The story opens with a quotation from the French author Blaise Pascal: “They do not know that they seek only the chase and not the quarry.” The quotation is an ironic commentary on the game of womanizing played by the story’s two middle-aged male protagonists. The unnamed narrator is in a café, reading a book obtained with great difficulty from a library. His friend Martin, a seasoned veteran of the game of womanizing, joins him and draws his attention to a woman sitting at another table. When she gets up to leave and collects her shopping bag from the cloakroom, Martin drops the narrator’s precious book in her bag. He explains that it is uncomfortable to carry by hand, and suggests to the narrator that he carry the bag for her. The two men accompany the bemused woman to her bus terminal. They learn that she is a nurse, and arrange a meeting on the following Saturday. When the woman’s streetcar arrives, she goes to take the book out of her bag, but Martin prevents her, saying they will come for it on Saturday.
Martin does not “arrest” every woman who attracts his attention. There are countless more whom he merely registers without following up with a contact. He considers this a worthwhile achievement because it is easier (and, by implication, less heroic) to seduce a woman than to know enough women whom he chooses not to seduce. The narrator comments that he who likes to look back boastfully will emphasize the women to whom he has made love, but he who looks toward the future must ensure that he has plenty of registered and contacted women.
On Saturday, the two men arrive at the hospital and arrange to meet the nurse and her friend at seven. Martin wants to check out the friend, but the narrator, much to Martin’s annoyance, betrays his less-than-devoted attitude to the game by demanding that he first retrieve his book. The narrator confesses that he is a dilettante, merely playing at something that Martin lives.
As they leave the hospital, Martin mentions that he must be home by nine because his wife, whom he loves, expects him to play cards with her on Saturdays. The exasperated...
(The entire section is 874 words.)