The Swimmer

By skiour / Posted on 20 August 2010

«It was a fine day. In the west there was a massive stand of cumulus cloud so like a city seen from a distance—from the bow of an approaching ship—that it might have had a name. Lisbon. Hackensack. The sun was hot. Neddy Merrill sat by the green water, one hand in it, one around a glass of gin.»

«Then it occurred to him that by taking a dogleg to the southwest he could reach his home by water.
His life was not confining and the delight he took in this observation could not be explained by its suggestion of escape. He seemed to see, with a cartographer’s eye, that string of swimming pools, that quasi-subterranean stream that curved across the county.»

«The day was lovely, and that he lived in a world so generously supplied with water seemed like a clemency, a beneficence. His heart was high and he ran across the grass. Making his way home by an uncommon route gave him the feeling that he was a pilgrim, an explorer, a man with a destiny, and he knew that he would find friends all along the way; friends would line the banks of the Lucinda River.»

«He left his trunks at the deep end, walked to the shallow end, and swam this stretch. As he was pulling himself out of the water he heard Mrs. Halloran say, “We’ve been terribly sorry to bear about all your misfortunes, Neddy.”
“My misfortunes?” Ned asked. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Why, we heard that you’d sold the house and that your poor children . . . ”
“I don’t recall having sold the house,” Ned said, “and the girls are at home.”»

«Was he losing his memory, had his gift for concealing painful facts let him forget that he had sold his house, that his children were in trouble, and that his friend had been ill?»

«When Grace Biswanger saw him she came toward him, not affectionately as he had every right to expect, but bellicosely.
“Why, this party has everything,” she said loudly, “including a gate crasher.”
She could not deal him a social blow—there was no question about this and he did not flinch. “As a gate crasher,” he asked politely, “do I rate a drink?”
“Suit yourself,” she said. “You don’t seem to pay much attention to invitations.”
She turned her back on him and joined some guests, and he went to the bar and ordered a whiskey. The bartender served him but be served him rudely. His was a world in which the caterer’s men kept the social score, and to be rebuffed by a part-time barkeep meant that be had suffered some loss of social esteem.»

«It was probably the first time in his adult life that he had ever cried, certainly the first time in his life that he had ever felt so miserable, cold, tired, and bewildered»

Excerps from “The Swimmer”, a short story by American author John Cheever, published in 1964.


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