Tender is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

XI

Dick and Nicole were accustomed to go together to the barber, and have haircuts and shampoos in adjoining rooms. From Dick’s side Nicole could hear the snip of shears, the count of changes, the Voilàs and Pardons. The day after his return they went down to be shorn and washed in the perfumed breeze of the fans.

In front of the Carleton Hotel, its windows as stubbornly blank to the summer as so many cellar doors, a car passed them and Tommy Barban was in it. Nicole’s momentary glimpse of his expression, taciturn and thoughtful and, in the second of seeing her, wide-eyed and alert, disturbed her. She wanted to be going where he was going. The hour with the hair-dresser seemed one of the wasteful intervals that composed her life, another little prison. The coiffeuse in her white uniform, faintly sweating lip-rouge and cologne reminded her of many nurses.

In the next room Dick dozed under an apron and a lather of soap. The mirror in front of Nicole reflected the passage between the men’s side and the women’s, and Nicole started up at the sight of Tommy entering and wheeling sharply into the men’s shop. She knew with a flush of joy that there was going to be some sort of showdown.

She heard fragments of its beginning.

“Hello, I want to see you.”

“ . . . serious.”

“ . . . serious.”

“ . . . perfectly agreeable.”

In a minute Dick came into Nicole’s booth, his expression emerging annoyed from behind the towel of his hastily rinsed face.

“Your friend has worked himself up into a state. He wants to see us together, so I agreed to have it over with. Come along!”

“But my hair — it’s half cut.”

“Nevermind — come along!”

Resentfully she had the staring coiffeuse remove the towels.

Feeling messy and unadorned she followed Dick from the hotel. Outside Tommy bent over her hand.

“We’ll go to the Café des Alliées,” said Dick.

“Wherever we can be alone,” Tommy agreed.

Under the arching trees, central in summer, Dick asked: “Will you take anything, Nicole?”

“A citron pressé.”

“For me a demi,” said Tommy.

“The Blackenwite with siphon,” said Dick.

“Il n’y a plus de Blackenwite. Nous n’avons que le Johnny Walkair.”

“Ca va.”

“She’s — not — wired for sound
but on the quiet
you ought to try it —”

“Your wife does not love you,” said Tommy suddenly. “She loves me.”

The two men regarded each other with a curious impotence of expression. There can be little communication between men in that position, for their relation is indirect, and consists of how much each of them has possessed or will possess of the woman in question, so that their emotions pass through her divided self as through a bad telephone connection.

“Wait a minute,” Dick said. “Donnez moi du gin et du siphon.”

“Bien, Monsieur.”

“All right, go on, Tommy.”

“It’s very plain to me that your marriage to Nicole has run its course. She is through. I’ve waited five years for that to be so.”

“What does Nicole say?”

They both looked at her.

“I’ve gotten very fond of Tommy, Dick.”

He nodded.

“You don’t care for me any more,” she continued. “It’s all just habit. Things were never the same after Rosemary.”

Unattracted to this angle, Tommy broke in sharply with:

“You don’t understand Nicole. You treat her always like a patient because she was once sick.”

They were suddenly interrupted by an insistent American, of sinister aspect, vending copies of The Herald and of The Times fresh from New York.

“Got everything here, Buddies,” he announced. “Been here long?”

“Cessez cela! Allez Ouste!” Tommy cried and then to Dick, “Now no woman would stand such —”

“Buddies,” interrupted the American again. “You think I’m wasting my time — but lots of others don’t.” He brought a gray clipping from his purse — and Dick recognized it as he saw it. It cartooned millions of Americans pouring from liners with bags of gold. “You think I’m not going to get part of that? Well, I am. I’m just over from Nice for the Tour de France.”

As Tommy got him off with a fierce “allez-vous-en,” Dick identified him as the man who had once hailed him in the Rue de Saints Anges, five years before.

“When does the Tour de France get here?” he called after him.

“Any minute now, Buddy.”

He departed at last with a cheery wave and Tommy returned to Dick.

“Elle doit avoir plus avec moi qu’avec vous.”

“Speak English! What do you mean ‘doit avoir’?”

“‘Doit avoir?’ Would have more happiness with me.”

“You’d be new to each other. But Nicole and I have had much happiness together, Tommy.”

“L’amour de famille,” Tommy said, scoffing.

“If you and Nicole married won’t that be ‘l’amour de famille’?” The increasing commotion made him break off; presently it came to a serpentine head on the promenade and a group, presently a crowd, of people sprung from hidden siestas, lined the curbstone.

Boys sprinted past on bicycles, automobiles jammed with elaborate betasselled sportsmen slid up the street, high horns tooted to announce the approach of the race, and unsuspected cooks in undershirts appeared at restaurant doors as around a bend a procession came into sight. First was a lone cyclist in a red jersey, toiling intent and confident out of the westering sun, passing to the melody of a high chattering cheer. Then three together in a harlequinade of faded color, legs caked yellow with dust and sweat, faces expressionless, eyes heavy and endlessly tired.

Tommy faced Dick, saying: “I think Nicole wants a divorce — I suppose you’ll make no obstacles?”

A troupe of fifty more swarmed after the first bicycle racers, strung out over two hundred yards; a few were smiling and self- conscious, a few obviously exhausted, most of them indifferent and weary. A retinue of small boys passed, a few defiant stragglers, a light truck carried the dupes of accident and defeat. They were back at the table. Nicole wanted Dick to take the initiative, but he seemed content to sit with his face half-shaved matching her hair half-washed.

“Isn’t it true you’re not happy with me any more?” Nicole continued. “Without me you could get to your work again — you could work better if you didn’t worry about me.”

Tommy moved impatiently.

“That is so useless. Nicole and I love each other, that’s all there is to it.”

“Well, then,” said the Doctor, “since it’s all settled, suppose we go back to the barber shop.”

Tommy wanted a row: “There are several points —”

“Nicole and I will talk things over,” said Dick equitably. “Don’t worry — I agree in principal, and Nicole and I understand each other. There’s less chance of unpleasantness if we avoid a three- cornered discussion.”

Unwillingly acknowledging Dick’s logic, Tommy was moved by an irresistible racial tendency to chisel for an advantage.

“Let it be understood that from this moment,” he said, “I stand in the position of Nicole’s protector until details can be arranged. And I shall hold you strictly accountable for any abuse of the fact that you continue to inhabit the same house.”

“I never did go in for making love to dry loins,” said Dick.

He nodded, and walked off toward the hotel with Nicole’s whitest eyes following him.

“He was fair enough,” Tommy conceded. “Darling, will we be together to-night?”

“I suppose so.”

So it had happened — and with a minimum of drama; Nicole felt outguessed, realizing that from the episode of the camphor-rub, Dick had anticipated everything. But also she felt happy and excited, and the odd little wish that she could tell Dick all about it faded quickly. But her eyes followed his figure until it became a dot and mingled with the other dots in the summer crowd.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 19:06