Note: This story was rewritten by Judy Shinohara for English learners. It was originally written by Francis Scott Fitzgerald in 1922.
Genre: Fantasy, Human Drama
In the summer of 1860, Mr. and Mrs. Button decided to have their first child.
Now, this is a very strange story. You don’t have to believe it. I’ll just tell you what happened and you can decide whether to believe the story or not.
Mr. Roger Button was a wealthy man in Baltimore. His family was related to other prestigious and wealthy families all around the U.S. His last name held a lot of power and honor.
Since this was going to be Mr. Roger Button’s first child, he was naturally very nervous. He hoped for a boy who could carry out the family business, which was a hardware store. Roger Button & Co., Wholesale Hardware.
The night before, his wife headed to the hospital to give birth and asked Roger to stay home. He woke up early the next morning. He dressed himself in a suit and hurried through the streets of Baltimore to the hospital.
His mind was flooded with thoughts. He rushed to the hospital, all while thinking about the joy of having (hopefully!) a beautiful son.
As he approached the hospital, he saw the doctor that always took care of his family. The doctor was leaving the hospital and coming down the front steps.
Even though Mr. Roger Button was a proper gentleman, he began to run full speed toward Doctor Keene.
“Doctor Keene!” he called. “Oh, Doctor Keene!”
The doctor heard him, turned toward him and stood waiting. He had a strange expression on his face, almost as if he was angry.
“What happened?” demanded Mr. Button, gasping for breath. He couldn’t think clearly and started asking nonsense questions. “What was it? How is she? A boy? Who is it? What —“
“Pull yourself together!” said Doctor Keene sharply. He appeared somewhat irritated.
“Is the child born?” begged Mr. Button.
Doctor Keene frowned. “Why, yes, I suppose so.” Again he threw a curious glance at Mr. Button.
“Is my wife alright?”
“Is it a boy or a girl?”
“Oh, c’mon!” cried Doctor Keene in irritation,”Go and see for yourself. Outrageous!” He snapped the last word. Then he turned away muttering:
“Can you imagine what this will do to my professional reputation? This case will ruin me.”
“What’s the matter?” demanded Mr. Button. “Did she have twins? Triplets?”
“No, not triplets!” answered the doctor angrily. “I’ll tell you again: Go and see for yourself. And get another doctor. I brought you into the world, young man, and I’ve been your family doctor for forty years, but I’m done with you! I don’t want to see you or any of your relatives ever again! Goodbye!”
Then he turned sharply, and without another word, he climbed into his car and drove away.
Mr. Button stood there on the sidewalk, stunned. He started trembling. What horrible mishap had happened? He suddenly felt afraid to enter the hospital. But he took a deep breath and forced himself to walk up the steps and through the door.
A nurse was sitting behind the counter in the gloomy hospital. Mr. Button approached her.
“Good morning,” she greeted, looking up at him pleasantly.
“Good morning. I… I am Mr. Button.”
A look of terror spread across the nurse’s face. She stood up and looked like she wanted to fly out of the room. She restrained herself.
“I want to see my child,” said Mr. Button.
The nurse gasped sharply. “Oh – of course!” she cried out hysterically. “Upstairs. Right upstairs. Go right upstairs.”
She pointed, and Mr. Button, covered in cold sweat, turned and walked up the stairs to the second floor. There, he found another nurse. She was walking down the hall holding a bucket of water. “I’m Mr. Button,” he managed to say, “I want to see my —“
Clank! The bucket fell to the floor and the water spread out around their feet. The bucket rolled toward the stairs. Clank, clank, clank, falling down each step.
“I want to see my child!” Mr. Button almost shrieked. He felt like he was going to collapse.
Clank! The bucket stopped at the bottom of the stairs. The nurse regained control of herself, and looked at Mr. Button with contempt.
“All right, Mr. Button,” she agreed in a whisper. “Very well! But you have no idea how much trouble this has been for us! It’s so outrageous! The hospital’s reputation will surely be ruined by —”
“Hurry!” he cried. “I can’t stand this!”
“Come this way, then, Mr. Button.”
He forced himself to follow her. At the end of a long hall, they reached a small room. Inside, he could hear a number of crying babies. They entered. Lining the walls, were about 10 baby cribs, all white. At the top of each crib, there was a name tag.
“Well,” gasped Mr. Button, “Which is mine?”
“There!” said the nurse.
Mr. Button’s eyes followed her pointing finger, and he saw this:
Wrapped in a thick white blanket, and partly crammed into one of the cribs, there sat an old man about seventy years of age. His thin hair was white, and he had a long, smoke-colored beard. The beard waved absurdly back and forth, fanned by the wind coming in through the window. He looked up at Mr. Button with dim, faded eyes.
“Am I crazy?” thundered Mr. Button, his terror resolving into rage. “Is this some stupid hospital joke?”
“It doesn’t seem like a joke to us,” replied the nurse severely. “And I don’t know whether you’re crazy or not—but that is most certainly your child.”
The cool sweat started again on Mr. Button’s forehead. He closed his eyes, and then, opening them, looked again. There was no mistake—he was gazing at a man in his seventies—a baby of seventy, a baby whose feet hung over the sides of its crib.
The old man looked blankly from the nurse to Mr. Button for a moment, and then suddenly spoke in a cracked and ancient voice. “Are you… my fath- er?” he asked.
Mr. Button and the nurse flinched.
“Because if you are,” the old man went on, “I wish you’d get me out of this place—or, at least, get me a comfortable bed in here.”
“Where in God’s name did you come from? Who are you?” burst out Mr. Button frantically.
“I can’t tell you exactly who I am,” croaked the man, “because I’ve only been born a few hours ago—but my last name is certainly Button.”
“You lie! You’re an impostor!”
The old man turned wearily to the nurse. “Nice way to welcome a newborn child,” he complained in a weak voice. “Tell him he’s wrong, why don’t you?”
“You’re wrong. Mr. Button,” said the nurse seriously. “This is your child, and you’ll have to make the best of it. We’re going to ask you to take him home with you as soon as possible—some time today.”
“Home?” repeated Mr. Button incredulously.
“Yes, we can’t have him here. We really can’t, you know?”
“I’m glad to hear that,” whined the old man. “This is a terrible place to keep a baby who likes quiet. With all this yelling and crying around me, I haven’t been able to get a wink of sleep. I asked for something to eat”—here his voice rose to a shrill—”and they brought me a bottle of milk!”
Mr. Button sank down on a chair near his son and put his face in his hands.
“My heavens!” he murmured, in horror. “What will people say? What must I do?”
“You’ll have to take him home,” insisted the nurse—”immediately!”
A grotesque picture formed clearly in Mr. Button’s mind—a picture of himself walking through the crowded streets of the city with this terrible figure by his side. “I can’t. I can’t,” he moaned.
People would stop to speak to him, and what was he going to say? He would have to introduce this…this creature: “This is my son, born early this morning.” And then the old man would gather his blanket around him and they would continue walking, past the bustling stores, the slave market, past the luxurious houses of the residential district, past the nursing homes… .
“Come! Pull yourself together,” commanded the nurse.
“Wait a minute,” the old man announced suddenly, “if you think I’m going to walk home in this blanket, you’re entirely crazy.”
“Babies always have blankets.”
With a wicked laugh the old man held up a small white diaper. “Look!” he said. “This is what they had ready for me.”
“Babies always wear those,” said the nurse.
“Well,” said the old man, “not me! This blanket itches. You could have at least given me a sheet.”
“Keep the blanket on! Keep it on!” said Mr. Button. He turned to the nurse. “What’ll I do?”
“Go downtown and buy your son some clothes.”
Mr. Button exited the room, and he heard his old son’s voice call out: “And a cane, father. I want to have a cane.”