Does the moth understand, when it circles the flame, that it is chasing its own destruction? Would it care, if it did?
I think not.
For this is the way of things; we are drawn, inexorably and seemingly without will, towards that which fascinates and hypnotises us. To be close--to touch--is worth the terrible price it exacts.
Gatsby said he thought thus, anyway. I'm not sure I believed him, either then--in the middle of the howling vertigo of that night--or now, in the cold sterility of time passed. But perhaps he believed himself. There is some solace to be found in hoping so.
At the time, I told him he was a fool. Sitting on a dusty chaise in a room I didn't recall having ever seen before, unwanted cigarette turning to ash in my hand, I berated him. I insisted that he had to leave, that to stay was to invite trouble into his house with the same wanton abandon as he had invited that summer-full of gaudy, hollow-eyed guests. Disaster scented the air with ozone, the taut promise of a coming storm.
He smiled, the lines around his eyes deepening and making him look so very, very tired. I wanted so badly to lift my palm to his face, to smooth those lines away, that my hand shook with the effort of keeping it still. I wanted to stop time; to alter both past and future and recreate him as he had once recreated himself. I wanted so much that I simply did not have words for. So I spoke no more, and he sat beside me and patted my trembling hand. I rested my forehead against his shoulder, the frosty, crumpled pink of that impossible suit burning its way through closed eyelids into the permanence of memory.
We sat that way until dawn.
I remain glad that I took it back. He was a fool, a pure fool, but I'm glad that the last words I spoke to him were a compliment. There had been so little truth in his life--and mine. At least, at the end, there was something resembling honesty-- for, and from, both of us. It was, I think, the best we could do.
I could do more now, had I that chance again. I've learned a great deal since that night; about the world, and how it works. About myself. I like to believe that now, I could make him leave. That I could reach him, pull him back from that lonely edge and help him understand--make him understand--that mistakes made in the name of love can be noble. His Daisy was something beautiful and inspirational, and he should never have been ashamed of creating her. The Daisy he held in his heart wasn't one that could ever have been held in his arms, but I could have shown him that didn't matter. What mattered was that he could, that he did, love. I have envied him that a great deal, over the years.
I saw Jordan once more only, at a rather tedious wedding party for a girl we both had only the most tenuous of connections to, and whose name I have long since forgotten. Jordan was accompanied by her husband; a short, bespectacled fellow who was introduced to me as a rising star in the world of obstetrics. It wasn't a world I ever intended to inhabit, and I'm afraid I was probably rather rude to him. Jordan was thin, brittle and drank far too much champagne. She told me she felt she'd had a very lucky escape, then broke down and cried against my shirtfront. Her mascara left smoky trails on the silk, stark against the white like a Rorschach abstract. When I mentioned this, attempting to lighten the atmosphere and help restore her dignity, she laughed.
'And what do you see, Nick?' she asked, tracing the pattern with a trembling finger. 'No, don't answer. There's no need. I know what you see. Who you see. I always knew.'
She put her finger to my lips and left without saying good-bye.
The last time I saw Tom Buchanan we'd shaken hands, although I'd had no intention of renewing our relationship. As it turned out, that was never to be an option. He lost almost everything on Black Thursday, a problem he resolved by fitting a Colt revolver under his chin and pulling the trigger. I tried to find out if it was the same type of gun that George Wilson had used, but nobody seemed to know.
I was one of the lucky ones; the Crash had little impact on my own situation. Henry Gatz died in the spring of the previous year, and what remained of Gatsby's money became mine. I had a suit made out of a bolt of fuschia satin that the tailor's daughter was intending to use for a prom gown, and got drunk for the third and final time in my life while I burned it. I attended Henry's funeral brought low by alcohol and memory, but I did it in respectable black. I arranged for the cheap copy of Hopalong Cassidy he'd shown me to be placed in his hands, before the casket lid was closed.
I put Gatsby's money away, safe. I threw no parties.
Eventually there was a card from Daisy, but I made no reply. I was kept up to date by second and third-hand reports, and when her circumstances became strained I injected a little buoyancy by the same anonymous methods. I no longer blamed her, not directly, but I had no wish to be part of her life. She married again in the late thirties, to a playwright who had some modest success on Broadway, but I have no real picture of how she lives now. My sources informed me that her daughter, Pam, went to college and became a nurse. I doubt that would have pleased Tom at all. What the new husband thinks I have no idea.
For myself, I have never entered into matrimony. I am not so vain as to believe I have no faults, but I flatter myself that hypocrisy is not among them. I do not go without company, or comfort, but I have no desire for a permanent presence in my house. Sometimes I seduce, sometimes I purchase, but they all leave swiftly and without fuss.
I go East often, for both business and pleasure. I have been back to New York, even to Long Island, but not to West Egg. Not to the house. I don't have to; time heals, yes, but it solidifies also. A part of me sits there forever, on Gatsby's chaise, my head against the warmth of his shoulder and my eyes closed against the light.