The Girls in their Summer dresses
by Irwin Shaw
Fifth Avenue was shining in the sun when they left the
Brevoort and started walking toward Washington Square. The sun was warm, even
though it was November, and everything looked like Sunday morning--the buses,
and the well-dressed people walking slowly in couples and the quiet buildings
with the windows closed.
Michael held Frances' arm tightly as they walked downtown in the sunlight. They
walked lightly, almost smiling, because they had slept late and had a good
breakfast and it was Sunday. Michael unbuttoned his coat and let it flap around
him in the mild wind. They walked, without saying anything, among the young and
pleasant-looking people who somehow seem to make up most of the population of
that section of New York City.
"Look out," Frances said, as they crossed Eighth Street. "You'll
break your neck."
Michael laughed and Frances laughed with him.
"She's not so pretty, anyway," Frances said. "Anyway, not pretty
enough to take a chance breaking your neck looking at her."
Michael laughed again. He laughed louder this time, but not as solidly. "She
wasn't a bad-looking girl. She had a nice complexion. Country-girl complexion.
How did you know I was looking at her?" Frances cocked her head to one side
and smiled at her husband under the tip-tilted brim of her hat. "Mike,
darling . . ." she said.
Michael laughed, just a little laugh this time. "Okay," he said.
"The evidence is in. Excuse me. It was the complexion. It's not the sort of
complexion you see much in New York. Excuse me."
Frances patted his arm lightly and pulled him along a little faster toward
"This is a nice morning," she said. "This is a wonderful morning.
When I have breakfast with you it makes me feel good all day."
"Tonic," Michael said. "Morning pickup. Rolls and coffee with
Mike and you're on the alkali side, guaranteed."
"That's the story. Also, I slept all night, wound around you like a rope."
"Saturday night," he said. "I permit such liberties only when the
week's work is done."
"You're getting fat," she said.
"Isn't it the truth? The lean man from Ohio."
"I love it," she said, "an extra five pounds of husband."
"I love it, too," Michael said gravely.
"I have an idea," Frances said.
"My wife has an idea. That pretty girl."
"Let's not see anybody all day," Frances said. "Let's just hang
around with each other. You and me. We're always up to our neck in people,
drinking their Scotch, or drinking our Scotch, we only see each other in bed . .
"The Great Meeting Place," Michael said. "Stay in bed long enough
and everybody you ever knew will show up there."
"Wise guy," Frances said. "I'm talking serious."
"Okay, I'm listening serious."
"I want to go out with my husband all day long. I want him to talk only to
me and listen only to me."
"What's to stop us?" Michael asked. "What party intends to
prevent me from seeing my wife alone on Sunday? What party?"
"The Stevensons. They want us to drop by around one o'clock and they'll
drive us into the country."
"The lousy Stevensons," Mike said. "Transparent. They can whistle.
They can go driving in the country by themselves. My wife and I have to stay in
New York and bore each other tˆte-…-tˆte."
"Is it a date?"
"It's a date."
Frances leaned over and kissed him on the tip of the ear.
"Darling," Michael said. "This is Fifth Avenue."
"Let me arrange a program," Frances said. "A planned Sunday in
New York for a young couple with money to throw away."
"First let's go see a football game. A professional football game,"
Frances said, because she knew Michael loved to watch them. "The Giants are
playing. And it'll be nice to be outside all day today and get hungry and later
we'll go down to Cavanagh's and get a steak as big as a blacksmith's apron, with
a bottle of wine, and after that, there's a new French picture at the Filmarte
that everybody says... Say, are you listening to me?"
"Sure," he said. He took his eyes off the hatless girl with the dark
hair, cut dancer-style, like a helmet, who was walking past him with the
self-conscious strength and grace dancers have. She was walking without a coat
and she looked very solid and strong and her belly was flat, like a boy's, under
her skirt, and her hips swung boldly because she was a dancer and also because
she knew Michael was looking at her. She smiled a little to herself as she went
past and Michael noticed all these things before he looked back at his wife.
"Sure," he said, "we're going to watch the Giants and we're going
to eat steak and we're going to see a French picture. How do you like that?"
"That's it," Frances said flatly. "That's the program for the day.
Or maybe you'd just rather walk up and down Fifth Avenue."
"No," Michael said carefully. "Not at all."
"You always look at other women," Frances said. "At every damn
woman in the city of New York."
"Oh, come now," Michael said, pretending to joke. "Only pretty
ones. And, after all, how many pretty women are there in New York? Seventeen?"
"More. At least you seem to think so. Wherever you go."
"Not the truth. Occasionally, maybe, I look at a woman as she passes. In
the street. I admit, perhaps in the street I look at a woman once in a while. .
"Everywhere," Frances said. "Every damned place we go.
Restaurants, subways, theaters, lectures, concerts."
"Now, darling," Michael said. "I look at everything. God gave me
eyes and I look at women and men and subway excavations and moving pictures and
the little flowers of the field. I casually inspect the universe."
"You ought to see the look in your eye," Frances said, "as you
casually inspect the universe on Fifth Avenue."
"I'm a happily married man." Michael pressed her elbow tenderly,
knowing what he was doing. "Example for the whole twentieth century, Mr.
and Mrs. Mike Loomis."
"You mean it?"
"Frances, baby . . ."
"Are you really happily married?"
"Sure," Michael said, feeling the whole Sunday morning sinking like
lead inside him. "Now what the hell is the sense in talking like that?"
"I would like to know." Frances walked faster now, looking straight
ahead, her face showing nothing, which was the way she always managed it when
she was arguing or feeling bad.
"I'm wonderfully happily married," Michael said patiently. "I am
the envy of all men between the ages of fifteen and sixty in the state of New
"Stop kidding," Frances said.
"I have a fine home," Michael said. "I got nice books and a
phonograph and nice friends. I live in a town I like the way I like and I do the
work I like and I live with the woman I like. Whenever something good happens,
don't I run to you? When something bad happens, don't I cry on your shoulder?"
"Yes," Frances said. "You look at every woman that passes."
"That's an exaggeration."
"Every woman." Frances took her hand off Michael's arm. "If she's
not pretty you turn away fairly quickly. If she's halfway pretty you watch her
for about seven steps. . . ."
"My Lord, Frances!"
"If she's pretty you practically break your neck . . ."
"Hey, let's have a drink," Michael said, stopping.
"We just had breakfast."
"Now, listen, darling," Mike said, choosing his words with care,
"it's a nice day and we both feel good and there's no reason why we have to
break it up. Let's have a nice Sunday."
"I could have a fine Sunday if you didn't look as though you were dying to
run after every skirt on Fifth Avenue."
"Let's have a drink," Michael said.
"I don't want a drink."
"What do you want, a fight?"
"No," Frances said, so unhappily that Michael felt terribly sorry for
her. "I don't want a fight. I don't know why I started this. All right,
let's drop it. Let's have a good time."
They joined hands consciously and walked without talking among the baby
carriages and the old Italian men in their Sunday clothes and the young women
with Scotties in Washington Square Park.
"I hope it's a good game today," Frances said after a while, her tone
a good imitation of the tone she had used at breakfast and at the beginning of
their walk. "I like professional football games. They hit each other as
though they're made out of concrete. When they tackle each other," she
said, trying to make Michael laugh, "they make divots. It's very
"I want to tell you something," Michael said very seriously. "I
have not touched another woman. Not once. In all the five years."
"All right," Frances said.
"You believe that, don't you?"
They walked between the crowded benches, under the scrubby citypark trees.
"I try not to notice it," Frances said, as though she were talking to
herself. "I try to make believe it doesn't mean anything. Some men're like
that, I tell myself, they have to see what they're missing."
"Some women're like that, too," Michael said. "In my time I've
seen a couple of ladies."
"I haven't even looked at another man," Frances said, walking straight
ahead, "since the second time I went out with you."
"There's no law," Michael said.
"I feel rotten inside, in my stomach, when we pass a woman and you look at
her and I see that look in your eye and that's the way you looked at me the
first time, in Alice Maxwell's house. Standing there in the living room, next to
the radio, with a green hat on and all those people."
"I remember the hat," Michael said.
"The same look," Frances said. "And it makes me feel bad. It
makes me feel terrible."
"Sssh, please, darling, sssh. . . ."
"I think I would like a drink now," Frances said.
They walked over to a bar on Eighth Street, not saying anything, Michael
automatically helping her over curbstones and guiding her past automobiles. He
walked, buttoning his coat, looking thoughtfully at his neatly shined heavy
brown shoes as they made the steps toward the bar. They sat near a window in the
bar and the sun streamed in, and there was a small cheerful fire in the
fireplace. A little Japanese waiter came over and put down some pretzels and
smiled happily at them.
"What do you order after breakfast?" Michael asked.
"Brandy, I suppose," Frances said.
"Courvoisier," Michael told the waiter. "Two Courvoisier."
The waiter came with the glasses and they sat drinking the brandy in the
sunlight. Michael finished half his and drank a little water.
"I look at women," he said. "Correct. I don't say it's wrong or
right, I look at them. If I pass them on the street and I don't look at them,
I'm fooling you, I'm fooling myself."
"You look at them as though you want them," Frances said, playing with
her brandy glass. "Every one of them."
"In a way," Michael said, speaking softly and not to his wife,
"in a way that's true. I don't do anything about it, but it's true."
"I know it. That's why I feel bad."
"Another brandy," Michael called. "Waiter, two more
"Why do you hurt me?" Frances asked. "What're you doing?"
Michael sighed and closed his eyes and rubbed them gently with his fingertips.
"I love the way women look. One of the things I like best about New York is
the battalions of women. When I first came to New York from Ohio that was the
first thing I noticed, the million wonderful women, all over the city. I walked
around with my heart in my throat."
"A kid," Frances said. "That's a kid's feeling."
"Guess again," Michael said. "Guess again. I'm older now, I'm a
man getting near middle age, putting on a little fat and I still love to walk
along Fifth Avenue at three o'clock on the east side of the street between
Fiftieth and Fifty-seventh streets, they're all out then, making believe they're
shopping, in their furs and their crazy hats, everything all concentrated from
all over the world into eight blocks, the best furs, the best clothes, the
handsomest women, out to spend money and feeling good about it, looking coldly
at you, making believe they're not looking at you as you go past."
The Japanese waiter put the two drinks down, smiling with great happiness.
"Everything is all right?" he asked.
"Everything is wonderful," Michael said.
"If it's just a couple of fur coats," Frances said, "and
forty-five-dollar hats . . ."
"It's not the fur coats. Or the hats. That's just the scenery for that
particular kind of woman. Understand," he said, "you don't have to
listen to this."
"I want to listen."
"I like the girls in the offices. Neat, with their eyeglasses, smart,
chipper, knowing what everything is about, taking care of themselves all the
time." He kept his eye on the people going slowly past outside the window.
"I like the girls on Forty-fourth Street at lunchtime, the actresses, all
dressed up on nothing a week, talking to the good-looking boys, wearing
themselves out being young and vivacious outside Sardi's, waiting for producers
to look at them. I like the salesgirls in Macy's, paying attention to you first
because you're a man, leaving lady customers waiting, flirting with you over
socks and books and phonograph needles. I got all this stuff accumulated in me
because I've been thinking about it for ten years and now you've asked for it
and here it is."
"Go ahead," Frances said.
"When I think of New York City, I think of all the girls, the Jewish girls,
the Italian girls, the Irish, Polack, Chinese, German, Negro, Spanish, Russian
girls, all on parade in the city. I don't know whether it's something special
with me or whether every man in the city walks around with the same feeling
inside him, but I feel as though I'm at a picnic in this city. I like to sit
near the women in the theaters, the famous beauties who've taken six hours to
get ready and look it. And the young girls at the football games, with the red
cheeks, and when the warm weather comes, the girls in their summer dresses . .
." He finished his drink. "That's the story. You asked for it,
remember. I can't help but look at them. I can't help but want them."
"You want them," Frances repeated without expression. "You said
"Right," Michael said, being cruel now and not caring, because she had
made him expose himself. "You brought this subject up for discussion, we
will discuss it fully."
Frances finished her drink and swallowed two or three times extra. "You say
you love me?"
"I love you, but I also want them. Okay."
"I'm pretty, too," Frances said. "As pretty as any of them."
"You're beautiful," Michael said, meaning it.
"I'm good for you," Frances said, pleading. "I've made a good
wife, a good housekeeper, a good friend. I'd do any damn thing for you."
"I know," Michael said. He put his hand out and grasped hers.
"You'd like to be free to . . ." Frances said.
"Tell the truth." She took her hand away from under his.
Michael flicked the edge of his glass with his finger. "Okay," he said
gently. "Sometimes I feel I would like to be free."
"Well," Frances said defiantly, drumming on the table, "anytime
you say . . ."
"Don't be foolish." Michael swung his chair around to her side of the
table and patted her thigh.
She began to cry, silently, into her handkerchief, bent over just enough so that
nobody else in the bar would notice. "Someday," she said, crying,
"you're going to make a move . . ."
Michael didn't say anything. He sat watching the bartender slowly peel a lemon.
"Aren't you?" Frances asked harshly. "Come on, tell me. Talk.
"Maybe," Michael said. He moved his chair back again. "How the
hell do I know?"
"You know," Frances persisted. "Don't you know?"
"Yes," Michael said after a while. "I know."
Frances stopped crying then. Two or three snuffles into the handkerchief and she
put it away and her face didn't tell anything to anybody. "At least do me
one favor," she said.
"Stop talking about how pretty this woman is, or that one. Nice eyes, nice
breasts, a pretty figure, good voice," she mimicked his voice. "Keep
it to yourself. I'm not interested."
"Excuse me." Michael waved to the waiter. "I'll keep it to
Frances flicked the corner of her eyes. "Another brandy," she told the
"Two," Michael said.
"Yes, ma'am, yes, sir," said the waiter, backing away.
Frances regarded him coolly across the table. "Do you want me to call the
Stevensons?" she asked. "It'll be nice in the country."
"Sure," Michael said. "Call them up."
She got up from the table and walked across the room toward the telephone.
Michael watched her walk, thinking, What a pretty girl, what nice legs.