Next up, John Cheever. From one of his better-known stories, The Swimmer. In it, Ned Merrill decides to head home from a friend's house and plans a route that will allow him to swim through the pools of numerous other friends and acquaintances. It starts off bright and vibrant but a surreal and unsettling quality descends throughout the course of the afternoon.

The Hallorans were friends, an elderly couple of enormous wealth who seemed to bask in the suspicion that they might be Communists. They were zealous reformers but they were not Communists, and yet when they were accused, as they sometimes were, of subversion, it seemed to gratify and excite them. Their beech hedge was yellow and he guessed this had been blighted like the Levys' maple. He called hullo, hullo, to warn the Hallorans of his approach, to palliate his invasion of their privacy. The Hallorans, for reasons that had never been explained to him, did not wear bathing suits. No explanations were in order, really. Their nakedness was a detail in their uncompromising zeal for reform and he stepped politely out of his trunks before he went through the opening in the hedge.

Mrs. Halloran, a stout woman with white hair and a serene face, was reading the Times. Mr. Halloran was taking beech leaves out of the water with a scoop. They seemed not surprised or displeased to see him. Their pool was perhaps the oldest in the country, a fieldstone rectangle, fed by a brook. It had no filter or pump and its waters were the opaque gold of the stream.

"I'm swimming across the county," Ned said.

"Why, I didn't know one could," exclaimed Mrs. Halloran.

"Well, I've made it from the Westerhazys'," Ned said. "That must be about four miles."

He left his trunks at the deep end, walked to the shallow end, and swam this stretch. As he was pulling himself out of the water he heard Mrs. Halloran say, "We've been terribly sorry to hear about all your misfortunes, Neddy."

"My misfortunes?" Ned asked. "I don't know what you mean."

"Why, we heard that you'd sold the house and that your poor children..."

"I don't recall having sold the house," Ned said, "and the girls are at home."

"Yes," Mrs. Halloran sighed. "Yes..." Her voice filled the air with an unseasonable melancholy and Ned spoke briskly. "Thank you for the swim."

"Well, have a nice trip," said Mrs. Halloran.

Beyond the hedge he pulled on his trunks and fastened them. They were loose and he wondered if, during the space of an afternoon, he could have lost some weight. He was cold and he was tired and the naked Hallorans and their dark water had depressed him. The swim was too much for his strength but how could he have guessed this, sliding down the banister that morning and sitting in the Westerhazys' sun? His arms were lame. His legs felt rubbery and ached at the joints. The worst of it was the cold in his bones and the feeling that he might never be warm again. Leaves were falling down around him and he smelled wood smoke on the wind. Who would be burning wood at this time of year? - John Cheever, The Swimmer, 1964

By the end of the afternoon it becomes clear that summer has transitioned to fall and Ned's perceived status is at serious odds with the actual circumstances of his life. His tour of swimming pools seemed whimsical at first but interactions along the way gradually turn sour and reveal that he is broke, alienated and somewhat delusional. The effect on Ned is disorienting. He finishes his journey but the house which he returns to, his home, is abandoned and appears to have been that way for a while.


If I had focused more on ingredients and what I thought Ned was probably drinking throughout his journey I probably would have chosen a Martini or a Gin and Tonic. Or maybe just a shot of whiskey.  However, I like the way the afternoon hours get distorted here. How long was the second half of this day? Weeks? Months? Years?

Which got me to thinking of this drink from Beta Cocktails:

The Arbitrary Nature of Time - Maks Pazuniak, Beta Cocktails, 2011
1 1/4 oz Wild Turkey 101
1 oz Campari
3/4 oz Cherry Heering
1 dash Regan's Orange Bitters
2 dashes Bitterman's Mole Bitters
Garnish - Orange Peel

Stir, strain, large cube