Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 477
Kimball Harris returns to Salt Lake City, where he attended college, to make funeral arrangements for his last near relative, his Aunt Margaret. Tired from his long drive across Nevada from San Francisco, he checks into a hotel, awash in nostalgia for his “giddy and forgotten youth.” When he visits the Merrill funeral parlor, where his aunt has been taken, he is surprised to discover that he knows the building well. Holly, a beautiful young woman who is at the center of many of Harris’s recollections of his college days, once lived in an apartment in this old mansion.
Viewing his aunt’s body does not excite a particularly sentimental response in him. He recalls her as never very lovable, “only a duty and an expense.” However, because of its potent associations with Holly, the house itself resurrects memories of the Jazz Age of his youth with great force. He asks McBride, the parlor attendant, if he can see Holly’s apartment, a room with a turret tower on the third floor. Although another deceased woman is laid out in this room, McBride permits Harris to look around.
The staircase, hallways, and other rooms all propel Harris deeper into his nostalgic recollections. He remembers the people he knew in college as a collection of pose-strikers and late adolescent romantics whom he thinks of as “provincial cognoscenti.” All these people orbited around Holly. He particularly recalls the rumors of a nude portrait for which Holly supposedly modeled and is surprised to realize that he is still disturbed by this thought.
When he enters Holly’s former apartment, he sees the body of a deceased woman. Though disturbed by her chill and silence, he is intrigued by the Navajo squash-blossom necklace on the dead woman, thinking it almost jaunty, an indicator of her former personality. His lively memories are juxtaposed against the quiet of the dead woman in this room.
He recalls an episode, which he cannot fix precisely in time, when he found himself alone with Holly, as he rarely ever was. She was crying; in an effort to comfort her, Harris took her into his arms in a way that was partly a “game” that he had played out before—a burlesquing gesture of consolation. He was nevertheless excited by Holly’s proximity and was surprised when she did not push his hands away from her gown’s low-cut back. His fingers continued moving, until they reached her breast, which startled him because of its rigid nipple. At that moment, the “maiden in the tower” suddenly became material and attainable, but rather than satisfying his desires, Harris retreated. He recalls this moment as one of the saddest failures of his life. After a final, compassionate view of the dead woman with the Navajo necklace, Harris retreats from both the room and his recollections—“almost with panic.”
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