I’ve recently started reading The Last Gentleman, a novel by Walker Percy about a misplaced Southerner in New York City. I have a good feeling about this story. Already on page six Percy has alluded to two things that tug at my heart, placing them in a landscape suffused with memory.
Our protagonist sees a woman placing something into a park bench:
It was an old-style bench, the sort built many years ago of a porous tufalike concrete in which pebbles had been set like raisins in a cake. A sad yellow 1901 concrete it was, enough to strike a person in the heart.
The gentleman cannot help but take this as a sign.
If a total stranger had stopped him this morning on Columbus Circle and thrust into his palm a note which read: Meet me on the NE corner of Lindell Blvd and Kings Highway in St. Louis, 9 A.M. next Thursday – have news of utmost importance, he’d have struck out for St. Louis (the question is, how people nowadays would not?).
Our hero goes in search of the bench and its secret, and finds some classic craftmanship techniques.
The tenon which fastened the scroll between the third and fourth thrones, counting from Fifth Avenue, was loose. It could be slid back in a way in its mortise, opening a recess into the blind bottom of the scroll. The cul-de-sac so formed was the sort of place which only neighborhood boys know of … a time nice where one leaves a note addressed to oneself: to be opened May 20, 1995. But today there was only a scrap of tin … It contained a slip of paper like a supermarket receipt…
After the gentleman replaces the poem written on the scrap of paper, he sees a young woman arrive and read it. Not surprisingly, he is smitten and curious. I can’t wait to see how this puzzle turns out.