(Image from Internet open source site.)
“He’s an old fool,” said Jill, and her voice was shakier than usual. Ben, next to her, hung his gray head.
Ben was tall and stooped,and at 82 he moved a little slower than he used to. And that day, he moved slower yet, because he’d fallen off a ladder, which he’d climbed to put Christmas decorations away in the attic while Jill was out shopping. He was going to surprise her with a pristine New Year’s house.
Instead she was surprised to find her husband sprawled at the foot of the ladder, waiting patiently for her to come home and help him to the emergency room.
“Old fool,” muttered Jill, and her eyes were as tender as her raspy voice was gruff. I thought it was the most beautiful endearment I had ever heard.
I thought of that moment last week, while reading Richard Russo’s Nobody’s Fool, his first book about Don Sullivan and Bath, New York. Friends have been telling me how good Everybody’s Fool is, but I had never read the first book. I read Empire Falls and liked it very much, liked it enough to go out and buy the film version. I enjoyed watching Paul Newman and Ed Harris as papa and soon.
So I thought I’d better get caught up: I’d better go find Nobody’s Fool. Find it, get it, read it.
I found myself liking Nobody’s Fool even more than Empire Falls. Sully, that ne’er-do-well, (and I think we all know a version of Sully) is so very darned appealing.
Why IS that, I wondered? He’s the anti-hero, a drinker, an adulterer, an absentee daddy and granddad. He’s impulsive and unguarded; he fights with all the wrong people. He can’t even get his own medical issues resolved.
Then I thought about the title, and I thought about Jill’s muttered, “Fool,” and the levels of meaning that one simple word can offer us. It sent me to the Internet to graze the meanings of ‘fool.’
I found holy fools and fools for Christ and jesters and that special day in April. The Internet, it seems, has millions of references to fools.
Fools, I’m telling you, are very popular folks.
Sully was popular, too–he might not have had much of a pot to pee in, but he was always guaranteed his friends–and enemies–were there.
I found that the fool in Lear was the only character who could speak truth and get away with it.
Sully was a sieve that couldn’t contain the truth; it trickled or it poured, but it came out of him, one way or the other, unrestrained and uncensored.
I found that fools had protected places at court, necessary characters to the king or the queen.
And Sully had his place, too, in the orbit of the movers and shakers in Bath. There was some kind of leery co-dependency; the big guys needed him, needed to feel they could control and manipulate him. And Sully, somehow, needed them to do it.
Fools in medieval times, the Internet informs me, had few personal belongings and lived unconventional lives, and, oh, that is exactly Sully, whose apartment is almost tragically empty, and whose lifestyle is anything but tame.
Like Ben, Sully–wounded and defensive, spiraling but somehow never moving very far forward, inspires the deepest kind of love and loyalty despite his foolishness. Or–because of his foolishness–his very willingness to be a fool?
Most of us do anything to avoid looking foolish; Sully walks right up to every foolish opportunity and gives it a great big hug.
Jim saw me reading the book and said, “Paul Newman?”
“No,” I said, “that was Empire Falls.”
But Mark agreed with Jim. “There’s a movie,” he said, and we looked it up and found Paul Newman, Bruce Willis…
Now I have to find the movie.
I’ll do that before I read the new book. I’m hoping that Everybody’s Fool has a cure for the deep, unending loneliness in Sully–the town’s clown, but a man who has no real, “I come first’ connection, feels in Nobody’s Fool. Maybe in Everybody’s Fool, Sully connects; maybe he becomes somebody’s fool.
I hope so. I’m a sucker, after all, for a love story of any kind, and I’m a fool for a happy ending.