Stories

From Gail Merrifield Papp’s forthcoming memoir

My first lunch with Joe
Persuading Joe to Read The Normal Heart
The Belasco Project
On a dark and deserted road

On a dark and deserted road

(excerpted from the chapter “Buoyant Energy”)

The Papps’ country cottage in the fall.
Photo: Gail Papp
In the aftermath of a heavy snowfall one winter, Joe suggested that we take a walk along a picturesque back road near our cottage. To protect my Raynaud’s Syndrome-sensitive fingers, I ignited the wicks in my metal hand warmers with lighter-fluid and stuffed them in their blue velvet drawstring bags before setting out on a hike with Joe through the magical landscape of snow-etched trees and glistening white fields.
Captivated by the quiet beauty of the countryside, we stayed out longer than we intended, and as we headed home I began to experience difficulty pushing my boots forward in the snow. Finally, I had to stop.
“I’m afraid I can’t walk any further,” I said to Joe. “My hands are okay, but my feet have frozen up. I can’t push them forward anymore.”
There weren’t any houses in sight that Joe could go to for help, nor could he call a friend because cell phones weren’t invented yet, and the likelihood of our hitching a car ride on this untraveled back road was non-existent. I had been through too many past skirmishes with painful chilblains turning my hands and feet black to think calmly about that happening again.
“You should leave me here, walk home, and drive back in the car,” I said to Joe with, I thought, irrefutable commonsense.
By this time, however, early evening shadows had tinted the snowbanks purple, and he wouldn’t hear of it.
“Now listen,” Joe said, placing his hands on my shoulders and turning me to face him in the middle of the road. “I’m going to hypnotize you.”
I dismissed the idea. “Oh no,” I said. ”People have tried to do that in the past but I’m resistant to hypnosis. I’m not a good subject.”
“I know how to do it,” Joe insisted. “I used to hypnotize guys in the Navy and it always worked.”
I told him that I hated the idea of gazing into his eyes knowing that I was bound to disappoint him.
Joe brushed my objection aside.
“You don’t have to gaze into my eyes,” he said, gently tightening his hold on my shoulders. “When I count to three, the blood will start to circulate in your feet again, they’ll feel warm, and you’ll be able to walk.”
“But— “
“One, two, three,” Joe said quietly but firmly.
He did it so fast that I had no time to resist and then, mirabile dictu, I began to feel the blood pulsing from my ankles down to my frozen toes.
“I can’t believe this!” I exclaimed, throwing my arms around him in a grateful hug.
“Okay, now we can walk home,” Joe said, gripping my arm as he steered us along the darkening back road.

Excerpted from a chapter in Gail Papp’s forthcoming memoir

Joe fixing the birdbath in winter
Photo: Gail Papp

(excerpted from the chapter “The Globe Theater Birdhouse”)

The Papps’ country cottage in the fall.
Photo: Gail Papp
In the aftermath of a heavy snowfall one winter, Joe suggested that we take a walk along a picturesque back road near our cottage. To protect my Raynaud’s Syndrome-sensitive fingers, I ignited the wicks in my metal hand warmers with lighter-fluid and stuffed them in their blue velvet drawstring bags before setting out on a hike with Joe through the magical landscape of snow-etched trees and glistening white fields.
Captivated by the quiet beauty of the countryside, we stayed out longer than we intended, and as we headed home I began to experience difficulty pushing my boots forward in the snow. Finally, I had to stop.
“I’m afraid I can’t walk any further,” I said to Joe. “My hands are okay, but my feet have frozen up. I can’t push them forward anymore.”
There weren’t any houses in sight that Joe could go to for help, nor could he call a friend because cell phones weren’t invented yet, and the likelihood of our hitching a car ride on this untraveled back road was non-existent. I had been through too many past skirmishes with painful chilblains turning my hands and feet black to think calmly about that happening again.
“You should leave me here, walk home, and drive back in the car,” I said to Joe with, I thought, irrefutable commonsense.
By this time, however, early evening shadows had tinted the snowbanks purple, and he wouldn’t hear of it.
“Now listen,” Joe said, placing his hands on my shoulders and turning me to face him in the middle of the road. “I’m going to hypnotize you.”
I dismissed the idea. “Oh no,” I said. ”People have tried to do that in the past but I’m resistant to hypnosis. I’m not a good subject.”
“I know how to do it,” Joe insisted. “I used to hypnotize guys in the Navy and it always worked.”
I told him that I hated the idea of gazing into his eyes knowing that I was bound to disappoint him.
Joe brushed my objection aside.
“You don’t have to gaze into my eyes,” he said, gently tightening his hold on my shoulders. “When I count to three, the blood will start to circulate in your feet again, they’ll feel warm, and you’ll be able to walk.”
“But— “
“One, two, three,” Joe said quietly but firmly.
He did it so fast that I had no time to resist and then, mirabile dictu, I began to feel the blood pulsing from my ankles down to my frozen toes.
“I can’t believe this!” I exclaimed, throwing my arms around him in a grateful hug.
“Okay, now we can walk home,” Joe said, gripping my arm as he steered us along the darkening back road.

Excerpted from a chapter in Gail Papp’s forthcoming memoir

Joe fixing the birdbath in winter

Photo: Gail Papp

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