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JAMES SCHUYLER (1923–1991) was a preeminent figure in the celebrated New York School of poets. He grew up in Washington, D.C., and near Buffalo, New York. After World War II, he made his way to Italy, where he served for a time as W. H. Auden’s secretary. His books include two other novels, A Nest of Ninnies (written with John Ashbery) and Alfred and Guinevere (also published by NYRB Classics), as well as numerous volumes of poetry.

JAMES McCOURT was born in New York City and attended Manhattan College, NYU, the Yale School of Drama, and the Old Met. Among his works of fiction and nonfiction are Mawrdew Czgowchwz (published by NYRB Classics), Way-faring at Waverly in Silver Lake, and Queer Street: The Rise and Fall of an American Culture, 1947–1985. He lives in New York City.



Afterword by



New York



Biographical Notes

Title Page





Copyright and More Information


for Anne Dunn

Chapter I

It was a lovely light living room. Or it would have been, had not a previous owner found quick-growing conifer seedlings an irresistible bargain. When the sun set, a few red beams would struggle in, disclosing in their passage the dust of which the air at times seems largely composed. Mary C. Taylor—the laughing Charlotte of the class of 19**—found the sweet mood brought on by contemplation of the spick-and-spanness in which her husband Norris perused and, presumably, memorized the evening paper, soured.

“It seems to me all I do is dust this room.” She put on the bridge lamp at her elbow, in hopes of fighting light with light.

“It isn’t dust, it’s pollen.” Norris was never so absorbed as not to leave a trickle of attention running.

“Not when it gets in here,” she said tranquilly, as she followed the course of a large and furtive basset towards an easy chair. “Deirdre wants her dribble cloth.”

Norris, deep in the mendacities of one of the columnists who shaped his thought, made no comment.

“I said, would you give her her cloth.”

“Why should I?”

“Because it’s under your elbow.” Lottie, as some called her, crossed the room—no easy task, for it was amply furnished as the yard—lifted his arm and abstracted a square of oil cloth, then lifted the dog’s head and spread it over the chair arm. The dog sighed and returned to its basket in the kitchen.

“I wonder what you’ll do when I’m gone? Are you planning to remarry?”

“What’s for dinner?”

“I suppose you’ll go on some sort of trip and meet somebody so it’s no good trying to figure out who you’ll pick. Meat loaf.”

“Perhaps I intend to predecease you.” His wife left the room. She returned, carrying a perfume atomizer. Placing herself at an angle to a sunbeam, she rapidly squeezed the bulb.

“It’s only water. To see if it will lay the dust.”

“And does it?”

“I can’t tell. I think so. Or it may just stir it up. Or it’s other dust that rushes in to take its place.”

“A lawn sprinkler might be more to your purpose.”

Mrs Taylor shrugged and put the atomizer on the mantle. Her husband frowned.

“You see,” she said contentedly. “You wouldn’t like it a bit if I didn’t keep this room scrupulously tidy. Not that I expect ever to reach the exalted standard set by your mother.”

“I suppose she has given up dusting, now that she herself is dust.” He spoke with the certitude of an accredited agnostic. “Did you say meat loaf? I surmise you’re kidding.”

Deirdre, her dugs grazing the carpet pile, slunk back. Once more she was foiled in an attempt to make off with her dribble cloth and destroy it.

“Red sky at night—is it sailors or shepherds who are so delighted by that?” Before Norris could answer, if that was his plan, the sun set, the dust vanished, and the doorbell sounded in the pattern of “Shave and a haircut, two bits.”

“It’s the Delehanteys.”

Norris leaned backwards with a lipless grin.

“I’m sure I told you; in fact, you know I did. For pity’s sake let’s put on some lights,” she said as she did so, “or I don’t know what they’ll think.” A painting of an Indian encampment sprang into view.

Norris went and, to the toppling of a Benares tray, admitted their guests, who were six: Mr and Mrs Bryan Delehantey, old Mrs Delehantey, Patrick and Michael, the twins, and a cat on a leash.

They made short work of shedding their wraps, and were soon milling about the living room. “It is a beauteous evening,” the elder Mrs Delehantey claimed, “calm and free,” as she achieved her goal, a straight back chair all wooden knobs and spirals. Perched above its taloned feet, Biddy reminded herself of something she had read about a Chinese empress who looked like a wise old monkey. Her daughter-in-law’s Scandanavian interiors gave small scope for such a view.

“Calm and freezing is more like it,” said the younger, and larger, Mrs Delehantey (Maureen). As usual, her robust frame appeared freshly back from the upholsterer. “Why it’s Mary Lottie!” she exclaimed, as though surprised at finding same in her own living room, a room which seemed all thrust and menace to the speaker. She gazed about her with a large smile. “Oh! the plants, the plants.” She studied some evacuees from the jungle floor who found the lighting altogether to their taste.

“We don’t know where to sit,” one of the twins said in a foggy bass.

“Sit anywhere boys,” Biddy said, “so long as you don’t sit on your old Gran.”

“And see you sit up straight,” their mother said.

“And keep your mouths shut,” their father said.

“And mind Twing,” their mother said. The boys subsided on a bench in a misleading state of catatonia. “Pussy pines so if we leave her alone: we knew you wouldn’t mind if we brought her.” Silence was the most the Taylors could muster in reply.

When they saw in what the

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