It was one of those midsummer Sundays when everyone sits around saying:
"I drank  too much  last  night." You might  have  heard it whispered by the
parishioners leaving  church, heard it  from the lips of the priest himself,
struggling with his cassock in the vestiarium*  heard it from the gold links
and the  tennis  courts,  heard  it from the wild- life  preserve  where the
leader of  the  Audubon group*  was suffering from  a terrible  hangover. "I
drank  too  much,"  said Donald Westerhazy. "We all  drank  too much,"  said
Lucinda  Merrill. "It must have been the  wine," said Helen Wester- hazy. "I
drank too much of that claret."
This was at  the edge of the Westerhazys' pool. The pool, fed by an artesian
well  with  a high iron content,*  was  a pale shade of green. It was a fine
day. In the west there was a massive  stand of cumulus cloud  so like a city
seen from  a  dis- tance-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. He was a slender
man-he seemed to have the especial slenderness of youth-and while he was far
from young he liad slid down  his banister that morning and given the bronze
backside of Aphrodite on the hall  table*  a smack, as  he jogged toward the
smell  of coffee  in his dining room. He might have  been compared to a sum-
mer's day,* particularly the last hours of one, and while he lacked a tennis
racket or a sail bag* the impression was definitely one of youth, sport, and
clement weather. He had  been  swimming  and now  he was  breathing  deeply,
stertorously  as  if  he could gulp into  his  lungs the components of  that
moment,  the heat of  the  sun, the intense-  ness of his pleasure.  It  all
seemed to  flow  into his chest. His own house stood in Bullet  Park,* eight
miles to the south,  where his four beautiful daughters would have had their
lunch and might be playing tennis. 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.*  He  had  made  a  discovery,  a
contribution to modern geography; he would name the stream Lucinda after his
wife.  He  was  not  a  practical  joker  nor  was  he  a  fool,  but he was
determinedly  original  and  had a vague  and modest idea  of  himself as  a
legendary  figure.  The day was  beautiful and it seemed to  him that a long
swim might enlarge and celebrate its beauty.
He took  off a sweater that was hung over his shoulders and dove in. He  had
an inexplicable contempt for men who  did not hurl themselves into pools. He
swam a  choppy  crawl,  breathing either with  every stroke or  every fourth
stroke  and  counting  somewhere  well in the  back of his  mind the one-two
one-two of a nutter kick. It was not a serviceable stroke for long distances
but the domestication  of  swimming  had saddled the sport with some customs
and in  his part  of the world a crawl  was customary.  To be  embraced  and
sustained by the light green  water was less a pleasure, it seemed, than the
resumption of a  natural condition, and he would have liked  to swim without
trunks,  but  this  was not possible, considering his  project.  He  hoisted
himself up on the  far curb-he never used the ladder-and started  across the
lawn. When  Lucinda asked where he was going he said he  was  going to swim'
The only  maps and charts he  had to  go by were remembered or imaginary but
these were  clear  enough. First there were  the Grahams,  the  Hammers, the
Lears, the Howlands, and the Crosscups. He would  cross Ditmar Street to the
Bunkers and come, after a short portage, to the Levys, the Welchers, and the
public pool in Lan- caster.* Then there were the Hallorans, the Sachses, the
Biswangers, Shirley Adams,  the Gil- martins,  and the Clydes. 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  went  through a hedge  that separated the  Westerhazys'  land  from  the
Grahams',  walked under some flowering apple  trees,  passed  the  shed that
housed  their  pump and  filter, and came  out at the  Grahams' pool.  "Why,
Neddy," Mrs. Graham said,  "what a marvelous  surprise. I've  been trying to
get you on  the phone all morning. Here, let me  get  you  a  drink." He saw
then, like any explorer, that the  hospitable customs and  traditions of the
natives would  have to be handled  with diplomacy  if he was  ever going  to
reach  his  destination. He did not want to  mystify  or  seem  rude  to the
Grahams nor did  he  have the  time to linger there. He  swam the  length of
their pool and joined them  in the sun and was rescued, a few minutes later,
by the arrival of two carloads  of friends from Connecticut.* During the up-
roarious reunions he was able to slip away. He went down by the front of the
Grahams' house, stepped over a thorny hedge, and crossed a vacant lot to the
Hammers'. Mrs. Hammer, looking up from her roses,  saw him swim  by although
she wasn't  quite sure who it  was. The  Lears  heard him splashing past the
open windows of their living room. The Howlands and the Crosscups were away.
After leaving  the Rowlands' he  crossed  Ditmar Street  and started for the
Bunkers', where he could hear, even at that distance, the noise of a party.
The  water refracted the sound of voices and laughter  and seemed to suspend
it in midair.  The Bunkers' pool was on a rise and he climbed some stairs to
a terrace where twenty-five or thirty men and women were drinking.  The only
person in the water was Rusty Towers, who floated there on a rubber raft. Oh
how  bonny and lush were the  banks of the Lucinda River! Prosperous men and
women gathered by the sapphire-colored  waters while  caterer's men in white
coats passed them cold gin. Overhead a red de Haviland trainer* was circling
around and around and around in the sky  with something like  the  glee of a
child in a swing. Ned felt a passing affec- tion for the scene, a tenderness
for the gathering, as if it was something he might touch. In the distance he
heard thunder. As soon as Enid Bunker saw him she began to scream:  "Oh look
who's here! What a marvelous surprise! When  Lucinda said that you  couldn't
come I thought I'd die." She made her way to him through the crowd, and when
they had finished kissing she led him to the bar, a progress that was slowed
by the fact that  he stopped to kiss eight or ten other women and shake  the
hands of  as many men. A smiling bartender he had seen at  a hundred parties
gave him a gin and tonic and he  stood by the bar for  a moment, anxious not
to get stuck in any conversation that would delay his voyage. When he seemed
about  to be surrounded he  dove in  and swam  close  to the  side  to avoid
colliding  with Rusty's  raft. At the far end of  the  pool  he bypassed the
Tomlinsons with a broad smile and jogged up the garden path.  The gravel cut
his feet but  this was  the only unpleas- antness. The party was confined to
the pool, and as he  went toward the house he heard  the bril- liant, watery
sound of voices fade, heard the noise of  a radio from the Bunkers' kitchen,
where someone was listening to a ballgame. Sunday afternoon. He made his way
through  the  parked cars and down the grassy  border of their drive- way to
Alewives'  Lane.* He did  not want  to be  seen on  the  road in his bathing
trunks but there was no traffic and he made the short distance to the Levys'
driveway, marked with a private property sign and ,a green tube* for the New
York Times*  All the doors and windows of the  big house were open but there
were no signs of life; not even a dog barked. He went around the side of the
house to the pool and saw that the Levys had only recently left. Glasses and
bottles and dishes of nuts  were on a table at the deep end, where there was
a bathhouse or gazebo,* hung with Japanese lanterns. After swimming the pool
he got himself a glass and poured a drink. It was  his fourth or fifth drink
and he had swum nearly half the length of the  Lucinda River. He felt tired,
clean, and pleased at that moment to be alone; pleased with every- thing.
It  would  storm.  The  stand  of  cumulus cloud-  that city-had  risen  and
darkened, and  while he sat there  he  heard  the percussiveness of  thunder
again. The de Haviland  trainer was still circling overhead and it seemed to
Ned  that  he  could  almost  hear  the  pilot  laugh  with pleasure  in the
afternoon; but  when there was another peal of thunder he took off for home.
A  train whistle blew and  he wondered what  time it had gotten to be. Four?
Five? He thought of the provincial station at that hour, where a waiter, his
tuxedo  concealed  by  a  raincoat,  a dwarf  with some  flowers  wrapped in
newspaper,  and a  woman who had been crying would be waiting for the local.
It was suddenly growing dark; it was  that moment  when the pin-headed birds
seem to organize their song into some  acute and knowledgeable recogni- tion
of the storm's approach. Then there  was a fine  noise of rushing water from
the crown of  an oak at his back, as if a spigot there had been turned. Then
the noise of  fountains came from the crowns  of all the tall trees. Why did
he love storms, what was the meaning of his excitement when  the door sprang
open and the  rain  wind fled rudely up the stairs, why lead the simple task
of shutting the  windows  of an old house seemed fitting and urgent, why did
the first watery notes of a storm  wind have for  him the unmistakable sound
of good news, cheer, glad tidings? Then there was an  explosion,  a smell of
cordite, and rain lashed the Japanese  lanterns that Mrs. Levy had bought in
Kyoto* the year before last, or was it the year before that?
He stayed  in  the Levys'  gazebo until the storm  had passed.  The rain had
cooled the air and he  shivered. The  force of the wind had stripped a maple
of  its red and  yellow leaves  and scattered  them over  the  grass and the
water.  Since it was midsummer the tree must be blighted, and  yet he felt a
peculiar  sadness  at this sign of autumn. He braced his shoulders,  emptied
his  glass, and  started  for the Welchers' pool. This meant cross-  ing the
Lindleys' riding ring and he was  surprised to find it  overgrown with grass
and  all the  jumps* dismantled.  He wondered if the Lindleys had sold their
horses or gone away for the  summer and put them out to board.* He seemed to
remember having heard  something about the Lindleys and their horses but the
memory was unclear. On he went, barefoot through the  wet grass, to the Wel-
chers', where he found their pool was dry.
This  breach in his chain of  water disappointed him  absurdly,  and he felt
like some explorer who seeks a torrential headwater and finds a dead stream.
He was disappointed and mystified. It was  common  enough to go away for the
summer but no  one ever drained his pool. The  Welchers had  definitely gone
away. The pool furniture was folded, stacked, and covered with a tarpaulin.

     The bathhouse was  locked. All the windows of the house  were shut, and
when he went around  to the driveway in front he saw a for-sale sign  nailed
to a tree. When had he last  heard from the Welchers-when, that is,  had  he
and Luanda last regretted  an invitation to dine with them. It seemed only a
week or so  ago. Was his memory failing or  had he so disciplined it in  the
repres- sion of unpleasant facts that he had damaged his sense of the truth?
Then in  the distance he heard the sound of a tennis game. This cheered him,
cleared away all his apprehensions and let him  regard  the overcast sky and
the  cold air with indifference. This was  the day  that Neddy Merrill  swam
across  the county.  That  was  the day!  He  started  off then for his most
difficult portage.
Had  you gone for a Sunday afternoon  ride that day you might have seen him,
close to  naked, standing on  the  shoulders  of route 424,*  waiting for  a
chance to cross. You might have wondered  if he was the victim of foul play,
had his car broken down, or was he merely  a fool. Standing barefoot in  the
deposits of the highway-beer cans, rags, and blowout patches*-exposed to all
kinds of ridicule, he seemed pitiful. He had known when he started that this
was a part  of his journey-it had been on his maps-but con- fronted with the
lines  of traffic,  worming  through  the summery light,  he  found  himself
unprepared. He was laughed at, jeered at, a  beer can was thrown at him, and
he  had  no dignity or humor  to bring to the  situation. He could have gone
back, back to the  Westerhazys', where Lucinda would still be sitting in the
sun. He  had signed  nothing,  vowed  nothing, pledged  nothing not  even to
himself.  Why,  believing as he did, that all human obduracy was susceptible
to  common  sense,  was he unable to turn  back?  Why  was  he determined to
complete his journey even if it meant putting his life  in  danger? At  what
point had this  prank, this joke, this piece of horseplay become serious? He
could not  go back, he could not  even recall with any  clearness  the green
water at the Westerhazys', the  sense of  inhaling the day's components, the
friendly and  relaxed voices saying that  they had drunk  too  much.  In the
space of an hour, more or less,  he had  covered  a distance  that made  his
return impossible.
An  old man, tooling* down the highway at fifteen miles an hour, let him get
to  the  middle  of the  road, where there  was a grass divider. Here he was
exposed'to  the  ridicule of  the  north- bound  traffic,  but after  ten or
fifteen minutes he was able to cross. From here he had only a  short walk to
the Recreation Center at  the edge of the Village of Lancaster,  where there
were some handball courts and a public pool.
The effect of the water on  voices, the illusion of brilliance and suspense,
was the same  here "as  it had been at the Bunkers' but the sounds here were
louder,  harsher,  and  more  shrill, and as  soon as he entered the crowded
enclosure he was  confronted with regimentation. "ALL SWIM- MERS MUST TAKE A
feet in a  cloudy and bitter solution and made his way to the  edge  of  the
water. It stank of chlorine and  looked to him like a sink.  A pair of life-
guards in a pair of towers blew police whistles at what seemed to be regular
intervals and abused the  swimmers through  a public  address  system. Neddy
remembered the sapphire water at the Bunkers' with longing and  thought that
he might contaminate himself-damage  his own  prosper-  ousness and charm-by
swimming in this  murk, but he reminded himself that he  was  an explorer, a
pilgrim, and that this was merely a stagnant  bend in  the Lucinda River. He
dove, scowling with distaste,  into the chlorine and  had  to  swim with his
head  above  water  to avoid collisions, but  even so  he  was  bumped into,
splashed and  jostled. When he got to the shallow end both life- guards were
shouting at him:  "Hey, you, you  without the identification disk, get outa*
the water." He did, but they had no way of pursuing him and  he went through
the  reek of  suntan oil and chlorine out through the hurricane  fence*  and
passed the handball courts. By crossing the road he  entered the wooded part
of the Halloran estate.  The words were not cleared  and the foot-  ing  was
treacherous and difficult until he reached the  lawn  and the  clipped beech
hedge that en- circled their pool.
The Hallorans were friends, an  elderly couple of enormous wealth who seemed
to bask in the  suspicion that they  might be Communists.  They were zealous
reformers but they were not Com- munists, and yet when they were accused, as
they sometimes were, of subversion, it seemed to grati-  fy and excite them.
Their beech  hedge was yellow and he guessed this had been blighted like the
Levys' maple. He called hullo, hullo, to warn the Hallorans of his approach,
to palliate his invasion of  their privacy.  The Hallorans, for reasons that
had never been explained to him, did not wear bathing suits. No explanations
were in order, really.  Their nakedness was a detail in their uncompromising
zeal for reform and  he stepped politely  out of his trunks  before  he went
through the opening in the hedge.
Mrs. Halloran, a stout woman with white hair and  a serene face, was reading
the Times* Mrs.  Halloran was  taking beech leaves out of the  water  with a
scoop. They seemed not  surprised or  displeased to see him. Their pool  was
perhaps the oldest in the  county, a fieldstone rectangle,* fed by a  brook.
It had  no filter or  pump and its i;  waters  were the  opaque gold of  the
I  "I'm  swimming across the county," New  said. I  "Why, I didn't  know one
could," exclaimed 1 Mrs. Halloran.
"Well, I've  made it  from  the Westerhazys'," Ned said. "That must be about
four miles."
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 hear 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
"Yes,"  Mrs.  Halloran sighed.  "Yes..." Her voice filled the  air  with  an
unseasonable melan- choly and Ned spoke briskly. "Thank you for the swim."
"Well, have a nice trip," said Mrs. Halloran.
Beyond the hedge he pulled on his trunks and fastened them. They were  loose
and  he wondered if, during the space  of an  afternoon, he could  have lost
some weight. He was cold and he was  tired and the naked Hallorans and their
dark water had depressed him. The swim was too much for his strength but how
could he have guessed this,  sliding  down  the banister that  morn- ing and
sitting in the Westerhazys' sun?  His arms were  lame. His legs felt rubbery
and  ached at the joints. The  worst of it was the cold in his bones and the
feeling that he  might never be warm again. Leaves were falling  down around
him and he smelled woodsmoke  on the wind. Who would be burning wood at this
time of year?
He needed a drink.  Whiskey would warm him,  pick  him up, carry him through
the  last  of his journey,  refresh his  feeling that it  was  original  and
valorous  to swim across the county. Channel swimmers took brandy. He needed
a stimulant. He crossed the lawn in front of the Hallorans'  house  and went
down a little path to  where they had built a house  for their only daughter
Helen and her husband Eric  Sachs. The Sachses' pool was  small and he found
Helen and her husband there.
"Oh, Neddy," Helen said. "Did you lunch at Mother's?"
"Not really,"  Ned said. "I did stop to see your parents." This seemed to be
explanation enough. "I'm terribly sorry  to  break  in  on you like this but
I've taken a chill and I wonder if you'd give me a drink."
"Why, I'd  love to,"  Helen  said,  "but there hasn't been  anything in this
house to drink since Eric's operation. That was three years ago."
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? His eyes  slipped from  Eric's face  to  his
abdomen, where he saw three pale, sutured scars, two of them at least a foot
long.  Gone was his  navel, and what, Neddy thought, would the  roving hand,
bed-checking* one's gifts at 3 A.M. make of a belly  with no navel,  no link
to birth, this breach in the succession?
"I'm sure you  can get a drink at the  Biswan-  gers'," Helen said. "They're
having an enormous do. You can hear it from here. Listen!"
She raised her  head and from across the road,  the lawns, the gardens,  the
woods, the  fields, he heard again the brilliant noise of voices over water.
"Well, I'll  get  wet,"  he said, still  feeling that he had no  freedom  of
choice about  his means of travel. He dove into the Sachses' cold water and,
gasping, close to drowning,  made his  way from  one end of the  pool to the
other. "Lu-  cinda  and  I want terribly  to  see you,"  he  said  over  his
shoulder, his face set  toward the Bis- wangers'. "We're sorry it's been  so
long and we'll call you very soon."
He crossed some fields to the Biswangers' and the  sounds of  revelry there.
They would be honored to give him a drink, they would be hap- py to give him
a drink, they would  in fact be  lucky  to give  him a drink. The Biswangers
invited him and Lucinda for dinner four times a year, six weeks  in advance.
They were always rebuffed and yet they  continued to send out  their invita-
tions, unwilling to  comprehend  the rigid and  un- democratic  realities of
their  society. They were  the  sort of  people  who discussed  the price of
things at  cocktails, exchanged market tips* during dinner, and after dinner
told dirty stories to mixed company. They did not belong to Neddy's set-they
were not  even  on Lucinda's Christmas card list.* He went toward their pool
with  feel- ings of indifference,  charity, and some unease, since it seemed
to be getting dark  and these  were the longest days  of the year. The party
when  he  joined it  was noisy  and  large. Grace Biswanger was the kind  of
hostess who asked the  opto-  metrist,*  the  veterinarian, the  real-estate
dealer and the dentist.  No one was swimming and the  twilight, reflected on
the water of  the  pool, had a wintry gleam. There was a bar and  he started
for   this.  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
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
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 he served him rudely.
His was a world in which  the  cater- er's men kept the social score, and to
be rebuffed by a part-time barkeep meant that he had suf- fered some loss of
social esteem. Or  perhaps  the man  was new  and  uninformed. Then he heard
Grace  at  his  back  say:  "They  went  for  broke*  overnight-nothing  but
income-and  he showed up  drunk one  Sunday  and asked  us to loan him  five
thousand dollars. . ." She was always talking about money. It was worse than
eating your peas off a  knife.  He dove into the pool,  swam  its length and
went away.
The  next  pool on his list, the last but two, belonged to his old mistress,
Shirley Adams. If he had suffered any injuries at the Biswangers' they would
be  cured here. Love-sexual  roughhouse in fact-was the  supreme elixir, the
painkiller, the brightly colored pill that would put the  spring  back  into
his step, the joy of life in his heart.  They  had  had an affair last week,
last  month,  last year. He couldn't remember. It  was he who had  broken it
off, his was the  upper  hand, and  he stepped through the gate  of the wall
that  sur- rounded her pool with nothing  so considered as* self-confidence.
It seemed  in a  way to be his pool  as the lover,  particularly the illicit
lover, enjoys the  possessions of his mistress with  an authority unknown to
holy matrimony. She was there, her hair the color  of brass, but her figure,
at the edge of  the  lighted,  cerulean  water,  excited  in him no profound
memories. It  had been, he thought,  a lighthearted affair, although she had
wept when he broke it off. She seemed confused to see him and he wondered if
she was still wounded. Would she, God forbid, weep again?
"What do you want?" she asked.
"I'm swimming across the county."
"Good Christ. Will you ever grow up?"
"What's the matter?" ;
"If you've come here for money," she said, "I won't give you another cent."
"You could give me a drink."
"I could but I won't. I'm not alone."
"Well, I'm on my way."
He dove in and swam the pool, but when he tried to haul himself up onto  the
curb he found that the strength in his arms  and his shoulders had gone, and
he paddled to the ladder and climbed out. Looking over his  shoulder he saw,
in  the  lighted  bathhouse, a  young man. Going out  onto the  dark lawn he
smelled chrysanthemums or marigolds-some stubborn autumnal fragrance- on the
night  air, strong as gas. Looking overhead  he saw  that the stars had come
out, but why should he seem to see Andromeda, Cepheus, and Cassiopeia?* What
had become of the constella- tions of midsummer?* He began to cry.
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. He could  not understand  the  rudeness of the
caterer's barkeep or the rude- ness of a mistress who had come to him on her
knees and showered  his trousers with tears. He had  swum  too long, he  had
been immersed  too  long,  and  his nose  and his throat  were sore from the
water. What he needed then was  a  drink, some  company,  and some clean dry
clothes, and while he could have cut directly across the road to his home he
went on to the  Gilmartins' pool. Here, for the first time in his  life,  he
did not dive but went down  the steps into  the icy water and swam a hobbled
side  stroke* that  he  might  have learned  as a  youth. He staggered  with
fatigue on his  way  to the Clydes' and paddled the  length  of their  pool,
stopping again and again with  his hand on the  curb to rest. He  climbed up
the ladder and wondered if he had the strength to get home. He had done what
he wanted, he had swum the county, but he was  so  stupefied with exhaustion
that his  triumph  seemed  vague. Stooped, holding  onto the  gateposts  for
support, he turned up the driveway of his own house.
The place  was dark. Was  it so  late  that they  had all gone  to bed?  Had
Lucinda  stayed at the Westerhazys'  for supper?  Had  the  girls joined her
there  or gone  someplace else? Hadn't they agreed,  as they  usually did on
Sunday, to  regret all their  invitations and  stay  at  home? He  tried the
garage doors to see what cars were in but  the doors  were  locked and  rust
came off the handles onto his hands. Going toward the house, he saw that the
force of the thunderstorm had knocked one of the rain gutters loose. It hung
down over the front door like an umbrella  rib, but it could be fixed in the
morning. The house was locked, and he  thought that the  stupid  cook or the
stupid maid must have  locked  the place up until he remembered  that it had
been some time since they had employed a maid or a cook. He shouted, pounded
on the door, tried to force it with  his  shoulder, and  then, looking in at
the windows, saw that the place was empty.

Популярность: 21, Last-modified: Fri, 13 Dec 2002 09:20:39 GMT