In the Sky Above Northern Europe
When we were eight years old, my twin sister, Iris, saved my life. I'm serious. I had a fever and a terrible stomachache, and our parents were out at some party. The nanny was one of those no-nonsense types you get, and I was not then—nor am I now—someone who likes to air her private miseries for the delectation of others.
Iris was the one who noticed my gray, shining face, as I curled up in bed and tried to read a book. Twin sisters and all. She just knew something was awfully wrong. She made the nanny call up 21, or wherever it was, and have the maître d' send for our parents. Of course, Mother told Nanny she wasn't coming home for any silly stomachache, and really Ruth should know better than to seek attention that way. She'd thought better of me. Nanny relayed this message with an air of triumph. I said Fine and curled back up, shivering as you shiver when a fever's come on.
So what did Iris do? My sweet, small, timid, delicate flower of a sister? She called up the ambulance service all by herself, that's what she did, and a half hour later they burst into our apartment, swept past poor astonished Nanny, and swiftly diagnosed a probable case of acute appendicitis. Within the hour, they were wheeling me into the operating room at the Hospital for the Relief of the Ruptured and Crippled on East Forty-Second Street. Mother burst hysterical into the waiting room in her fur coat, I'm told, though by then I was under some combination of nitrous oxide and chloroform, so I can't say for certain.
Anyway, my point is Iris saved my life that day, so it seems I owed her one.
Where was I? My mind's wandering a bit. It's been a long day, and it's not even noon yet, and I'm afraid I've already drunk the best part of a bottle of English gin in order to cope. I'm sitting inside the fuselage of some type of military aircraft—don't ask me what kind, for God's sake—in the company of a United States army doctor and a pair of army nurses. We're on our way to evacuate an injured American citizen. It's an important mission. He's an important citizen, a genuine twenty-four-carat hero. I'm not allowed to tell you where we're going—that's top secret—and I'm probably not allowed to tell you his name, either.
Still, now that I think about it, they didn't specifically say I couldn't.
All right. I'll whisper it, so pay attention.
Charles Sumner Fox.
Nice name, isn't it? So distinguished. On his business card, it reads C. SUMNER FOX. That's because of his mother. He told me the story once, when we were in Italy together. It goes like this. His father's from Savannah, and his mother's from Boston, and they met in western Massachusetts where Mr. Savannah attended Amherst College and Miss Boston attended Smith. Some mixer, I guess. They fell in love somehow. She agreed to marry him and start a new life in Georgia, but she insisted on naming their firstborn after a famous abolitionist, just to make a point. Look for Charles Sumner in your encyclopedia and you'll see what I mean. Senator from Massachusetts during all those squabbles and treaties before the Civil War, the ones you learned about in school and forgot. Once, while he was on the Senate floor delivering a speech against slavery, some congressman took his cane and beat Charles Sumner until he almost died. I'm serious. Grievously injured, all because he stood there on the floor of the United States Senate, if you will, and called the congressman's cousin a pimp for Southern interests.
Men. I tell you.
Anyway, as a result of these shenanigans, Charles Sumner became the hero of Massachusetts, where the good citizens reelected him even though he couldn't actually attend the Senate, on account of being beaten so badly, so that his empty desk could stand as a noble reminder, et cetera. All the world loves a martyr. As time went on, mothers named their sons after him, just to make a point.
But listen to this. It's sort of funny. After Charles Sumner Fox was born, his mother decided he didn't look like a Charles after all, so she called him Sumner. And he's been Sumner Fox ever since, to the world and to me. If the name rings a bell, it's because he once played football for Yale, where he was considered one of the greatest fullbacks ever to carry a pigskin. So you probably heard of him.