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.Some of the writers he got around to reading there (“without whose work I might never have put together a halfway decent book of my own”) included Dickens, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, E.M.Forster, Katherine Mansfield, Sinclair Lewis, and Dylan Thomas; particularly he read (and reread) Chekhov, Conrad, Joyce, Jane Austen, Ring Lardner, and Keats.And Flaubert too, though he wouldn’t accord Madame Bovary the sort of scrutiny it deserved (for his own purposes) until several years later.“I was very independent at the time,” said Sheila, a bit of elliptical dialogue that would have made the authors of Gatsby and Revolutionary Road proud.With her husband indefinitely hospitalized on Staten Island, Sheila was for all purposes single again.She farmed the baby out to a kindly old couple in New Rochelle and found a job at the Dobeckmun Company on West Fifty-seventh, where she was secretary to a publicity director whose mission it was to promote the metallic yarn Lurex.Meanwhile a kindly coworker from Remington Rand, who was fond of Yates and fancied herself a photographer, offered to shoot a portrait of Sheila and the baby that would serve to keep Yates company during the lonely intervals between visits.“It was a strained time,” Sheila concedes; what with visiting the baby and doing her job and whatnot, she wasn’t able to make it out to Halloran (“quite a schlep”) more than every week or so.And when she got there Yates was often reticent or surly or both, and always “smoking like a chimney,” tuberculosis withal, which made her wonder even more what conceivable future there was in staying married to such a man.Her old Bronxville friend Ann Barker came to live with her in the Twelfth Street apartment, and proved a far more congenial roommate than either of the Bialek sisters or for that matter Yates himself.The two young women were a few doors down from eligible bachelors, and whether by chance or design the women’s cat had a way of wandering into the men’s apartment.At first the men simply tossed it out, until a neighbor advised them of its provenance (“that cat belongs to two pretty ladies”); the next time they returned it in person.A propitious visit: Within three months Barker was engaged to one of the men, John Kowalsky, while Sheila flirted with his roommate and several of his friends—an assortment of NYU and Columbia graduates, not a would-be writer in the bunch.When Sheila was overheard remarking that she was a “grass widow,” Barker reminded her that she wasn’t divorced yet; “Oh, that doesn’t matter!” Sheila hissed, as if it were just a bothersome formality.When her husband was finally released as an outpatient in February 1951, Sheila decided to stay married on a “wait-and-see basis”: As a bitter Yates later described the situation, she’d decided to be “brave,” taking him back “as a partner in a sensible arrangement of joint parenthood.” A bit on the unromantic side, perhaps, though one can hardly blame Sheila: At twenty-three she had little to look forward to but a life of caring for an infirm “writer” who seemed disinclined to care for himself.There was, however, a peculiar sweetness to Yates—a tolerant devotion (or dependency) that Sheila came to appreciate better over time: “You’re the only person who’s ever loved me,” she wrote him later, “no matter how much I played outside the rules.” Another incentive for sticking around was the $207 a month Yates had been awarded for his “service-connected disability,” which was guaranteed for five years as long as his lungs were checked on a weekly basis at VA-approved clinics “anywhere in the world.” And since ten months had passed since his illness was originally diagnosed, he was entitled to a retroactive lump sum of more than two thousand dollars.To Sheila the next move was clear: Paris.“Because I mean if we don’t do it now” (says the wife in “Regards”), “while we’re young enough and brave enough, when are we ever going to do it at all?” As Sheila recalled, Yates was suddenly intimidated by the idea: Though he’d “talked constantly” about Europe before his illness, “[tuberculosis] had sapped his will” and now he seemed bent on returning to Remington Rand.But Sheila had enough willpower for both of them; the allure of helping her boss promote Lurex had palled—she was ready for a change, the more drastic the better.Like April Wheeler tuning out her weak-willed, equivocating husband, she pressed ahead with the arrangements.It didn’t take long.Within a week Yates had done his part by getting in touch with Stephen Benedict, who was then living in Paris.They needed an affordable two- or three-room apartment, Yates wrote, and hoped Benedict could help them “steer clear of the conventional Cook’s-Tour-filthy-postcard set.” Benedict replied that a friend’s place would fall vacant within a month or so, and in the meantime they could live cheaply in one of the pensions.For the sake of economy, though, he advised them to settle in the provinces eventually, and Yates assured him they’d probably head south for the winter: “Our only plans are that we want to stay in Europe indefinitely and I want to do an awful lot of writing.”They sailed on April 14 aboard the United States, where a “cramped farewell party” was held in their tourist-class cabin.While Sheila changed the baby’s diapers on the upper berth, a dapper-hatted Dookie sat below and regaled the guests (the Cains and Bialeks, plus friends from Botany Mills and Remington Rand) with odd bits of esoterica about the National Association of Women Artists.As she went on talking and drinking, her knees sagged apart until her underpants showed (“an old failing”)—but such ghastliness would soon be in the past, and Yates could afford to feel magnanimous: “I had luck, time, opportunity, a young girl for a wife, and a child of my own.”CHAPTER FIVEThe Getaway: 1951-1953They arrived in Paris on April 20 and checked into a cheap hotel called the Atlantic.Yates went to the U.S.Embassy and arranged for medical care, which consisted of the usual weekly injections of air to maintain a partial collapse of both lungs.Meanwhile they waited for Benedict’s friend to clear out of his apartment on the Rue du Bac in St.-Germain-des-Prés, and Yates took Sheila and the baby on long strolls around the Left Bank—where as a young GI he’d “walked himself weak down its endless blue streets and all the people who knew how to live had kept their tantalizing secret to themselves [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]