Saturday, June 30

A Sport And A Pastime

Two excerpts from James Salter's A Sport And A Pastime:

Later on, about nine, there's the hotel where there's music in the bar and somebody at least, a few couples, sitting around. The three or four gilded youths of the town, too, slouched on the divans. I know them by sight. One is an angel, at least for betrayal. Beautiful face. Soft, dark hair. A mouth like spoiled fruit. Nothing amuses them--they don't talk until somebody leaves, and then they begin little, laughing cuts, sometimes calling over to the barman. The rest of the time they sit in boredom, polishing the gestures of contempt. The angel is taller than the rest, He has an expensive suit and a tie knotted loosely at the neck. Sometimes a sweater. Soft cuffs. I've seen him on the street. He's about seventeen, and he seems less dangerous in the daylight, merely a bad student or a boy already notorious for his vices. He's ready to start seductions. Perhaps he even says it's easy, and that women are simple to get. To believe is to make real, they say, A chill passes through me, I recognize in him a clear strain of assurance which has nothing to imitate, which springs forth intact. It feeds on its own reflection. He looks carefully at himself in the mirror, combing his hair. He inspects his teeth. The maid has let him undress her. She hates him, but she cannot make him go. I try to think of what he's said. He has an instinct for it. He is here to hunt them down, to discover the weaklings. I don't know what he feels--the assassin's joy.


She stoops with the match, inserts it, and the heater softly explodes. A blue flame rushes across the jets, then burns with a steady sound. There's no other light in the room but this, which reflects from the floor. She stands up again. She drops the burnt match on the table and begins to arrange clothing on the grill of the heater, pajamas, spreading them out so they can be warmed. Dean helps her a bit. The silk, if it's that, is quite cold. And there they stand in the roaring dark. In a fond, almost brotherly gesture, he puts his arms around her. They hardly know one another. She accepts it without a word, without a movement, and they wait in a pure silence, the faint sweetness of gas in the air. After a while she turns the pajamas over. Her back is towards him. In a single move she pulls off her sweater and then, reaching behind herself in that elbow-awkward way, unfastens her brassiere. Slowly he turns her around.

She leaves his kisses finally to stand against the wall, arms at her sides.

"Jeanne d'Arc," she says. The tremulous blue plays across her. Her features seem resigned.

He takes her by the arms. She turns her face to the light. He is her executioner, she says. The word thrills him. His knees tremble.

He puts her to bed in her warm pajamas. She is innocent, he decides. She smiles softly, the calm of a long convalescence in her face. Finally he turns to go, but at the door her voice stops him. Yes? Turn out the light, she says. He does. Like Lucifer, he creates darkness and he descends.