A New York Times bestseller from an author with “a natural gift for storytelling”: A mother and son are reunited years after a shattering betrayal (The New York Times).
She passes through the Paris restaurant, alone, unbent, and unbroken. Lucy Crown has lived with heartbreak for long enough that it no longer shows on her face, and she’s not afraid to dine in solitude. But then she sees him across the bar, full of liquor and life, looking far happier than he did the last time she saw him two decades before: Tony, her son—the one man she loved more than any other, the one she nearly destroyed.
Twenty years earlier, in 1937, Lucy was an unhappily married suburban housewife, and Tony was so frail his parents were forced to hire a companion for him. When the companion caught Lucy’s eye, he awoke in her a feeling of passion she thought had died long ago—leading to an act of indiscretion during a vacation in Vermont that would upend their family, and take half a lifetime to repair.
From the author of such classics as Rich Man, Poor Man and The Young Lions—an O. Henry Award winner who “always writes immensely readable books”—Lucy Crown is an unflinching look at the emotional reality of infidelity, heartbreak, and divorce that remains a testament to the power of forgiveness (The New York Times).
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Irwin Shaw including rare images and never-before-seen documents from the author’s estate.
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By Irwin Shaw
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1965 Irwin Shaw
All rights reserved.
At that moment, in a good many of the bars and night clubs of the city, people were singing, "I love Paris in the Springtime, I love Paris in the Fall ..." It was two o'clock in the morning, in the month of July, in the year 1955; champagne was being sold at eight thousand francs a bottle, and the singers were working hard to convince the tourists that being in Paris was worth eight thousand francs a bottle.
It was a colored man, with a broad, industrious Harlem face who was singing it as though he meant it, sitting at the yellowish piano at the back of the long narrow room, when the woman came in through the door. She hesitated a moment, checked by the blare of sound and the stares of the drinkers at the bar near the entrance. Then the owner came over, smiling, because the woman was clearly an American, and well dressed and not drunk.
"Good evening," he said in English. He spoke English because his bar was in the eighth arrondissement and a high proportion of his clientele, at least in the summertime, was American. "Madame is alone?"
"Yes," the woman said.
"Would you like to sit at the bar or at a table, Madame?"
The woman glanced quickly at the bar. There were three or four men of various ages, two of them looking frankly at her, and a girl with long yellow hair, who was saying, "Sharlee, darling, I 'ave told you three times, thees night I am with George."
"A table, please," the woman said.
The owner led her toward the center of the room, making a quick professional estimate of her as he threaded his way between the tables. He decided to put her next to three other Americans, two men and a woman, a little noisy, but harmless, who kept requesting the pianist to play "St. Louis Woman" and who might be inclined to offer the lady a drink, seeing that it was so late at night and she was alone and they didn't speak the language.
I bet that was a beautiful one, the owner was thinking, when that was younger. Even now. In this light. The hair looks truly blond, and the big, soft gray eyes. And hardly any of the wrinkles showing. And she knows how to dress and carry herself, with those long legs. Wedding ring, but husband not present. Husband probably a victim of tourisme and overeating, collapsed back in the hotel, and the wife still full of energy and out on her own to see the real Paris and maybe have something interesting happen that could never happen to a woman her age back home in the Midwest of America or wherever.
The owner pulled the table out for her and bowed, approving of the square shoulders, the firm throat and bosom, the neat, smart black dress, the pleasant, almost-girlish smile of thanks as the woman sat down. He revised his estimate downwards. No more than forty-three, forty-four, he thought, at the outside. Maybe the husband isn't here at all. Maybe she is one of those executive types of women the Americans are turning out, who travel all over, always stepping in and out of planes, giving statements to the newspapers and running things, and never a hair out of place, no matter what.
"A half-bottle of champagne, Madame?" the owner said.
"No, thank you." The owner didn't wince at the voice. He was sensitive and a great many American and English voices gave him an uncomfortable scraping sensation in the armpits. But not this one. It was low, direct and musical, but not fancy. "I'd just like a ham sandwich and a bottle of beer, please."
The owner wrinkled his nose, indicating surprise, a mild displeasure. "Actually, Madame, there is a minimum charge which covers the price of several drinks and I suggest ..."
"No, thank you," the woman said firmly. "At my hotel they said I could get something to eat here."
"Of course, of course. We have a specialty, onion soup, gratinée, cooked ..."
"Just the sandwich, thank you."
The owner shrugged, bowed slightly, gave the order to a waiter, and walked back to his station at the bar, thinking, A ham sandwich, what is she doing out at this hour?
He watched her after that, in between greeting new guests and bowing others out the door. A woman alone in his night club at two o'clock in the morning was no novelty, and he knew, almost every time, just what they were there for. There were the drunks who couldn't afford to buy their own liquor and the wild young American girls who were crowding in everything they could get before Papa closed the checkbook down on them and made them get on the boat, and there were the hungry ones, usually divorced and feeling older every minute and stretching the alimony, who were afraid they'd commit suicide if they went back to their single hotel rooms alone one more night. A club, of course, was supposed to be a gay place, and the owner did everything he could to give it that appearance, but he knew better.
The woman sitting at her little table, quietly eating her sandwich and drinking her beer, wasn't any wild American girl and she certainly wasn't a drunk and with those clothes she wasn't stretching any alimony. And if she was lonely, she didn't show it. He watched the Americans at the next table turn toward her and talk to her, as he had known they would, their voices booming over the music, but she smiled politely and shook her head, refusing whatever it was they were offering, and after that they left her alone.
It was a slow night and the owner had time to speculate about her. Studying her through the cigarette smoke, as she sat back on the banquette, listening to the Negro at the piano, the owner decided that she reminded him of the two or three women in his life who, he had known from the beginning, were too good for him. The women had known it, too, and for that reason the owner remembered them romantically and still sent flowers on her birthday to the last of them, who had later married a colonel in the French Air Force. She is that rare combination, the owner thought; she has sweetness and she is confident of herself at the same time. Why couldn't she have walked in here ten years ago?
Then he had to go into the kitchen. He passed her table and smiled at her and made a careful check on the whiteness and slight irregularity of the teeth and the healthy texture of the skin, as the woman smiled back. He shook his head as he went through the kitchen door, puzzled, thinking, Now really, what is a woman like that doing in a joint like mine? He resolved to stop at her table on the way back and offer her a drink, and perhaps find out.
Then, when he came out of the kitchen, he saw that two American college boys had moved from the end of the room and were sitting at her table, and they were all talking, all very lively, and the woman was smiling, first at one of them and then at the other, and her hands were on the table and she was leaning over and touching the arm of the better-looking of the boys momentarily as she said something to him.
The owner didn't stop at the table. That's it, he thought, it's as simple as that. The young ones, she likes the young ones. He felt obscurely betrayed, as though the memory of the two or three women who had been too good for him had somehow been damaged.
He went back to the bar and tried not to look at her again. College boys, he thought. And one of them with glasses, besides. To the owner, all Americans under thirty-five who cut their hair short were college boys, but these were the real, authentic, tall, slouchy, skinny models, with big hands and feet twice the size of any Frenchman's. Sweet and confident, he thought, disappointed in his own judgment. I bet.
There was a flurry of arrivals and departures and the owner was busy for almost a half hour. Then there was a little lull and he looked over at the woman again. She was still with the two college boys and the boys were talking as much as ever, but she didn't seem to be listening closely any more. She was leaning on the table between the boys, staring hard at the bar. At first, the owner thought she was staring at him and he essayed a little smile, to make a polite connection. But there was no answering flicker on the woman's face, and he realized that she wasn't looking at him, but at a man two places down the bar from him.
The owner turned and looked at the man and thought, with a faint touch of bitterness, Well, of course. The man was an American, by the name of Crown, young, about thirty, with a little touch of gray in his hair, tall, but not outsize like the college boys. He had big, gray, guarded eyes, with heavy black lashes, and a reckless, soft, curly kind of mouth that looked as though it probably got him into trouble. The owner knew him as he knew perhaps a hundred other people who came into his place for a drink a few times a week. Crown lived nearby, the owner knew, and had been in Paris for a long time, and usually came in late at night, alone. He didn't drink much, maybe two whiskies a night, and he spoke good French, and when he noticed it, he merely seemed mildly amused by the fact that women invariably stared at him.
The owner moved down the bar and greeted Grown, shaking his hand, remarking that Crown was deeply tanned from the sun. "Good evening," he said. "I haven't seen you in some time. Where've you been?"
"Spain," Crown said. "I only came back three days ago."
"Ah, that's why you're so brown," the owner said. He touched his jaw regretfully. "I myself am a deep green."
"It's the proper color for a night-club owner. Don't complain," Crown said gravely. "It'd make the clients uneasy if they came in and saw you rosy and healthy-looking. They'd suspect something sinister about the place."
The owner laughed. "Maybe you're right," he said. "Let me buy you a drink." He waved to the bartender.
"There is something sinister about this place," Crown said. "Be careful that it isn't reported back to the police that you have been known to offer something for nothing to an American."
Uh-uh, the owner thought, he has been drinking more than I thought tonight, and he signaled, with his eyes, to the bartender, to make the drink a light one. "You went to Spain on business?" he asked.
"No," Crown said.
The owner grinned conspiratorially. "Ah—a lady ..."
Crown chuckled. "I do like coming in here and talking to you, Jean," he said. "How intelligent of you to separate the ideas of lady and pleasure." He shook his head. "No—no lady. No, I merely went down there because I don't speak the language. I needed refreshment, and there's nothing so refreshing as being some place where nobody understands you and you understand nobody."
"Everybody goes there," the owner says. "Everybody likes Spain these days."
"Of course," said Crown, sipping at his drink. "It's dry, mismanaged and underpopulated. How can you avoid liking a country like that?"
"You're full of fun tonight, Mr. Crown, aren't you?"
Crown nodded soberly. "Full of fun," he said. He finished his drink quickly and threw down a five-thousand-franc note for the whiskies he had had before the owner joined him. "If I ever have a bar, Jean, you come to it and I'll buy you a drink," he said.
While Crown was waiting for his change, the owner looked down the room and saw that the woman sitting between the two college boys was still staring at the bar, past him, at Crown.
Not for you, Madame, the owner thought with a flavor of sour satisfaction. Stick to your college boys tonight.
He walked Crown to the door and went outside with him to get a breath of air. Crown stood there for a moment, looking up at the dark buildings against the starred sky. "When I was a boy in college," he said, "I was firmly convinced that Paris was gay." He turned to the owner and they shook hands and said good night.
The street was dark and empty and the air cool and the owner stood in front of the door watching the man walk slowly away. In the stillness of the sleeping city, with his heeltaps echoing faintly against the shuttered buildings, Crown gave the impression of a man who was irresolute and sad. It's a funny hour, the owner thought, watching the diminishing figure crossing under the pale light of a lamp; it's a bad time to be alone. I wonder if he would look the same way on a street in America.
After a while, the owner went back into the bar, wrinkling his nose at the staleness of the smoky room. As soon as he came up to the bar, he saw the woman stand up. She walked hurriedly toward him, leaving the college boys, surprised, half-standing, behind her.
"I wonder if you could help me," she said. Her voice was tight, as though she was having difficulty controlling it, and her face looked queer, drained and excited at the same time, and marked by the night.
I was all wrong, the owner thought as he bowed politely to her. She'll never see forty-five again. "Anything I can do, Madame," the owner said.
"That man who was standing here," the woman said. "The one who just went out with you ..."
"Yes?" The owner put on his cautions, non-understanding, waiting face, thinking, Good God, at her age.
"Do you know his name?"
"Well ... let me see ..." The owner pretended to search for it, tantalizing her, displeased with this naked and unseemly pursuit, out of respect for the memory of the women of whom the lady had reminded him earlier in the evening. "Yes, I think I do," he said. "Crown. Tony Crown."
The woman closed her eyes and put out her hand toward the bar, as though to steady herself. As the owner watched her, puzzled, she opened her eyes and pushed away, with a little impatient movement, from the bar. "Do you happen to know where he lives?" the woman asked. Her voice was flat now, and the owner had a curious, momentary impression that she would be relieved if he said no.
He hesitated. Then he shrugged, and told her the address. He wasn't there to make people behave themselves. He was in the business of running a bar and that meant pleasing his customers. And if that included humoring aging ladies who came around asking for the addresses of young men, that was their affair.
"Here," he said, "I'll write it out for you." He scribbled it quickly on a pad and ripped off the sheet and gave it to her. She held it stiffly and he noticed that the paper rattled a little, because her hands were trembling.
Then he couldn't help being nasty. "Let me advise you, Madame, to telephone first," he said. "Or even better, write. Mr. Crown is married. To a beautiful and charming lady."
The woman looked at him as though she didn't quite believe that he had said what he had said. Then she laughed. Her laugh was real, unforced, musical. "Why, you silly man," the woman said, laughing. "He's my son."
Then she folded the paper with the address on it, after looking at it carefully, and put it into her bag. "Thank you," she said. "And good night. I've already paid the bill."
He bowed, and watched her, feeling foolish, as she went out.
Americans, he thought. The most mysterious people in the world.CHAPTER 2
When we look back into the past, we recognize a moment in time which was decisive, at which the pattern of our lives changed, a moment at which we moved irrevocably off in a new direction. The change may be a result of planning or accident; we may leave happiness or ruins behind us and advance to a different happiness or more thorough ruin; but there is no going back. The moment may be just that, a second in which a wheel is turned, a look exchanged, a sentence spoken—or it may be a long afternoon, a week, a season, during which the issue is in doubt, in which the wheel is turned a hundred times, the small, accumulating accidents permitted to happen. For Lucy Crown it was a summer.
It began like other summers.
There was the sound of hammering from the cottages around the lake as screens were put into place, and the rafts were floated out into the water in time for the first bathers. At the boys' camp at one end of the lake, the baseball diamond was weeded and rolled, the canoes arranged on their racks, and a new gilt ball put on top of the flagpole in front of the messhall. The owners of the two hotels had had their buildings repainted in May, because it was 1937 and it looked, finally, even in Vermont, as though the Depression was over.
At the end of June, when the Crowns drove up to the same cottage they had rented the year before, all three of them, Oliver, Lucy, and Tony, who was thirteen years old that summer, sensed with pleasure the air of drowsy, pre-holiday anticipation that hung over the place. The pleasure was intensified by the fact that since they had been there last, Tony had nearly died and had not died.
Oliver only had two weeks to spend at the lake before he had to go back to Hartford, and he devoted most of that time to Tony, fishing with him, swimming a little, going on leisurely walks through the woods, trying, as delicately as possible, to make Tony feel that he was leading an active and normal thirteen-year-old life, while keeping his exertions down to the level that Sam Patterson, their family doctor, had prescribed as being safe.
Excerpted from Lucy Crown by Irwin Shaw. Copyright © 1965 Irwin Shaw. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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