant bonuses, in the hoof-and-mane category ... "I love this one!" declared Clyde, from the top of his tiny lungs, combining his father's boisterous bonhomie with his own eight-year-old greed to stuff every penny candy in sight into his brown paper bag, including one N. C. Wyeth. "Sixty-five thousand," he shouted.

The other art lovers at the show, speaking in whispers, had little chance of examining the prices, since Clyde had lifted the list; however, they could listen as he announced each figure and, indeed, had no choice, thanks to the carrying quality of the Blunt voice.

"Now you take that Salvador Dali of ours," Clayton was saying to Fuffie, "the largest Dali in the world ..." It sounded like a chunk of real estate or thick steak. And if size didn't strike the right tone, Clayton would criticize a priceless possession in a way that made it seem the masterpiece had been done by one of his cowhands. But, as I say, he was a nice guy, which is why I suppose I stayed on; he could slap you on the back, buy you a saddle blanket, and make you feel like a man of the earth.

Beneath the din of Clayton's discourse, I chatted with the gallery owner, a friend from old, whose barely lifted left eyebrow spoke volumes: Really. Those Blunts are beyond human endurance. But terribly renumerative, n'est-ce pas?

I knew in that instant I'd had it. I'd witnessed these scenes with my employers too many times; I could never witness another. It was too degrading in spite of the money. The awful aura of the Blunts was the awful companion of my days and, occasionally, my nights; this was not what Gregory Pluckrose wanted of life.

My warped mirror reflection, the elegant gallery owner, was saying, "I've been meaning to tell you how much we all adored what you did with Kiki's place in the Hamptons. It's so timeless and yet so Kiki ..."

"I haven't been to the Hamptons in ages," I said, and then in lower tones as we settled down in a pair of slipper chairs covered with Dorothy Draper cabbage roses, "This has not been a fabulous year."

"In debt again?" asked Roger. His shoes especially had an air of sincerity.

"With nothing to show for it. You know how small my apartment is, and how frugally I live, yet my monthly bills are the price of the average American automobile."

Roger glanced around the sea-scented salon. "You work with nabobs and think you ought to spend the same way. I long for my three rooms in New York and reality."

"I'm afraid I can't return to my three-room reality."

"Are they tearing down the building?"

"The woman next door has been playing the same record over and over for a solid year."

"Evoking a love that has ended. She's bound to get over it."

"But will I? I'm not as young as she. I know every word of the song, every chord, every pause, every last bit of cheap emotion has been wrung out of me. I come home at night with my own broken dreams, shattered to the core from some hopeless passion and wanting only healing oblivion. And on comes the record. After putting on the record, she walks, heavily, into the kitchen and makes herself some tea; I walk into my kitchen and make myself some tea. She sits at her kitchen table and sobs; I sit at my kitchen table and sob. It's like a duet from Tristan und Isolde."

Roger's antennae silently circled the room for the hum of a serious purchase before he turned his attention back to our conversation. Crossing his ankles (and confidence-inspiring shoes), he said, "My next-door neighbor is writing a sequel to the New Testament. He takes dictation from the angels in ancient Hebrew and occasionally indulges in patriarchal rages against my bath."

"Roger, do you never find life, in spite of its incomparable attractions ... somewhat solitary?"

"The last time I felt lonely I bought a Tang dynasty unicorn as big as a phone booth."

"I must see it."

"Perhaps you'll buy it. Impeccable provenance. Stolen by an idealistic fanatic in Peking during the cultural revolution, after which it wended its way to Geneva, and subsequently ..."

"How does one accept the realization that one is never going to have a life's companion?"

"By looking at those who do. For example, my next-door-neighbor-the-patriarch married a delightful woman and said to her, 'I will never make you cry.' Which, of course, she hasn't, because she's too terrified, seeing as she's living with a raving prophet."

"What does he have against your bathing?"

"I run the bath once a day, twice at the most. But it seems the angels object to the sound of water."

"Pluckrose," bellowed Clayton, "I wanna give you a lesson in somethin' us cowboys know about."

I sauntered toward my master's call, feeling my flesh start to mottle as I reached him; he was standing in front of a Postimpressionist landscape with horses. "Morgans don't lift their forelegs like that," he said, and he certainly should know. "What d'you think, Pluckrose?"

Clearly, this was no place for a Pluckrose. I would have to take to the streets, which wasn't an easy decision in the face of my earnings and lifestyle. Frankly, I'd been spoiled. From the corner of my eye I noticed a woman of quite another stamp than my employers gazing at me sympathetically.

How shall I say it?

How does one describe destiny?

She was far from young; she was far from attractive in the flamboyant sense. Her sophistication ran as deep as her wealth, and the roots of both were beyond mortal ken—or beyond the ken of a desperate decorator at the low point of his sensibilities. Compared to the Clayton Blunts, she was harmlessness itself, a little old lady who would never, not if the seas ran dry, mortify a man in a gallery.

Little Clyde had joined his father's diatribe against the horses; Fuffie was critiquing fit to bust her silk and snakeskin sweat suit; well-bred art lovers were silently averting their gazes from the extroverted family; and I felt my mottled skin cooling as salvation descended ...

I managed to meet the woman, en passant, in front of a charming William Merritt Chase.

"Excuse me," she said in a low, rich voice, "but if you designed Kiki Ashburton's house in the Hamptons, you must be Gregory Pluckrose. I'm so delighted to meet you. Perhaps if you've nothing too pressing to do tomorrow evening, you might drop by for a cocktail? My cottage is nothing like dear Kiki's, but you might find certain details amusing. Fielding would be thrilled to pieces. Then you will come? How marvelous."

"Gregory," shrieked Clyde, "you and I can go now and get ice-cream sodas."

I was swept out of the show by my oilies, but "Mrs. Fielding F. Hale" reverberated in my heart like the song of the lark. Pluckrose, I said, your suffering is over.

Which shows how little I knew of suffering.

* * *

"A man in possession of himself," remarked Roger, as we strolled down the lane past a rotund gentleman at peace in front of his trailer. The trailer was decorated with giant plastic butterflies in flight, and the grounds around were graced by a flea-bitten hound, a crowded clothesline, a couple of tricycles, a pile of firewood, and the man himself gazing out at the day, cigarette gathering ash at his lips, shirt and pants partially buttoned, boots partially laced, face partially shaved, and unequivocal wholeness radiating from him and his mise en scène.

I eyed the myriad mysterious mechanical parts cluttering the gentleman's yard; a man in possession of himself, he would take apart anything; he would take apart a computer if he had to; and if anyone came into his yard and made trouble, he'd take them apart too.

I walked down the lane, vaguely hearing Roger's conversation, but plunged into mythical realms. I would never stand gazing out at the day in peace, with a three-inch ash on my cigarette, a crowded clothesline, a couple of tricycles, and a hound ... yet it was the life I yearned for most, for that incomparable quality—a man in possession of himself—that a designer never finds because he's always struggling for it, conscious of imperfections, restlessly arranging and rearranging the stuff of life to create that unequivocal wholeness belonging to the rotund gentleman in his yard.

It's set at birth, you know. My earliest memory is of an infant Pluckrose attempting interior decoration in the crib. I can feel the sunshine streaming through the windows, as I stand unsteadily in my cage, painting its hard wooden bars with my toes. (It wasn't exactly paint, of course, one could only use what was at hand, which must've been a trifle disgusting, but, alas, one's first attempts at art are always clumsy.)

"Yes," said Roger, "Julia Hale's a peach. But in my experience, every peach has its pit."

We'd long left the man, the trailer, and the lane, and were entering the restaurant on Front Street, a grocery cum gas station cum second-hand bookstore (a couple of shelves of tattered romances) and the island's only eatery.

The first booth was filled with fishermen, the second by an infant birthday celebration; Roger and I claimed the third, which set in the window, protected from the street by plastic lace curtains; we could see out, but no one could see in.

"Try the raspberry pie," advised Roger, and gave our order.

"... You were saying about Julia Hale?"

Outside on Front Street, a sluggish parade made its way through the heat of midday—locals, cottage owners, and parties from yachts anchored in the bay. Three rather odd figures walked slowly by, passing quite close to our gaze: a lady of stern countenance beneath a bamboo sunshade, a white-flanneled old gentleman with a cane, and a pale convalescent shape between them.

"Who's that with Dick DePardo?" I asked.

"I don't see Dick DePardo. The parasol you're staring at is Helen Newhouse and the cane is Teddy March."

"Well, that's Dick DePardo teetering between them."

"There is a certain resemblance. I suppose he could be Dick DePardo's grandfather."

"Look more closely, Roger, and you will see the result of designing an apartment for Babes Rollencamp." The enfeebled figure was lighting a match for the old gentleman's cigarette; his own cigarette trembled between bluish lips. "I warned him against taking the job, but it was his first important project ..."

"You're right," said Roger, "that is Dick DePardo. What in the world did Babes do to him?"

"Changed her mind eleven times a day, treated him like offal, and refused to pay. He tore down walls for her, she wanted them back in place. She decided to move the bathrooms after the plumbing was in. She tried to make him shift structural beams. With a client like that, all you can do is quit. But Dick was the boy wonder fresh out of school ..."

"He's not fresh anymore," said Roger.

I gazed sadly at the formerly youthful figure walking with unsure gait between the striking woman and elderly gentleman. "He was standing in Babes' dining room. He and a team of house painters had just spent two days getting exactly the right shade of taupey-mauve—not, under any circumstances, to be confused with mauvey-taupe—when Babes burst in with a head of Bibb lettuce. 'This is exactly the color I want,' she said, 'and be sure you capture the dewdrops.' It was the dewdrops, I feel, that did it. He snatched up the head of Bibb, flung it at the wall, then took a cleaver and made lettuce slaw, on Babes' ivory-and-tortoiseshell Boulle commode. It had belonged to Louis XIV. We nursed him for three months, in shifts. During my shift he hallucinated that he was Boulle, trying to construct commodes for the Sun King out of vegetables."

The three shapes were far up the street now, but even from behind one could sense the woman's sternness under her parasol, and the elderly gentleman was gesturing with his cane in a most irascible way. "I fear I'll be nursing poor Dick again. Until he dies from old age at twenty-four."

The raspberry pies arrived. Roger thoughtfully stirred his coffee. "In any event, Julia Hale won't give you a nervous breakdown."

* * *

"My dear," Julia liked to say, "I'm just a little old lady with emphysema," but really, a woman of seventy, with vivacity and charm and a couple of facelifts, is young indeed—at least on an island of fin-de-siècle mansions, or on boats of a certain size. By the time you can afford, and what's more have the time for, the nautical motif twelve months of the year, you've retired your chairmanship of the board. (Fielding had retired only a year before, so in their set Julia and Fielding Hale were practically children.)

Even among the evening's gathering, as exclusive a collection of bluebloods as ever tottered through gin and tonics, Fielding was impressive. With his large ruddy face, white turtleneck sweater, and voice that had made half a century of corporate directors tremble, one felt the twilight of the gods; "stunning" would not be too strong a word.

"My dear," said Julia, urging me to indulge in cookies if I was one of those who must have sweets with champagne, "I'm simply dying to know what you think of my things."

Slipping a cream silk arm through mine, she led me around the party's fringes, both of us keenly aware that what I thought of her place would determine my immediate fate, at least for the rest of the summer. Little did we suspect that sinister Fate had her eyes on eternity.

The cottage was a jewel of its style, namely stone-and-shingle neopastiche elephantine, built in 1890 by the same deranged gentleman who designed the old yacht club and featuring the same marvelous caprices of Queen Anne-John Calvin Stevens-and-whatever-he-could-think-of in the way of turrets, balustraded balconies, and a bit of a lighthouse affair at the end. Filled with chintz-cushioned wicker and portraits of dogs, it was almost too perfect to touch, but I murmured, as if not wanting to say it but sympathy tore the words from my breast, "If only I'd met you sooner."

You could see her worst fears had been cruelly confirmed; her surgically lifted visage colored as if struck; her large, presbyopic, blue eyes grew dark with determination; I could smell my incipient employment in the intensification of Bal à Versailles pouring out of her pulse points. "I've done nothing," she declared. "It was exactly this way when Fielding's mother passed on."

"Then you can't be blamed, can you?" I said with only the faintest hint of not quite believing her utterly.


Excerpted from The Disappearance of Gregory Pluckrose by Elizabeth Gundy. Copyright © 1985 Elizabeth Gundy. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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