richard yates shows how the child is father to the man


Richard Yates, "A Glutton For Punishment"

For a littlewhile when Walter Henderson was nine years old he thought falling dead was the very zenith of romance, and so did a number of his friends. Having found that the only truly rewarding part of any cops-and-robbers game was the moment when you pretended to be shot, clutched your heart, dropped your pistol and crumpled to the earth, they soon dispensed with the rest of it — the tiresome business of choosing up sides and sneaking around — and refined the game to its essence. It became a matter of individual performance, almost an art. One of them at a time would run dramatically along the crest of a hill, and at a given point the ambush would occur: a simultaneous jerking of aimed toy pistols and a chorus of those staccato throaty sounds — a kind of hoarse-whispered “Pk-k-ew! Pk-k-ew!” with which little boys simulate the noise of gunfire. Then the performer would stop, turn, stand poised for a moment in graceful agony, pitch over and fall down the hill in a whirl of arms and legs and a splendid cloud of dust, and finally sprawl flat at the bottom, a rumpled corpse. When he got up and brushed off his clothes, the others would criticize his form (”Pretty good,” or “Too stiff,” or “Didn’t look natural”), and then it would be the next player’s turn. That was all there was to the game, but Walter Henderson loved it. He was a slight, poorly coordinated boy, and this was the only thing even faintly like a sport at which he excelled. Nobody could match the abandon with which he flung his limp body down the hill, and he revelled in the small acclaim it won him. Eventually the others grew bored with the game, after some older boys had laughed at them. Walter turned reluctantly to more wholesome forms of play, and soon he had forgotten about it.

But he had occasion to remember it, vividly, one May afternoon nearly twenty-five years later in a Lexington Avenue office building, while he sat at his desk pretending to work and waiting to be fired. He had become a sober, keen-looking young man now, with clothes that showed the influence of an Eastern university and neat brown hair that was just beginning to thin out on top. Years of good health had made him less slight, and though he still had trouble with his coordination it showed up mainly in minor things nowadays, like an inability to coordinate his hat, his wallet, his theater tickets and his change without making his wife stop and wait for him, or a tendency to push heavily against doors marked "Pull." He looked, at any rate, the picture of sanity and competence as he sat there in the office. No one could have told that the cool sweat of anxiety was sliding under his shirt, or that the fingers of his left hand, concealed in his pocket, were slowly grinding and tearing a book of matches into a moist cardboard pulp. He had seen it coming for weeks, and this morning, from the minute he got off the elevator, he had sensed that this was the day it would happen. When several of his superiors said, "Morning, Walt," he had seen the faintest suggestion of concern behind their smiles; then once this afternoon, glancing out over the gate of the cubicle where he worked, he’d happened to catch the eye of George Crowell, the department manager, who was hesitating in the door of his private office with some papers in his hand. Crowell turned away quickly, but Walter knew he had been watching him, troubled but determined. In a matter of minutes, he felt sure, Crowell would call him in and break the news — with difficulty, of course, since Crowell was the kind of boss who took pride in being a regular guy. There was nothing to do now but let the thing happen and try to take it as gracefully as possible.

 

That was when the childhood memory began to prey on his mind, for it suddenly struck him — and the force of it sent his thumbnail biting deep into the secret matchbook — that letting things happen and taking them gracefully had been, in a way, the pattern of his life. There was certainly no denying that the role of good loser had always held an inordinate appeal for him. All through adolescence he had specialized in it, gamely losing fights with stronger boys, playing football badly in the secret hope of being injured and carried dramatically off the field ("You got to hand it to old Henderson for one thing, anyway," the high-school coach had said with a chuckle, "he’s a real little glutton for punishment"). College had offered a wider scope to his talent — there were exams to be flunked and elections to be lost — and later the Air Force had made it possible for him to wash out, honorably, as a Bight cadet. And now, inevitably, it seemed, he was running true to form once more. The several jobs he’d held before this had been the beginner’s kind at which it isn’t easy to fail; when the opportunity for this one first arose it had been, in Crowell’s phrase, "a real challenge."

 

"Good," Walter had said. "That’s what I’m looking for." When he related that part of the conversation to his wife she had said, "Oh, wonderful!" and they’d moved to an expensive apartment in the East Sixties on the strength of it. And lately, when he started coming home with a beaten look and announcing darkly that he doubted if he could hold on much longer, she would enjoin the children not to bother him ("Daddy’s very tired tonight"), bring him a drink and soothe him with careful, wifely reassurance, doing her best to conceal her fear, never guessing, or at least never showing, that she was dealing with a chronic, compulsive failure, a strange little boy in love with the attitudes of collapse. And the amazing himself had never looked at it that way before.

 

"Walt?"

 

The cubicle gate had swung open and George Crowell was standing there, looking uncomfortable. "Will you step into my office a minute?"

 

"Right, George." And Walter followed him out of the cubicle, out across the office floor, feeling many eyes on his back. Keep it dignified, he told himself. The important thing is to keep it dignified. Then the door closed behind them and the two of them were alone in the carpeted silence of Crowell’s private office. Automobile horns blared in the distance, twenty-one stories below; the only other sounds were their breathing, the squeak of Crowell’s shoes as he went to his desk and the creak of his swivel chair as he sat down. "Pull up a chair, Walt," he said. "Smoke?"

 

"No thanks." Walter sat down and laced his fingers tight between his knees.

 

Crowell shut the cigarette box without taking one for himself, pushed it aside and leaned forward, both hands spread flat on the plate-glass top of the desk. "Walt, I might as well give you this straight from the shoulder," he said, and the last shred of hope slipped away. The funny part was that it came as a shock, even so. "Mr. Harvey and I have felt for some time that you haven’t quite caught on to the work here, and we’ve both very reluctantly come to the conclusion that the best thing to do, in your own best interests as well as ours, is to let you go. Now," he added quickly, "this is no reflection on you personally, Walt. We do a highly specialized kind of work here and we can’t expect everybody to stay on top of the job. In your case particularly, we really feel you’d be happier in some organization better suited to your — abilities."

 

Crowell leaned back, and when he raisedhis hands their moisture left two gray, perfect prints on the glass, like the hands of a skeleton. Walter stared at them, fascinated, while they shriveled and disappeared.

 

"Well," he said, and looked up. "You put that very nicely, George. Thanks."

 

Crowell’s lips worked into an apologetic, regular guy’s smile. "Awfully sorry," he said. "These things just happen." And he began to fumble with the knobs of his desk drawers, visibly relieved that the worst was over. "Now," he said, "we’ve made out a check here covering your salary through the end of next month. That’ll give you something in the way of — severance pay, so to speak — to tide you over until you find something." He held out a long envelope.

 

"That’s very generous," Walter said. Then there was a silence, and Walter realized it was up to him to break it. He got to his feet. "All right, George. I won’t keep you."

 

Crowell got up quickly and came around the desk with both hands held out — one to shake Walter’s hand, the other to put on his shoulder as they walked to the door. The gesture, at once friendly and humiliating, brought a quick rush of blood to Walter’s throat, and for a terrible second he thought he might be going to cry. "Well, boy," Crowell said, "good luck to you."

 

"Thanks," he said, and he was so relieved to find his voice steady that he said it again, smiling. "Thanks. So long, George."

 

There was a distance of some fifty feet to be crossed on the way back to his cubicle, and Walter Henderson accomplished it with style. He was aware of how trim and straight his departing shoulders looked to Crowell; he was aware too, as he threaded his way among desks whose occupants either glanced up shyly at him or looked as if they’d like to, of every subtle play of well-controlled emotion in his face. It was as if the whole thing were a scene in a movie. The camera had opened the action from Crowell’s viewpoint and dollied back to take in the entire office as a frame for Walter’s figure in lonely, stately passage; now it came in for a long-held close-up of Walter’s face, switched to other brief views of his colleagues’ turning heads (Joe Collins looking worried, Fred Holmes trying to keep from looking pleased), and switched again to Walter’s viewpoint as it discovered the plain, unsuspecting face of Mary, his secretary, who was waiting for him at his desk with a report he had given her to type.

 

"I hope this is all right, Mr. Henderson."

 

Walter took it and dropped it on the desk. "Forget it, Mary," he said. "Look, you might as well take the rest of the day off, and go see the personnel manager in the morning. You’ll be getting a new job. I’ve just been fired."

 

Her first expression was a faint, suspicious smile — she thought he was kidding — but then she began to look pale and shaken. She was very young and not too bright; they had probably never told her in secretarial school that it was possible for your boss to get fired. "Why, that’s terrible, Mr. Henderson. I — well, but why would they do such a thing?"

 

"Oh, I don’t know," he said. "Lot of little reasons, I guess." He was opening and slamming the drawers of his desk, cleaning out his belongings. There wasn’t much: a handful of old personal letters, a dry fountain pen, a cigarette lighter with no flint, and half of a wrapped chocolate bar. He was aware of how poignant each of these objects looked to her, as she watched him sort them out and fill his pockets, and he was aware of the dignity with which he straightened up, turned, took his hat from the stand and put it on.

 

"Doesn’t affect you, of course, Mary," he said. "They’ll have a new job for you in the morning. Well." He held out his hand. "Good luck."

 

"Thank you; the same to you. Well, then, g’night" — and here she brought her chewed fingernails up to her lips for an uncertain little giggle — "I mean, g’bye, then, Mr. Henderson."

 

The next part of the scene was at the water cooler, where Joe Collins’s sober eyes became enriched with sympathy as Walter approached him.

 

"Joe," Walter said. "I’m leaving. Got the ax."

 

"No!" But Collins’s look of shock was plainly an act of kindness; it couldn’t have been much of a surprise. "Jesus, Walt, what the hell’s the matter with these people?"

 

Then Fred Holmes chimed in, very grave and sorry, clearly pleased with the news: "Gee, boy, that’s a damn shame."

 

Walter led the two of them away to the elevators, where he pressed the "down" button; and suddenly other men were bearing down on him from all corners of the office, their faces stiff with sorrow, their hands held out.

 

"Awful sorry, Walt . . ."

 

"Good luck, boy . . ."

 

"Keep in touch, okay, Walt? . . ."

 

Nodding and smiling, shaking hands, Walter said, "Thanks," and "So long," and "I certainly will"; then the red light came on over one of the elevators with its little mechanical "ding!" and in another few seconds the doors slid open and the operator’s voice said, "Down!" He backed into the ear, still wearing his fixed smile and waving a jaunty salute to their earnest, talking faces, and the scene found its perfect conclusion as the doors slid shut, clamped, and the car dropped in silence through space.

 

All the way down he stood with the ruddy, bright-eyed look of a man fulfilled by pleasure; it wasn’t until he was out on the street, walking rapidly, that he realized how completely he had enjoyed himself.

 

The heavy shock of this knowledge slowed him down, until he came to a stop and stood against a building front for the better part of a minute. His scalp prickled under his hat, and his fingers began to fumble with the knot of his tie and the button of his coat. He felt as if he had surprised himself in some obscene and shameful act, and he had never felt more helpless, or more frightened.

 

Then in a burst of action he set off again, squaring his hat and setting his jaw, bringing his heels down hard on the pavement, trying to look hurried and impatient and impelled by business. A man could drive himself crazy trying to psychoanalyze himself in the middle of Lexington Avenue, in the middle of the afternoon. The thing to do was get busy, now, and start looking for a job.

 

The only trouble, he realized, coming to a stop again and looking around, was that he didn’t know where he was going. He was somewhere in the upper Forties, on a cornerthat was bright with florist shops and taxicabs, alive with well-dressed men and women walking in the clear spring air. A telephone was what he needed first. He hurried across the street to a drugstore and made his way through smells of toilet soap and perfume and ketchup and bacon to the rank of phone booths along the rear wall; he got out his address book and found the page showing the several employment agencies where his applications were filed; then he got his dimes ready and shut himself into one of the booths.

 

But all the agencies told him the same thing: no openings in his field at the moment; no point in his coming in until they called him. When he was finished he dug for the address book again, to check the number of an acquaintance who had told him, a month before, that there might soon be an opening in his office. The book wasn’t in his inside pocket; he plunged his hands into the other pockets of his coat and then his pants, cracking an elbow painfully against the wall of the booth, but all he could find were the old letters and the piece of chocolate from his desk. Cursing, he dropped the chocolate on the floor and, as if it were a lighted cigarette, stepped on it. These exertions in the heat of the booth made his breathing rapid and shallow. He was feeling faint by the time he saw the address book right in front of him, on top of the coin box, where he’d left it. His finger trembled in the dial, and when he started to speak, clawing the collar away from his sweating neck with his free hand, his voice was as weak and urgent as a beggar’s.

 

"Jack," he said. "I was just wondering — just wondering if you’d heard anything new on the opening you mentioned a while back."

 

"On the which?"

 

"The opening. You know. You said there might be a job in your—"

 

"Oh, that. No, haven’t heard a thing, Walt. I’ll be in touch with you if anything breaks."

 

"Okay, Jack." He pulled open the folding door of the booth and leaned back against the stamped-tin wall, breathing deeply to welcome the rush of cool air. "I just thought it might’ve slipped your mind or something," he said. His voice was almost normal again. "Sorry to bother you."

 

"Hell, that’s okay," said the hearty voice in the receiver. "What’s the matter, boy? Things getting a little sticky where you are?"

 

"Oh no," Walter foundhimself saying, and he was immediately glad of the lie. He almost never lied, and it always surprised him to discover how easy it could be. His voice gained confidence. "No, I’m all right here, Jack, it’s just that I didn’t want to — you know, I thought it might have slipped your mind, is all. How’s the family?"

 

When the conversation was over, he guessed there was nothing more to do but go home. But he continued to sit in the open booth for a long time, with his feet stretched out on the drugstore floor, until a small, canny smile began to play on his face, slowly dissolving and changing into a look of normal strength. The ease of the lie had given him an idea that grew, the more he thought it over, into a profound and revolutionary decision.

 

He would not tell his wife. With luck he was sure to find some kind of work before the month was out, and in the meantime, for once in his life, he would keep his troubles to himself. Tonight, when she asked how the day had gone, he would say, "Oh, all right," or even "Fine." In the morning he would leave the house at the usual time and stay away all day, and he would go on doing the same thing every day until he had a job.

 

The phrase "Pull yourself together" occurred to him, and there was more than determination in the way he pulled himself together there in the phone booth, the way he gathered up his coins and straightened his tie and walked out to the street: there was a kind of nobility.

 

Several hours had to be killed before the normal time of his homecoming, and when he found himself walking west on Forty-second Street he decided to kill them in the Public Library. He mounted the wide stone steps importantly, and soon he was installed in the reading room, examining a bound copy of last year’s Life magazines and going over and over his plan, enlarging and perfecting it.

 

He knew, sensibly, that there would be nothing easy about the day-to-day deception. It would call for the constant vigilance and cunning of an outlaw. But wasn’t it the very difficulty of the plan that made it worthwhile? And in the end, when it was all over and he could tell her at last, it would be a reward worth every minute of the ordeal. He knew just how she would look at him when he told her — in blank disbelief at first and then, gradually, with the dawning of a kind of respect he hadn’t seen in her eyes for years.

 

"You mean you kept it to yourself all this time? But why, Walt?"

 

"Oh well," he would say casually, even shrugging, "I didn’t see any point in upsetting you."

 

When it was time to leave the library he lingered in the main entrance for a minute, taking deep pulls from a cigarette and looking down over the five o’clock traffic and crowds. The scene held a special nostalgia for him, because it was here, on a spring evening five years before, that he had come to meet her for the first time. "Can you meet me at the top of the library steps?" she had asked over the phone that morning, and it wasn’t until many months later, after they were married, that this struck him as a peculiar meeting place. When he asked her about it then, she laughed at him. "Of course it was inconvenient — that was the whole point. I wanted to pose up there, like a princess in a castle or something, and make you climb up all those lovely steps to claim me."

 

And that was exactly how it had seemed. He’d escaped from the office ten minutes early that day and hurried to Grand Central to wash and .shave in a gleaming subterranean dressing room; he had waited in a fit of impatience while a very old, stout, slow attendant took his suit away to be pressed. Then, after tipping the attendant more than he could afford, he had raced outside and up Forty-second Street, tense and breathless as he strode past shoe stores and milk bars, as he winnowed his way through swarms of intolerably slow-moving pedestrians who had no idea of how urgent his mission was. He was afraid of being late, even half afraid that it was all some kind of a joke and she wouldn’t be there at all. But as soon as he hit Fifth Avenue he saw her up there in the distance, alone, standing at the top of the library steps — a slender, radiant brunette in a fashionable black coat.

 

He slowed down, then. He crossed the avenue at a stroll, one hand in his pocket, and took the steps with such an easy, athletic nonchalance that nobody could have guessed at the hours of anxiety, the days of strategic and tactical planning this particular moment had cost him.

 

When he was fairly certain she could see him coming he looked up at her again, and she smiled. It wasn’t the first time he had seen her smile that way, but it was the first time he could be sure it was intended wholly for him, and it caused warm tremors of pleasure in his chest. He couldn’t remember the words of their greeting, but he remembered being quite sure that they were all right, that it was starting off well — that her wide shining eyes were seeing him exactly as he most wanted to be seen. The things he said, whatever they were, struck her as witty, and the things she said, or the sound of her voice when she said them, made him feel taller and stronger and broader of shoulder than ever before in his life. When they turned and started down the steps together he took hold of her upper arm, claiming her, and felt the light jounce of her breast on the backs of his fingers with each step. And the evening before them, spread out and waiting at their feet, seemed miraculously long and miraculously rich with promise.

 

Starting down alone, now, he found it strengthening to have one clear triumph to look back on — one time in his life, at least, when he had denied the possibility of failure, and won.

Other memories came into focus when he crossed the avenue and started back down the gentle slope of Forty-second Street: they had come this way that evening too, and walked to the Biltmore for a drink, and he remembered how she had looked sitting beside him in the semidarkness of the cocktail lounge, squirming forward from the hips while he helped her out of the sleeves of her coat and then settling back, giving her long hair a toss and looking at him in a provocative sidelong way as she raised the glass to her lips. A little later she had said, "Oh, let’s go down to the river — I love the river at this time of day," and they had left the hotel and walked there. He walked there now, down through the clangor of Third Avenue and up toward Tudor City — it seemed a much longer walk alone — until he was standing at the little balustrade, looking down over the swarm of sleek cars on the East River Drive and at the slow, gray water moving beyond it. It was on this very spot, while a tugboat moaned somewhere under the darkening skyline of Queens, that he had drawn her close and kissed her for the first time. Now he turned away, a new man, and set out to walk all the way home.

 

 

 

 

The first thing that hit him, when he let himself in the apartment door, was the smell of Brussels sprouts. The children were still at their supper in the kitchen: he could hear their high mumbled voices over the clink of dishes, and then his wife’s voice, tired and coaxing. When the door slammed he heard her say, "There’s Daddy now," and the children began to call, "Daddy! Daddy!"

 

He put his hat carefully in the hall closet and turned around just as she appeared in the kitchen doorway, drying her hands on her apron and smiling through her tiredness. "Home on time for once," she said. "How lovely. I was afraid you’d be working late again."

 

"No," he said. "No, I didn’t have to work late." His voice had an oddly foreign, amplified sound in his own ears, as if he were speaking in an echo chamber.

 

"You do look tired, though, Walt. You look worn out."

 

"Walked home, that’s all. Guess I’m not used to it. How’s everything?"

 

"Oh, fine." But she looked worn out herself.

 

When they went together into the kitchen he felt encircled and entrapped by its humid brightness. His eyes roamed dolefully over the milk cartons, the mayonnaise jars and soup cans and cereal boxes, the peaches lined up to ripen on the windowsill, the remarkable frailty and tenderness of his two children, whose chattering faces were lightly streaked with mashed potato.

 

Things looked better in the bathroom, where he took longer than necessary over the job of washing up for dinner. At least he could be alone here, braced by splashings of cold water; the only intrusion was the sound of his wife’s voice rising in impatience with the older child: "All right, Andrew Henderson. No story for you tonight unless you finish up all that custard now." A little later came the scraping of chairs and stacking of dishes that meant their supper was over, and the light scuffle of shoes and the slamming door that meant they had been turned loose in their room for an hour to play before bath time.

 

Walter carefully dried his hands; then he went out to the living-room sofa and settled himself there with a magazine, taking very slow, deep breaths to show how self-controlled he was. In a minute she came in to join him, her apron removed and her lipstick replenished, bringing the cocktail pitcher full of ice. "Oh," she said with a sigh. "Thank God that’s over. Now for a little peace and quiet."

 

"I’ll get the drinks, honey," he said, bolting to his feet. He had hoped his voice might sound normal now, but it still came out with echo-chamber resonance.

 

"You will not," she commanded. "You sit down. You deserve to sit still and be waited on, when you come home looking so tired. How did the day go, Walt?"

 

"Oh, all right," he said, sitting down again. "Fine." He watched her measuring out the gin and vermouth, stirring the pitcher in her neat, quick way, arranging the tray and bringing it across the room.

 

"There," she said, settling herself close beside him. "Will you do the honors, darling?" And when he had filled the chilled glasses she raised hers and said, "Oh, lovely. Cheers." This bright cocktail mood was a carefully studied effect, he knew. So was her motherly sternness over the children’s supper; so was the brisk, no-nonsense efficiency with which, earlier today, she had attacked the supermarket; and so, later tonight, would be the tenderness of her surrender in his arms. The orderly rotation of many careful moods was her life, or rather, was what her life had become. She managed it well, and it was only rarely, looking very closely at her face, that he could see how much the effort was costing her.

 

But the drink was a great help. The first bitter, ice-cold sip of it seemed to restore his calm, and the glass in his hand looked reassuringly deep. He took another sip or two before daring to look at her again, and when he did it was a heartening sight. Her smile was almost completely free of tension, and soon they were chatting together as comfortably as happy lovers.

 

"Oh, isn’t it nice just to sit down and unwind?" she said, allowing her head to sink back into the upholstery. "And isn’t it lovely to think it’s Friday night?"

 

"Sure is," he said, and instantly put his mouth in his drink to hide his shock. Friday night! That meant there would be two days before he could even begin to look for a job — two days of mild imprisonment in the house, or of dealing with tricycles and popsicles in the park, without a hope of escaping the burden of his secret. "Funny," he said. "I’d almost forgotten it was Friday."

 

"Oh, how can you forget?" She squirmed luxuriously deeper into the sofa. "I look forward to it all week. Pour me just a tiny bit more, darling, and then I must get back to the chores."

 

He poured a tiny bit more for her and a full glass for himself. His hand was shaking and he spilled a little of it, but she didn’t seem to notice. Nor did she seem to notice that his replies grow more and more strained as she kept the conversation going. When she got back to the chores — basting the roast, drawing the children’s baths, tidying up their room for the night — Walter sat alone and allowed his mind to slide into a heavy, gin-fuddled confusion. Only one persistent thought came through, a piece of self-advice that was as clear and cold as the drink that rose again and again to his lips: Hold on. No matter what she says, no matter what happens tonight or tomorrow or the next day, just hold on. Hold on.

 

But holding on grew less and less easy as the children’s splashing bath-noises floated into the room; it was more difficult still by the time they were brought in to say goodnight, carrying their teddy bears and dressed in clean pajamas, their faces shining and smelling of soap. After that, it became impossible to stay seated on the sofa. He sprang up and began stalking around the floor, lighting one cigarette after another, listening to his wife’s clear, modulated reading of the bedtime story in the next room ("You may go into the fields, or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden … ").

 

When she came out again, closing the children’s door behind her, she found him standing like a tragic statue at the window, looking down into the darkening courtyard. "What’s the matter, Walt?"

 

He turned on her with a false grin. "Nothing’s the matter," he said in the echo-chamber voice, and the movie camera started rolling again. It came in for a close-up of his own tense face, then switched over to observe her movements as she hovered uncertainly at the coffee table.

 

"Well," she said. "I’m going to have one more cigarette and then I must get the dinner on the table." She sat down again — not leaning back this time, or smiling, for this was her busy, getting-the-dinner-on-the-table mood. "Have you got a match, Walt?"

 

"Sure." And he came toward her, probing in his pocket as if to bring forth something he had been saving to give her all day.

 

"God," she said. "Look at those matches. What happened to them?"

 

"These?" He stared down at the raddled, twisted matchbook as if it were a piece of incriminating evidence. "Must’ve been kind of tearing them up or something," he said. "Nervous habit."

 

"Thanks," she said, accepting the light from his trembling fingers, and then she began to look at him with wide, dead-serious eyes. "Walt, there is something wrong, isn’t there?"

 

"Of course not. Why should there be anything wr—"

 

"Tell me the truth. Is it the job? Is it about — what you were afraid of last week? I mean, did anything happen today to make you think they might — Did Crowell say anything? Tell me." The faint lines on her face seemed to have deepened. She looked severe and competent and suddenly much older, not even very pretty any more – a woman used to dealing with emergencies, ready to take charge.

 

He began to walk slowly away toward an easy chair across the room, and the shape of his back was an eloquent statement of impending defeat. At the edge of the carpet he stopped and seemed to stiffen, a wounded man holding himself together; then he turned around and faced her with the suggestion of a melancholy smile.

 

"Well, darling—" he began. His right hand came up and touched the middle button of his shirt, as if to unfasten it, and then with a great deflating sigh he collapsed backward into the chair, one foot sliding out on the carpet and the other curled beneath him. It was the most graceful thing he had done all day. "They got me," he said.

 

—1953

 

 

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