love at first sight...
it's rare that I read a story that I really enjoy. where the writing grabs me and doesn't let go until the end... where the words just fit together in a way that's right for me, or where the story is just so simple but at the same time completely original. it happened with Tobias Wolff's 'Bullet in the Brain', with Richard Ford's 'Reunion' and it happened this morning when I came across J. D. Salinger's short story 'The Heart of a Broken Story' on Letters Have No Arms...
"EVERY day Justin Horgenschlag, thirty-dollar-a-week printer’s assistant, saw at close quarters approximately sixty women whom he had never seen before. Thus in the few years he had lived in New York, Horgenschlag had seen at close quarters about 75,120 different women. Of these 75,120 women, roughly 25,000 were under thirty years of age and over fifteen years of age. Of the 25,000 only 5,000 weighed between one hundred five and one hundred twenty-five pounds. Of these 5,000 only 1,000 were not ugly. Only 500 were reasonably attractive; only 100 of these were quite attractive; only 25 could have inspired a long, slow whistle. And with only 1 did Horgenschlag fall in love at first sight.
Now, there are two kinds of femme fatale. There is the femme fatale who is a femme fatale in every sense of the word, and there is the femme fatale who is not a femme fatale in every sense of the word.
Her name was Shirley Lester. She was twenty years old (eleven years younger than Horgenschlag), was five-foot-four (bringing her head to the level of Horgenschlag’s eyes), weighed 117 pounds (light as a feather to carry). Shirley was a stenographer, lived with and supported her mother, Agnes Lester, an old Nelson Eddy fan. In reference to Shirley’s looks people often put it this way: “Shirley’s as pretty as a picture.”
And in the Third Avenue bus early one morning, Horgenschlag stood over Shirley Lester, and was a dead duck. All because Shirley’s mouth was open in a peculiar way. Shirley was reading a cosmetic advertisement in the wall panel of the bus; and when Shirley read, Shirley relaxed slightly at the jaw. And in that short moment while Shirley’s mouth was open, lips were parted, Shirley was probably the most fatal one in all Manhattan. Horgenschlag saw in her a positive cure-all for a gigantic monster of loneliness which had been stalking around his heart since he had come to New York. Oh, the agony of it! The agony of standing over Shirley Lester and not being able to bend down and kiss Shirley’s parted lips. The inexpressible agony of it!
* * *
That was the beginning of the story I started to write for Collier’s. I was going to write a lovely tender boy-meets-girl story. What could be finer, I thought. The world needs boy-meets-girl stories. But to write one, unfortunately, the writer must go about the business of having the boy meet the girl. I couldn’t do it with this one. Not and have it make sense. I couldn’t get Horgenschlag and Shirley together properly. And here are the reasons:
Certainly it was impossible for Horgenschlag to bend over and say in all sincerity:
“I beg your pardon. I love you very much. I’m nuts about you. I know it. I could love you all my life. I’m a printer’s assistant and I make thirty dollars a week. Gosh, how I love you. Are you busy tonight?”
This Horgenschlag may be a goof, but not that big a goof. He may have been born yesterday, but not today. You can’t expect Collier’s readers to swallow that kind of bilge. A nickel’s a nickel, after all..." continue reading here