The Man Who Couldn’t Read

by longformphilly

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Gary Smith | Esquire | August 1990

Slowly, so the bed wouldn’t creak, the millionaire who couldn’t sleep rose and walked barefoot to the bookshelves. “Tonight,” he whispered to himself. “Please let it happen tonight.”

* * *

He turned on the lamp. His eyes moved past the two framed rectangles of glass on the wall — past his college diploma, past his teaching certificate — and fell upon the book cover, the one filled by the angry black face. He stared into the rage and hurt in the author’s eyes. He moved his fingers across the title, Soul on Ice.

This man understands, the millionaire thought. This man, too, is a prisioner, an outsider; maybe this man will help me tonight.

* * *

His thumb riffled the pages. Don’t force it, he told himself. This man is screaming, this man writes words that jump into your ears and eyes; just stand here, very calmly, and let them come in. …

* * *

All his life? Is that how long he would have to play this game? He lay back down in bed and looked at his wife. No one else knew his secret. Not his two children, not his friends. Not his old college professors, not the high school students he had taught for eighteen years, not the business associates in his multimillion-dollar real-estate-development company in southern California.

Only Kathy knew.

They would take everything if they found out — the diploma and teaching certificate, the apartment complexes and shopping centers and rental properties, the Mercedes and the big house overlooking the ocean. Or they’d refuse to believe his secret, insist he was playing them for fools.

Writer bio: Hands off, Gary Smith is ours. We claim Smith, a four-time winner of the National Magazine Award, as our own. He grew up in Delaware, graduated from LaSalle University and covered the Eagles for the Philadelphia Daily News before spreading his wings at Sports Illustrated. He is one of the most celebrated narrative journalists of our time. And he’s ours.

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