When published first in The New Yorker (on October 13, 1975), this story was entitled “City Lovers”; the second part was added for publication in A Soldier’s Embrace (1980). The two parts are quite discrete stories, connected only by the central theme.
Part 1 gives a detailed account of the professional and cultural background of Dr. Franz-Josef von Leinsdorf, who has worked in Peru, New Zealand, and the United States in a senior, though not executive capacity, for companies interested in mineral research; his special interest is underground watercourses; his cultural interests are skiing, music appreciation, and reading the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. Though he is thought “not unattractive” by the female employees of the mining company, none has been invited to go out with him; he lives alone in a two-room apartment.
When Leinsdorf cannot find his preferred brand of razor blades, a mulatto cashier offers to see that the stock is replenished before his next visit to the supermarket. On returning home one evening after a trip away, he is told by the cashier that the blades have arrived; because he is burdened with bags and cases, she offers to get them and take them to his apartment. Quite uncomfortably, Leinsdorf offers her a tip, which she declines. He then asks her to come in for a cup of coffee.
Soon, she brings his groceries two or three times a week; he gives her chocolates. She sews a button on his trousers, and he touches her, commenting, “You’re a good girl.” Leinsdorf is impressed by her small and finely made body, her smooth skin, “the subdued satiny colour of certain yellow wood,” and her crepey hair. The two become lovers—first during the afternoons, then overnight; she tells the caretaker that she is Leinsdorf’s servant, and her mother believes the same.
Near Christmas, three police...
(The entire section is 773 words.)