Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Perfect Day For Love And Squalor

Esmé stood up. “Il faut que je parte aussi,” she said, with a sigh. “Do you know French?”

I got up from my own chair, with mixed feelings of regret and confusion. Esmé and I shook hands; her hand, as I’d suspected, was a nervous hand, damp at the palm. I told her, in English, how very much I’d enjoyed her company.

She nodded. “I though you might,” she said. “I’m quite communicative for my age.” She gave her hair another experimental touch. “I’m dreadfully sorry about my hair,” she said. “I’ve probably been hideous to look at.”

“Not at all! As a matter of fact, I think a lot of the wave is coming back already.”

She quickly touched her hair again. “Do you think you’ll be coming here again in the immediate future?” she asked. “We come here every Saturday, after choir practice.”

I answered that I’d like nothing better but that, unfortunately, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to make it again.

“In other words, you can’t discuss troop movements,” said Esmé. She made no move to leave the vicinity of the table. In fact, she crossed one foot over the other and, looking down, aligned the toes of her shoes. It was a pretty little execution, for she was wearing white socks and her ankles and feet were lovely. She looked up at me abruptly. “Would you like me to write to you?” she asked, with a certain amount of color in her face. “I write extremely articulate letters for a person my—”

“I’d love it.” I took out pencil and paper and wrote down my name, rank, serial number, and A.P.O. number.

“I shall write to you first,” she said, accepting it, “so that you don’t feel compromised in any way.” She put the address into a pocket of her dress. “Good bye,” she said, and walked back to her table.

I ordered another pot of tea and sat watching the two of them till they, and the harassed Miss Megley, got up to leave. Charles led the way out, limping tragically, like a man with one leg several inches shorter than the other. He didn’t look over at me. Miss Megley went next, then Esmé, who waved to me. I waved back, half getting up from my chair. It was a strangely emotional moment for me.

“For Esmé —With Love And Squalor”

That’s a small part of a beautiful short story I re-read recently.

I was thinking about it because Miley Cyrus’s father has a pretty sad interview in GQ magazine now, talking about how the Disnification of his daughter destroyed his family and, for the most part, ruined his life.

The Disnification and destruction of young women and, through what I guess could be called a Sombrero Fallout-like effect, the Disnification and destruction of the people who love the young women, is my pick for one of the defining dynamics of the modern world.

When I first re-read “For Esmé —With Love And Squalor” I was thinking that even if any magazine published short stories these days no magazine, these days, would publish such a beautiful story, such a sweet story. And I wondered if J. D. Salinger, were he still alive and writing in the present world, I wondered if J. D. Salinger would write such a beautiful story, such a sweet story, in the world around us today.

But then I remembered that Salinger was certainly not a naive writer. And he certainly didn’t close his eyes to what the years and the world do to people, men and women. I remembered that the same short story collection that contains “For Esmé —With Love And Squalor” also contains, of course, “A Perfect Day For Bananafish.”

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