Book//mark – A Girl I Knew | J.D. Salinger, 1948

  J.D. Salinger, A Girl I Knew, 1948 ( Good Housekeeping Magazine)


“A few weeks later, in July of 1936, I sailed for Europe. My passport photograph, it might be worth
mentioning, looked exactly like me. At eighteen I was six feet two, weighed 119 pounds with my
clothes on, and was a chain smoker. I think that if Goethe’s Werther and all his sorrows had been
placed on the promenade deck of the S.S. Rex beside me and all my sorrows, he would have
looked by comparison, like a rather low comedian.”

“Probably for every man there is at least one city that sooner or later turns into a girl. How well
or how badly the man actually knew the girl doesn’t necessarily affect the transformation.
She was there, and she was the whole city, and that’s that.”
“She was sixteen, and beautiful in an immediate yet perfectly slow way. She had very dark hair that
fell away from the most exquisite pair of ears I have ever seen. She had immense eyes that always
seemed in danger of capsizing in their own innocence. Her hands were very pale brown, with slender,
actionless fingers. When she sat down, she did the only sensible thing with her beautiful hands there
was to be done: she placed them on her lap and left them there. In brief, she was probably the first
appreciable thing of beauty I had seen that struck me as wholly legitimate.

For about four months I saw her two or three evenings a week, for an hour or so at a time.
But never outside the apartment house in which we lived. We never went dancing; we never
went to a concert; we never even went for a walk.”

“Maybe I just worried too much about things. Maybe I consistently hesitated to risk letting the
thing we had together deteriorate into a romance. I don’t know any more. I used to know, but
I lost the knowledge a long time ago. A man can’t go along indefinitely carrying around in
his pocket a key that doesn’t fit anything.”

“I had a phonograph and two American phonograph records in my room. The two American records
were a gift from my landlady – one of those rare, drop-it-and-run gifts that leave the recipient dizzy
with gratitude. On one of the records Dorothy Lamour sang Moonlight and Shadows, and on the
other Connie Boswell sang Where Are You? Both girls got pretty scratched up, hanging around
my room, as they had to go to work whenever I heard my landlady’s step outside my door.”

Dorothy Lamour, Moonlight and Shadows, 1937              Connie Boswell, Where Are You?, 1940

“The apartment below mine had the only balcony of the house. I saw a girl standing on it,
completely submerged in the pool of autumn twilight. She wasn’t doing a thing that I could
see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.”

“Leah’s knock on my door was always poetry – high, beautifully wavering, absolutely perpendicular
poetry. Her knock started out speaking of her own innocence and beauty, and accidentally ended
speaking of the innocence and beauty of all very young girls. I was always half-eaten away by the
respect and happiness when I opened the door for Leah.”

A short story by J.D. Salinger, originally published February 1948
 in Good Housekeeping Magazine.
The story was originally titled “Wien, Wien“. Salinger was deeply resentful
 the title was changed by the editors of the magazine.

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