Miss Lonelyhearts, by Nathanael West

Miss Lonelyhearts and the Party Dress

When Miss Lonelyhearts left Shrike’s apartment, he found Betty in the hall waiting for the elevator. She had on a light-blue dress that was very much a party dress. She dressed for things, he realized.

Even the rock was touched by this realization. No; it was not the rock that was touched. The rock was still perfect. It was his mind that was touched, the instrument with which he knew the rock.

He approached Betty with a smile, for his mind was free and clear. The things that muddied it had precipitated out into the rock.

But she did not smile back “What are you grinning at?” she snapped.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean anything.”

They entered the elevator together. When they reached the street, he took her arm although she tried to jerk away.

“Won’t you have a soda, please?” he begged. The party dress had given his simplified mind its cue and he delighted in the boy-and-girl argument that followed.

“No; I’m going home.”

“Oh, come on,” he said, pulling her towards a soda fountain. As she went, she unconsciously exaggerated her little-girl-in-a-party-dress air.

They both had strawberry sodas. They sucked the pink drops up through straws, she pouting at his smile, neither one of them conscious of being cute.

“Why are you mad at me, Betty? I didn’t do anything. It was Shrike’s idea and he did all the talking.”

“Because you are a fool.”

“I’ve quit the Miss Lonelyhearts job. I haven’t been in the office for almost a week.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to look for a job in an advertising agency.”

He was not deliberately lying. He was only trying to say what she wanted to hear. The party dress was so gay and charming, light blue with a frothy lace collar flecked with pink, like the collar of her soda.

“You ought to see Bill Wheelright about a job. He owns an agency — he’s a swell guy . . . He’s in love with me.”

“I couldn’t work for a rival.”

She screwed up her nose and they both laughed.

He was still laughing when he noticed that something had gone wrong with her laugh. She was crying.

He felt for the rock. It was still there; neither laughter nor tears could affect the rock. It was oblivious to wind or rain.

“Oh . . . ” she sobbed. “I’m a fool.” She ran out of the store.

He followed and caught her. But her sobs grew worse and he hailed a taxi and forced her to get in.

She began to talk under her sobs. She was pregnant. She was going to have a baby.

He put the rock forward and waited with complete poise for her to stop crying. When she was quiet, he asked her to marry him.

“No,” she said. “I’m going to have an abortion.”

“Please marry me.” He pleaded just as he had pleaded with her to have a soda.

He begged the party dress to marry him, saying all the things it expected to hear, all the things that went with strawberry sodas and farms in Connecticut. He was just what the party dress wanted him to be: simple and sweet, whimsical and poetic, a trifle collegiate yet very masculine.

By the time they arrived at her house, they were discussing their life after marriage. Where they would live and in how many rooms. Whether they could afford to have the child. How they would rehabilitate the farm in Connecticut. What kind of furniture they both liked.

She agreed to have the child. He won that point. In return, he agreed to see Bill Wheelright about a job. With a great deal of laughter, they decided to have three beds in their bedroom. Twin beds for sleep, very prim and puritanical, and between them a love bed, an ornate double bed with cupids, nymphs and Pans.

He did not feel guilty. He did not feel. The rock was a solidification of his feeling, his conscience, his sense of reality, his self-knowledge. He could have planned anything. A castle in Spain and love on a balcony or a pirate trip and love on a tropical island.

When her door closed behind him, he smiled. The rock had been thoroughly tested and had been found perfect. He had only to climb aboard the bed again.


Last updated Monday, April 18, 2016 at 12:07