Paul explains that he is writing this story from his nursing home where, despite the place’s comfortable atmosphere, he feels almost like an inmate. He says that his fellow residents consider him aloof, for he rarely joins them in the TV room, but Paul justifies himself by saying he cannot stand television. His special friend—whom, if he were younger, Paul would call his girlfriend—is a refined, intelligent woman called Elaine Connelly who agrees with him about television. Paul spends a lot of time with Elaine. Otherwise, over the past month, his main activity has been writing down his memories in the solarium.
Paul compares Georgia Pines to Cold Mountain Penitentiary, arguing that he does not feel that he is living a free life but, rather, is meant to stay on the premises and abide by the institution’s rules. Paul’s special relationship with Elaine nevertheless brings to light the human capacity to cope with new circumstances and establish bonds of affection, however difficult one’s circumstances—whether in prison or in a nursing home.
One morning, Elaine joins Paul in the TV room at 4 A.M., unable to sleep because of her arthritis. She sees Paul shaking all over on the couch. When Paul regains composure, Elaine says it looks as though Paul has seen a ghost, and Paul feels as though he has. He explains that he was unable to sleep and that, to change his mind from his memories of William Wharton, he came down to watch TV. A gangster movie came on and, when he saw the actor throw an old woman down the stairs, calling her a “squealer,” Paul felt that he has seen Wharton in the flesh.
Paul is tortured by his memories of the past. He realizes that his past is not comfortably remote but, rather, that the wounds of the past are capable of reappearing unbidden, bringing with them emotions of pain and fear. Paul proves deeply affected by Wharton’s cruelty—a cruelty he cannot wrap his head around, as it is motivated purely by the desire to harm and humiliate others and is therefore deeply at odds with Paul’s ideals of respect and compassion.
Elaine reflects for a moment and Paul is convinced that she is going to tell him to stop writing but, instead, she tells him to keep on writing as though none of this has happened. Elaine takes his hands in hers, kisses him on the forehead, and tells him that he shouldn’t let a few ghosts discourage him. Both of them decide to return to bed, but Paul is unable to sleep. He keeps on seeing the face of the actor who made him think so strongly of William Wharton. Instead of trying to sleep, he goes to the solarium to write.
Elaine’s encouragement reflects her trust in the goodness of the project that Paul has undertaken and her belief that the presence of obstacles and discouraging moments should not obscure the final goal. Elaine’s words of motivation mirror Paul’s wife Janice’s constant encouragement for Paul to behave as morally and compassionately as he possibly can.