For ten years, Elphinstone and Horne, two unmarried women in their forties, have shared a small apartment on the fifth floor of a brownstone on East Sixty-first Street. They have abided by their original agreement to swap bedrooms during the dog days of August and September every year so that Elphinstone will have the one air-conditioned bedroom during the hottest time of the year. The story opens on the morning of August tenth with Horne popping her head into Elphinstone’s cool bedroom and shrieking, “Happy August the Tenth!” at her apartment mate, waking her.
Horne leaves the house every day to go to her job in the research department of the National Journal of Social Commentary. Elphinstone works at home as a freelance genealogist. She awaits the death of her decrepit mother, who lives in Connecticut attended by servants. She worries about whether her mother will leave her estate equally to her and her sister, or whether she will leave the bulk of it to the sister, who is married and has three children. Horne’s genuine concern for Elphinstone is apparent. She urges Elphinstone to have a polio shot, and, although they have some unpleasant words about that matter, it is clear that Horne cares about Elphinstone’s welfare and that Elphinstone, who regularly visits a psychiatrist, Dr. Schreiber, realizes that Horne is truly concerned about her and, in her own way, appreciates that concern.
Horne has the temerity to waken Elphinstone early on this particular morning because she knows that Dr. Schreiber has scheduled her for a nine o’clock appointment “in order,” she relates, “to observe your state of mind in the morning.” Elphinstone, nevertheless, is annoyed at having her sleep disturbed. She and Horne bicker, and it soon becomes evident that bickering is an established pattern in their relationship. Elphinstone, whose social circle is confined to a small group of other alumnae of Sarah Lawrence College, does not approve of Horne’s friends. Although Horne wants to include her in social gatherings, Elphinstone, who has behaved badly at one such affair, resists her efforts, and the two have quite separate social lives.
Elphinstone casually reveals that she has talked with Dr. Schreiber about Horne’s friends, whom she considers Village hippies, and that he has called them “instinctively destructive.” Horne is outraged not only that Elphinstone has discussed her friends with the psychiatrist but also that he has made judgments about her friends, whom he does not know. She considers Dr. Schreiber’s conduct unprofessional. Elphinstone upbraids Horne for her compulsion to use shocking language, and also reveals to her that Dr. Schreiber has described her as sick because she considers the buildings of New York to be giant tombstones that mark a city of the dead.
Much of the furniture in the apartment is Elphinstone’s and has been handed down to her through her family. Horne lets it be known...
(The entire section is 753 words.)