Paper Pills




He was an old man with a white beard and huge nose and
hands. Long before the time during which we will know
him, he was a doctor and drove a jaded white horse from
house to house through the streets of Winesburg. Later
he married a girl who had money. She had been left a
large fertile farm when her father died. The girl was
quiet, tall, and dark, and to many people she seemed
very beautiful. Everyone in Winesburg wondered why she
married the doctor. Within a year after the marriage
she died.

The knuckles of the doctor's hands were extraordinarily
large. When the hands were closed they looked like
clusters of unpainted wooden balls as large as walnuts
fastened together by steel rods. He smoked a cob pipe
and after his wife's death sat all day in his empty
office close by a window that was covered with cobwebs.
He never opened the window. Once on a hot day in August
he tried but found it stuck fast and after that he
forgot all about it.

Winesburg had forgotten the old man, but in Doctor
Reefy there were the seeds of something very fine.
Alone in his musty office in the Heffner Block above
the Paris Dry Goods Company's store, he worked
ceaselessly, building up something that he himself
destroyed. Little pyramids of truth he erected and
after erecting knocked them down again that he might
have the truths to erect other pyramids.

Doctor Reefy was a tall man who had worn one suit of
clothes for ten years. It was frayed at the sleeves and
little holes had appeared at the knees and elbows. In
the office he wore also a linen duster with huge
pockets into which he continually stuffed scraps of
paper. After some weeks the scraps of paper became
little hard round balls, and when the pockets were
filled he dumped them out upon the floor. For ten years
he had but one friend, another old man named John
Spaniard who owned a tree nursery. Sometimes, in a
playful mood, old Doctor Reefy took from his pockets a
handful of the paper balls and threw them at the
nursery man. "That is to confound you, you blathering
old sentimentalist," he cried, shaking with laughter.

The story of Doctor Reefy and his courtship of the tall
dark girl who became his wife and left her money to him
is a very curious story. It is delicious, like the
twisted little apples that grow in the orchards of
Winesburg. In the fall one walks in the orchards and
the ground is hard with frost underfoot. The apples
have been taken from the trees by the pickers. They
have been put in barrels and shipped to the cities
where they will be eaten in apartments that are filled
with books, magazines, furniture, and people. On the
trees are only a few gnarled apples that the pickers
have rejected. They look like the knuckles of Doctor
Reefy's hands. One nibbles at them and they are
delicious. Into a little round place at the side of the
apple has been gathered all of its sweetness. One runs
from tree to tree over the frosted ground picking the
gnarled, twisted apples and filling his pockets with
them. Only the few know the sweetness of the twisted
apples.

The girl and Doctor Reefy began their courtship on a
summer afternoon. He was forty-five then and already he
had begun the practice of filling his pockets with the
scraps of paper that became hard balls and were thrown
away. The habit had been formed as he sat in his buggy
behind the jaded white horse and went slowly along
country roads. On the papers were written thoughts,
ends of thoughts, beginnings of thoughts.

One by one the mind of Doctor Reefy had made the
thoughts. Out of many of them he formed a truth that
arose gigantic in his mind. The truth clouded the
world. It became terrible and then faded away and the
little thoughts began again.

The tall dark girl came to see Doctor Reefy because she
was in the family way and had become frightened. She
was in that condition because of a series of
circumstances also curious.

The death of her father and mother and the rich acres
of land that had come down to her had set a train of
suitors on her heels. For two years she saw suitors
almost every evening. Except two they were all alike.
They talked to her of passion and there was a strained
eager quality in their voices and in their eyes when
they looked at her. The two who were different were
much unlike each other. One of them, a slender young
man with white hands, the son of a jeweler in
Winesburg, talked continually of virginity. When he was
with her he was never off the subject. The other, a
black-haired boy with large ears, said nothing at all
but always managed to get her into the darkness, where
he began to kiss her.

For a time the tall dark girl thought she would marry
the jeweler's son. For hours she sat in silence
listening as he talked to her and then she began to be
afraid of something. Beneath his talk of virginity she
began to think there was a lust greater than in all the
others. At times it seemed to her that as he talked he
was holding her body in his hands. She imagined him
turning it slowly about in the white hands and staring
at it. At night she dreamed that he had bitten into her
body and that his jaws were dripping. She had the dream
three times, then she became in the family way to the
one who said nothing at all but who in the moment of
his passion actually did bite her shoulder so that for
days the marks of his teeth showed.

After the tall dark girl came to know Doctor Reefy it
seemed to her that she never wanted to leave him again.
She went into his office one morning and without her
saying anything he seemed to know what had happened to
her.

In the office of the doctor there was a woman, the wife
of the man who kept the bookstore in Winesburg. Like
all old-fashioned country practitioners, Doctor Reefy
pulled teeth, and the woman who waited held a
handkerchief to her teeth and groaned. Her husband was
with her and when the tooth was taken out they both
screamed and blood ran down on the woman's white dress.
The tall dark girl did not pay any attention. When the
woman and the man had gone the doctor smiled. "I will
take you driving into the country with me," he said.

For several weeks the tall dark girl and the doctor
were together almost every day. The condition that had
brought her to him passed in an illness, but she was
like one who has discovered the sweetness of the
twisted apples, she could not get her mind fixed again
upon the round perfect fruit that is eaten in the city
apartments. In the fall after the beginning of her
acquaintanceship with him she married Doctor Reefy and
in the following spring she died. During the winter he
read to her all of the odds and ends of thoughts he had
scribbled on the bits of paper. After he had read them
he laughed and stuffed them away in his pockets to
become round hard balls.



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