“Write fearlessly,” the old man told her shortly before he died. These were his last words.
“Do you know who that was?” the charge nurse asked Madison. Madison shrugged her shoulders and shook her head.
“Gallo Turnbill,” her boss looked at Madison disapprovingly. “He wrote ‘Feathers Fly’. Only the best book ever written.”
And 32 other books, Madison read on Wikipedia. Including mostly novels, a few collections of short stories, two memoirs, and a short series of spy novels one critic had called “better than Bond.”
Madison was a NOCs nurse at a state run nursing home. Gallo Turnbill had spent his last days under her care before succumbing to cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 73.
After she found out who he was, Madison became a bit obsessed. She read everything she could find about him. Most of his books had been written when he was in his 40s and 50s, before he divorced his wife of 30 years–a beautiful actress named Stella May. She left him for a much younger, handsome leading man. Following his heartbreak, Gallo Turnbill frittered away his money on gambling and booze. Besides the occasional article with the New Yorker, he never wrote significantly again.
Madison read all of his books beginning with ‘When January Comes’ which was a somewhat dismal affair with lines like: “The cold creeps in like a wall of iron that grips the life from his already lifeless soul”.
Then there was ‘My Years in Tampa’, a much brighter work: “The sun shone on the bronze sand as the citrus tang of his marguerita brightened his mind eye”. This one, however, did strike Madison as a hint of alcoholism to come.
Her favorite was ‘Bones of Britian’ because it contained 72 pages of exploration on England’s role in bringing the United States into World War II. Madison had always been something of a WW II buff.
She hated ‘Feathers Fly’ (her boss’s personal favorite) because it was Gallo Turnbill’s poor attempt at a comedic novel. His sensibilities as a writer simply did not translate well into humor. In conformation of Maidson’s opinion, it was the only comedic piece he ever wrote.
Madison opened a box containing her old journals one night. She leafed through several volumes and lingered over passages that had been long forgotten, passages she wrote about wanting to one day write her own stories. She was suddenly forced to wonder where that Madison had gone.
Months later, after a particular grueling day at work, Madison stopped at the drug store to pick up a black composition book–the kind she use to journal in years ago. When she got home she poured a glass of wine and sat down with the empty book and wrote: “Write fearlessly,” he told me as he died. And so I did