Monday, April 29, 2013

the last book I ever read (Tiger Rag: A Novel by Nicholas Christopher, excerpt four)

from Tiger Rag: A Novel by Nicholas Christopher:

By the time he arrived in Jackson that day, Willie Cornish had known plenty of crazy people, some driven mad by drink and despair, some just broken inside, but he had never been inside an asylum. He imagined a hospital that was run like a jail. He had only been locked up once, for disorderly conduct, in a stinking cell at the Michaud Street Jail. In the army he had been in a field hospital outside Santa Clara, Cuba, for a week, lying in the darkness listening to other soldiers scream through the chloroform as doctors removed shrapnel and sawed off limbs. They operated by lantern light, and he never forgot that smell of blood and kerosene.

When Cornish caught sight of the State Asylum, it confirmed his fears: a forbidding monolith with Greek columns, the main building was ringed by smaller ones, including two grim dormitories, one for white, one for colored. Weeping willows dotted the broad lawn. There was a gazebo and a bandstand in a shady corner. On Saturdays chairs were brought out and either a band of visiting musicians or the patients’ own band played ragtime for the other patients and the staff.

In his pocket Cornish had the official response to the letter his wife Bella had sent the superintendent, requesting permission for William Cornish to visit his friend and former colleague, Charles Joseph Bolden.

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