David Bourne and his wife, Catherine, are newlyweds spending their honeymoon on the Riviera in the south of France. It is spring, and they enjoy the leisurely pace of the seaside town—its history, its food, its Old-World conveniences. They are learning about each other’s habits and eccentricities, reveling in each other’s company. Catherine reflects that she always gets hungry after making love, which David says is only normal when one is in love. David comes up with plans on how to spend the day, claiming that he is the inventive type. Catherine says that she is the destructive type, warning David that she will destroy him.
The couple sits at the outdoor café, watching the people as the people watch them. They are dressed similarly and even look alike. People often mistake them for brother and sister. There are few other tourists, as this is before the Riviera built casinos and became such an attraction. Their casual dress sets them apart from the natives, but Catherine’s shorts provoke disapproval only from the local priest. They go to mass on Sundays, giving freely to the collection. The priest therefore does not say anything about Catherine’s shorts.
Catherine decides she will write a few letters and then later join David for some fishing. The waiter offers David special bait and promises to come later to help them. David fetches the fishing pole and goes out alone, without any luck. At last he hooks a sea bass, just as the waiter arrives to give him advice. David reels the fish in, walking it along the canal, drawing quite a crowd. Catherine sees him from her window and rushes down to help. He reels it in successfully to much fanfare from the crowd. The fish weighs fifteen pounds, so David decides to sell it since the sea bass is too big to cook for just the two of them. The restaurant ends up cooking the fish for the couple.
Catherine tells David that she has a surprise for him, but she will not...
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On the beach, Catherine takes a nap. David swims in the ocean even though the water is colder than it looks. Afterward, he sits by Catherine, thinking of her claim the night before that they have made “dark magic” by her "change." Despite her boyish appearance, David cannot stop focusing on her breasts. He worries, however, about what effect his wife's "change" will have on them.
David puts suntan lotion on Catherine, waking her up. He tells her to go back to sleep and finish her dream. Later they go swimming together and then drink on the shore. Catherine asks David if he minds that they are now brothers instead of husband and wife. He tells her he does not and reapplies the suntan lotion on her. She tells him that she is trying to be a good girl, that they do not have to worry that the “night things” will come in the day.
At the hotel, the postman delivers three large envelopes to David. They are from his publishers and contain advertisements for his book as well as review clippings, most of which are excellent. The book is now on its second printing on the strength of the prepublication reviews alone. He does some calculations and determines that he has earned five hundred dollars from the first printing. He anticipates six hundred and twenty-five dollars from the second printing. Catherine arrives and they both read the reviews together. Catherine is frightened by the optimism. She warns David that such positive reviews could destroy him if he thinks about them too much. He promises that he will read them and then seal them up. He argues that most wives would be happy if their husbands had good reviews, but she says that she does not want to fight. She reads her package of letters, some of which contain checks. They are not for much, she says, but neither she nor David will have to worry about money for a while.
They drink a toast to each other. Catherine is glad that they can call each other by their first names instead of endearments like “darling” or “dearest.” She asks why they should have to do what everyone else does. She refuses to be “stuffy.” She wants to have fun before she gets pregnant, whenever that might be. David, however, wants to continue to write. Catherine tells him to go ahead and write, that no one said he could not. She, on the other hand, will find something to keep her amused.
That night, Catherine tells David they are not confined to doing only the “devil things.” She loved it the way they were before, and she promises that she will always be his girl. She is now how she wants, but she also wants to be how he wants. She tells David that he is both her husband and her brother, and when they go to Africa she will be his African girl. David asks when they are going to Africa, but Catherine cannot remember the date they decided. David tells her it is too early in the year to go to Africa: it is the rainy season and very wet and cold. He suggests going to Spain instead, but it is the rainy season there as well. Catherine wants to find a hot spot where they can go swimming in the nude as they can on the Riviera. David warns her that they will get arrested for swimming in the nude anywhere else.
Catherine says that they should wait until it warms up and then go to Spain because she wants to get more tanned. David asks her why she wants to be so dark, but she cannot verbalize the reason. He had never imagined that she could be so dark because she is blonde. Catherine says that she is glad to be a “lion color” now and wants to be darker than an Indian.
As Catherine goes to sleep, David thinks about the day. He decides it is probably good just to enjoy their life as it is now. He will work later when he has to. His last book was good, so the next one must be even better. He thinks about their married life and is not sure how much of it is serious and how much is nonsense. There are parts that he thinks are not good, like drinking before noon. Catherine sleeps easily but he cannot; plus, she can change back and forth between a girl and a boy. He tries to remember what she had said about destruction, but he cannot. He becomes tired trying to remember, so he kisses Catherine on the cheek and thinks about how much he loves her. He goes to sleep thinking of the feel of his lips on her cheek, about what they will do the next day, and about how dark they will get.
Catherine and David are driving to the Spanish coast. Catherine notices that the trees are strange and that they have been recently planted. David surmises that Spain is trying to compete with the French Riviera. Catherine is impressed with the size of the beach and the smoothness of the sand. She suggests driving immediately to a café. They enjoy eating outdoors at the small restaurant by themselves, while strangers are focused on their own dinner at their own tables. They take rooms in a large hotel, and that night the wind rises and they can hear the heavy surf on the beach below. They lie awake, listening to the sea.
In the dark under the covers, Catherine touches David, asking him again if he does not want her to change into a boy. He says that he does not want her to at the moment and that he is cold. David gives her the option of staying at this place or moving on. She suggests that they stay for a few days and see. If they decide to stay, David would like to start doing some writing. Catherine knows that he can write better if she is out of the room, so she reminds him that he does not have to worry about her. She tells David that she really has not done anything bad to their relationship. David says nothing and listens to the sound of the surf.
It is raining heavily the next morning, so Catherine bundles up and leaves so that David can work. David worries that his writing has gone too smoothly, which he thinks is a sign that it is worthless. He writes with a pencil on school tablets. Eventually he stops, grabs his raincoat, and goes downstairs. The hotel bar is gloomy but has a few customers sheltering from the rain. As he leaves his key at the desk, the concierge hands him a note from Catherine, telling him that she is at the café so that she will not disturb him. He finds her at the corner table, obviously having recently come in from the rain. The waiter brings them some absinthe, which he prepares at their table. When Catherine asks why it has to go so slowly, the waiter explains the process. He also explains that absinthe is illegal, so he cannot make it as slowly as it should be. He warns her about the effects of absinthe.
David and Catherine begin to argue about the clippings of reviews David has received. Catherine becomes angry when he tells her to shut up about them. David goes to retrieve his raincoat and leaves. As Catherine drinks her absinthe, David returns and asks her for the keys to the car. She tells him not to be stupid and to sit down. They regret the quarrel and decide to have some lunch together.
The next morning, the weather has cleared. Since Catherine is still asleep, David takes his notebook and starts to write, feeling that at the moment he is lucky. After a while, he notices that Catherine is still asleep, and it has past breakfast. He decides to leave her a note and go down to the café for some coffee. As he is putting his work away, however, Catherine wakes up. He explains that he was on his way to the café. She tells him to go ahead and she will join him.
David goes to the café and reads the papers, ordering food for both himself and Catherine, who arrives in a skirt, cashmere sweater, and pearls. When David asks her why she is dressed up, she explains that she plans to go into Biarritz alone while...
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David and Catherine spend the morning at the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain, and now are enjoying a meal and reading the newspapers. The waiter suggests that they try some gazpacho, which Catherine especially enjoys. They are taken with the African wine they are served, and Catherine remarks that she heard that Africa starts at the Pyrenees. David objects, saying that it is much more complicated than that. He points out that the Basques are in no way Africa, and Catherine adds a couple more regions. She asks why no one ever painted Africa, and David replies that there were no landscape painters, and the artists painted only what was ordered. Catherine grieves for the loss of art with Africa as its subject.
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David has breakfast in the café alone because Catherine is still sleeping. He reflects that her cutting off her hair to become a boy lasted less than a month. They have been married for three months, and he hopes that he can make her happy always; however, he knows no one can take care of anybody.
After breakfast, David gets his mail and takes a walk. He then goes to the bank to cash the bank draft. He buys more newspapers and some bullfighting weeklies, and he then remembers he still has to meet Catherine. He stops at a restaurant and tries to buy a beer, but the waiter tells him it is not a “beer place.” David insults him and walks out to find a restaurant that will sell him a beer. He decides that the waiter had...
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Walking in the park, Buen Retiro, Catherine and Dave have their promised rendezvous. Catherine tells David to walk ahead of her so she can look at him. He walks to a bench and sits down, and eventually Catherine joins him. David, however, is filled with remorse and tells his wife that it would be better if they talked in the café at the Palace. She asks if he is all right and if he wants her to come with him, but he tells her he needs to walk there alone. They smile at each other, and David leaves, but his remorse goes with him. He is not sure that he will make it to the rendezvous, but he does. By the time Catherine joins him he has had two absinthes and his remorse is gone.
David greets Catherine by calling her...
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David and Catherine return to la Napoule on the French Riviera to carry out their new plan, which only lasts a month. They are the only people staying at the hotel where they had resided previously, so the proprietor and his wife are glad to see them back. From their windows they can view the sea and smell the pines. David begins writing early in the morning. When he is finished, he finds Catherine and they go down to the beach to swim and sun. Often Catherine takes the car and goes out for a drive, so David waits for her on the terrace. The hotel is quiet because the summer season is slow. The proprietor’s wife does the cooking, a nephew serves as the waiter, and a single maid takes care of the rooms. Catherine’s shopping...
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As David and Catherine drive up in their car, the patron of the hotel compliments them on what good clients (customers) they are. David goes back out to talk with the patron and comes back with a bottle of champagne. Catherine objects that it will take too long to chill. She takes David’s shirt off and drags him to bed.
Later, David looks at himself in the mirror, especially his dyed and cut hair that is now just like Catherine’s. He must admit to himself that he likes it, though it takes some effort to convince himself.
After dinner, Catherine orders another bottle of champagne, though David questions whether they should have two bottles so soon. She asks him if he has to work the next day and...
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For two days the wind has blown. David stops working on the novel based on their honeymoon and begins to write a story about which he has been thinking at night. He starts writing and cannot seem to stop; he takes occasional breaks but always goes right back to it. Catherine does not disturb him, but the hotel proprietor comes in to talk about the weather. He says the wind, the weather, and everything has changed fast. He finds books that Catherine sent off for him. They please him very much and make him feel rich.
When Catherine returns, she brings with her the handsome girl they met the day before. Her name is Marita. Her hair had been cut as short as Catherine’s. Marita refuses a drink because she has to drive, but...
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On the third day, the wind is still blowing but not as hard as it was. David continues with his story, trying to ignore the voices of Catherine and Marita. They leave in the car, and David worries about what they are doing. The proprietor’s nephew, who serves as the waiter, brings him some whiskey and offers to bring him something to eat because he missed breakfast.
When Catherine and Marita return, it is Marita who asks if David worked well. Catherine says her slacks caused a scandal in Nice. She confesses that she and Marita kissed. She tells David to kiss her too, since Catherine is not a boy at the moment. David kisses her with more energy than he had planned. Catherine tells them to stop now that they all share...
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David returns, having driven back from Cannes in the dark. Marita meets him at the door. She says Catherine feels terrible and that he must be kind to her. David curses both of them, which Marita accepts for herself but not for Catherine. She asks him if he wants to take care of her, because she is willing. David goes into the hotel and finds Catherine at the bar. They greet each other emotionlessly. Catherine’s dead appearance and toneless voice shocks David.
Catherine says she thought David had gone away, but he points out to her that he did not take anything when he left. He tells her the wind is finally dropping, so it will be good the next day. She says she does not care about tomorrow. David offers to make them...
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David awakens after two hours of sleep. Catherine looks happy in her sleep, and he lets her sleep, looking “beautiful and young and unspoiled.” He dresses and goes outside to the room where he works. He has started a new story, which is more difficult than his previous work. It is a kind of catharsis, forcing him to deal with things that he has put off facing. He stops working at eleven o’clock, shuts up the room, and goes out to find Catherine and Marita playing chess in the garden. Catherine explains that Marita is beating her yet again. David thinks they are the two loveliest girls he has ever seen and wonders what this day will bring.
Marita asks if he had good luck with his writing. He explains that it is...
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As David is immersed in writing his story, he is surprised to hear the car’s motor start. He had come to the most difficult part of the story and is emotionally drained. He is transported back to the heat of the East Africa of his boyhood, going on safari. He has become a character in the plot. He reflects on his father and all he found for him. He regrets that his father, a man with such a talent for disaster as well as delight, had gone the way he did. He thinks his father would have liked this story.
It is nearly noon when he emerges from his work. He walks down to the bar, where the workmen are putting up a mirror. He finds the wife of the proprietor and asks if she has any beer. She gives him a bottle eagerly and...
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Once again, David awakens before Catherine and goes out to sit alone. He looks over what he has written so far on the new story. He is taken back once again to the Africa of his childhood, physically reacting to the details he has written. He continues to write, describing the journey on the page that he has experienced in the flesh. The senses of touch, sight, and even smell are present as he relives his African adventure.
At half past ten, David looks up at the room in which he is writing, feeling now the breeze from the sea rather than the hot African wind. Quickly, though, he is taken back to the safari camp. It is evening, and he plans to shoot some meat. There he will leave the story, making his characters happy...
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David is back in his workroom, regretting that he cannot change anything about the situation with Catherine and Marita. Only Catherine can change it. He feels it is only in his story that he can make any sense of his life. In his role as the main character, he tries to think how his father would react; he did not give evil much importance, treating it like an old friend. His father was not vulnerable, and David reflects that only death could kill him. When he knows what his father would have thought, he decides not to put it in the story. The protagonist sleeps under the tree, undisturbed by a leopard in the night. The next day they move on to the high country, where they stay for two days and a night.
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David finishes the story in four days. Marita asks if she can read it, and he willingly gives her permission. When she finishes it, she reads it over again. David asks her if she likes it. She replies that it is not something that you like or dislike. She asks him if the protagonist is his father. He tells her it is, and she asks if it was at the point described in the story that he stopped loving him. David says he always loved him; this is when he got to know him.
Marita and David return from the beach to find Catherine in the garden. She is sullen and says she went to Cannes on her own business. She chastises them both for being late to lunch. Marita leaves for a bit, and Catherine asks David pointedly if he is still...
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David and Marita go to their private cove, the one they always go to when it is just the two of them. He tells her that Catherine refuses to go to Switzerland. Marita replies that she should not go to Madrid either because Spain is a bad place to “crack up.” David feels as though he and Catherine have been married all their lives and have never had anything but problems. He suggests to Marita that they go swimming. He wants to dive off the high rock. She says she will swim out and he can dive over her head. She swims to the spot, holding still, and watching him on the rock. He dives over her, but he feels he cut it too fine. They swim out, then back, and then they dress on the beach. Marita says she liked his diving that close,...
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David is working hard at the story, driving himself past the point where he should have stopped. The characters, his father, himself, and Juma have picked up a trail on their safari. Juma is increasing the pace a little, tracking the elephant dung, which is still fresh. Juma comes to a slope of the mountain and sees the broken country ahead. Davey (David as a child) feels that he should have been sent back to the camp, but there is nothing to be done about it now. Davey sees the broken twigs from the elephants’ march. In the afternoon, Davey struggles against sleep but tries to keep up with the two men. When they finally make camp, Davey falls asleep instantly, and his father spreads a coat over him. He awakens when he feels Juma...
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The next day, the story David is currently writing becomes weaker because he realizes that it is more than the need for sleep that makes the difference between a man and a boy. The child character David asks Juma if he may carry the rifle but is denied. David does not understand since Juma let him carry it the day before, and David is now in much better shape this day. David realizes that it is not because he is a boy and they are men that he has trouble keeping up with them: David has trouble because they are professional hunters. David’s father encourages him just to last the day out.
David’s father informs David that Juma had thought he knew where he was going, but it is only now that Juma is sure of the trail....
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David is not sure he can go on with the story, but he knows he must. He picks it up when young David, his father, and Juma are on an old trail that looks as if elephants have been travelling it since the lava from the mountains cooled. The trail is so easy that Juma lets David carry the rifle. They lose the trail at one point amidst piles of fresh dung. Eventually they find the herd and move past it to find the trail of the bull elephant they are tracking. It turns off on to a smaller trail, and Juma smiles as if he has a dirty secret. Soon they come across the secret, which is a skull as high as David’s chest. Juma points out the tracks that show where the bull elephant stood by the skull. This is the skull of an elephant Juma...
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David joins Catherine and Marita in the bar, where the girls taunt him. He tells Catherine that she should have asked him before giving Marita his manuscript about their honeymoon. Catherine agrees that she should, but she found it so interesting that she thought Marita should read it too. If Catherine had asked David, he would have said no. He says he is through with the honeymoon narrative, which Catherine says is dirty since that was her present. Marita begs him to continue, and Catherine wants him to put Marita into the story. David says he will go on with it when he finishes the stories of his childhood.
David asked what the girls did with their day. Catherine says she made decisions and planned things, which...
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In the morning, David continues working on his story. The elephant is wandering, though David feels he is getting close to it. He does not love the elephant, he remembers; he only regrets having to track him. It was good when he initially followed the elephant in the moonlight, but to track it to kill is not what he wants. He imagines the elephant is going to the place where it was born, and his father and Juma will kill it there.
They close in on the elephant. David can smell him and hear him pulling down branches. David stays behind as his father and Juma move forward. He hears a squalling and a smashing and then a shot. David goes into the growth and finds Juma bleeding and his father angry. The elephant went for...
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When David and Marita return to the hotel, Catherine’s car is there. David walks Marita to her room and asks what she is doing that afternoon. She does not know, but she will be here. He goes down to join Catherine at the bar. She asks him what brought them back. He explains they had lunch in town. Catherine then asks him, “How is your whore?” He says that he does not have one. She says she meant the one he writes stories for:
The dreary dismal little stories about your adolescence with your bogus drunken father.
He refuses to be drawn into her ill-tempered argument. She belittles his stories, calling them “pointless anecdotes.” David drinks but does not find any...
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David, Marita, and Catherine return to the beach. David checks the boxes with his stories and clippings to find them all gone. He cannot believe that Catherine has taken it, but in the back of his mind he knew that she might. He checks other places, thinking perhaps she took them for a joke. He cannot convince himself that she destroyed them. When he goes down to the bar, Marita looks at him directly; she knows what happened. Catherine looks only at his reflection in the bar window. He asks her where she put them. She says simply that she “took care of them.” David begs her to tell him where they are because he needs them very much. She does not think he really does because they were worthless and she hated them.
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David and Marita drive along the beach until he sees the white painted bridge ahead. He slows down a little and then stops when he comes to the bridge. He drives back on the road again toward Cannes. He tells Marita that Catherine burned all his stories and clippings. She is shocked. When they reach Cannes, David drives to the café where he and Catherine first met Marita. Marita asks if he would not rather go someplace else. David replies that he does not care, that it makes no difference anyway. Marita suggests that they might just drive, but David says he wants to cool out to see if the car is in good enough shape for Catherine to drive it to Paris. Marita is surprised that Catherine is going and asks David if he wants her to go...
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When David and Marita return to the hotel, Madame Aurol (the wife of the proprietor) has a letter for David. She says that Catherine took the train to Biarritz immediately after David and Marita left. She offers to fix them some dinner. David reads the letter and then asks Madame if Catherine seemed like herself when she left. Madame replies that perhaps she did not. He tells her that she will be back and they will take good care of her. Madame begins to cry a little, so David comforts her.
David gets a bottle of wine for their dinner and fills three glasses. He does not know to what they should drink, so he toasts themselves and their liberty. They drink again without making a toast, and Marita urges David to eat. He...
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David tries to write another story, but he cannot. He writes one sentence and cannot think of the sentence that should come next. He crosses it out and tries again, still with no result. He keeps this up for four hours until he realizes that it is no good. He admits this without accepting it, closes the notebook, and goes to find Marita.
Marita is sitting on the terrace, reading. She looks at his face and sees that he has had no success. It is beyond a simple “no,” he says. She offers him a drink, which he gladly accepts. They go inside the bar, bringing the day with them. David reflects that it is a good day because each warm day now is special. Summer should have ended long ago. He thinks that they should not...
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When David wakes up the next morning, he at first does not know where he is. The light is gray, and there are different pine trees from the ones he is used to seeing outside his window each morning. Past them is a long stretch to the sea. He cannot feel his right arm and realizes that he must have fallen asleep on it. He notices the strange bed and sees Marita sleeping beside him. He then remembers everything and looks at her with love. He kisses her, covers her with a sheet, and then climbs out of bed.
David puts on his dressing gown and goes out into the cool morning dew, thinking of how beautiful Marita looked lying in bed. He goes to his room and takes a shower, then dresses and goes down to his work room. He stops...
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