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A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter (Excerpt)

A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter (Excerpt)

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Published by OpenRoadMedia
Twenty-year-old Yale dropout Phillip Dean is traveling Europe aimlessly in a borrowed car with little money, until stopping for a few days in a church-quiet town near Dijon, where he meets Anne-Marie Costallat, a young shop assistant. She quickly becomes to him the real France, its beating heart and an object of pure longing. The two begin an affair both carnal and innocent.
Twenty-year-old Yale dropout Phillip Dean is traveling Europe aimlessly in a borrowed car with little money, until stopping for a few days in a church-quiet town near Dijon, where he meets Anne-Marie Costallat, a young shop assistant. She quickly becomes to him the real France, its beating heart and an object of pure longing. The two begin an affair both carnal and innocent.

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Published by: OpenRoadMedia on Jun 05, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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09/29/2013

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 A SPORT AND A PASTIME 
By James Salter
SATURDAY, THE SIXTH OF
January. The sky is cloudless, blue, cold as ice and yet burningthe eyes. The sun is just weak enough to be felt through the windshield, no more. It’s thecoldest day of the year. He takes a curve on the wrong side near Beaune and then, toolate, sees the figure near the edge of the trees, a figure in uniform who casually waveshim down, now it is two of them:
 gendarmes
.
 
Dean has crossed the solid line in themiddle of the road. It’s quite serious. In France the
agents
don’t fool around. One doesn’tmisbehave. Slowly they walk across to the car. They have the faces of hunters,unemotional and wise. They ask for his papers. His French vanishes. It crumbles to a few,inept words. He stammers and can answer only with difficulty. The policemen are patient. They seem to be watching his mouth, as if they might understand him despitehimself. Not more than a glance on their part at Anne-Marie who sits still as a housemaidwhile Dean struggles and lies. It seems the ordeal will never end. Finally they deliver awarning, with gestures, and allow him to go on. Dean thanks them.He knows he’s been a fool. It’s made even more clear by her silence, by somethingin her face. He behaved like a frightened boy. Worse, he couldn’t even find words.“It’s lucky I don’t speak French that well,” he says, forcing a laugh.
Oui
,”
 
she says.All the way to Dijon she is somewhat disinterested in him. They ride in an unbrokensilence, the cold leaking in on them, the whole day blue with it, people, objects, the verylight. He pulls up before the Hôtel de la Cloche.“What do you think of it?”She doesn’t reply.It’s only when the door of the room is opened that she suddenly changes.
 Ah!
 
she cries, “
c’est très jolie!
Dean is suspicious. It’s ridiculously modern. The corridors they walked along were built to grand dimensions, suitably gloomy, and now this: loud colors and the bareness of 
 
 new furniture. The floor has been scraped and varnished. The yellow wallpaper is printedwith hundreds of small, colored balls. He wonders if she’s being sarcastic, but no, she begins to unpack happily. She looks into the bathroom. She finds it perfect. Dean isannoyed. A wave of uncertainty comes over him. The afternoon begins to seem ominous.It has an emptiness he suddenly cannot think how to fill.“Do we go out?” she says.“Jesus, it’s bitter cold.”
 Pardon?
“It’s too cold,” he says. “Where do you want to go?”She shrugs. To see the stores.“It’s freezing,” he says.
 Non
,”
 
she complains.The streets are crowded, cold weather or not. They walk around until six, looking inwindows, and before one good shop stand a long time admiring a black pullover.Suddenly he decides to buy it for her. They go inside. It costs forty francs. It’s more thanhe thought. The
vendeuse
waits, her face expressionless. It seems they are all listening.The pullover lies limp, a fine label gleaming within its throat. Forty francs. Finally henods.“All right,” he says. It’s like throwing away the oars.She clings to his arm as they walk along afterwards, and he sees their reflection inthe chilly glass. They look like a working couple. He is thin, tough, no necktie. It’sevening. He imagines he looks like a boxer.The faint warmth of the hotel room restores him. She begins to strip off her clotheslike a roommate and climb into bed. Dean undresses, too. He takes off his shoes. Heunbuttons his shirt slowly, with the assurance of an athlete.It is almost dark. Her arms are caught beneath her. He feels her hesitate, then beginto surrender. In the dusk, her desperate spasms fill him with the deepest, the most profound joy.

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