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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 638

Sylvie looks back at a sequence of events that occurred in 1959 when she was thirteen years old and observed the relationship between her uncle, Clyde Farrell, and Joan Lunt, a mysterious new woman in town.

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Clyde and Joan meet when both are swimming one early morning at the YMCA. Clyde admires Joan’s style of swimming even before he sees her up close. Although they swim together in the pool, they do not speak to each other. The next time he sees her at the pool, he introduces himself. Strongly attracted to each other, Clyde and Joan soon begin spending most of their time together.

Clyde is a good-looking man, an athlete, with well-defined shoulder and arm muscles, who had been a boxer in the Navy and has worked as a truck driver, factory foreman, and manager of a sporting-goods store. He likes to gamble at cards and horses. Although he is powerfully attracted to women, no one expects him to marry.

Joan Lunt is a good-looking woman with dark eyes, thick dark hair, and a thin scar at the corner of her mouth. She has been in Yewville about a month when she meets Clyde. She lives in a tiny furnished apartment and works at the most prestigious department store in town. The townspeople perceive her as arrogant because she is independent and values her privacy. She attends church but leaves without speaking to anyone, and she drinks alone at the Yewville Bar and Grill. She remains a mystery to the townspeople, who grow suspicious of her.

Sylvie’s relationship with Joan also begins at the YMCA pool. One day after their swim, Joan waits in the lobby for Sylvie and invites her to her apartment. Although the apartment is shabby, to Sylvie, who is pleased to be Joan’s first guest, it has a makeshift glamour. Sylvie thinks it strange that although Joan has been living in the apartment for weeks, she still has not unpacked the two suitcases that lie opened on the floor. When she asks Joan about the scar beside her mouth, Joan tells her that a man once hit her and warns Sylvie never to let a man hit her.

The relationship between Clyde and Joan becomes more serious as they spend time at Clyde’s cabin, the racetrack, and the local bars and restaurants. They are happy in each other’s company, but when Joan disappears for a day or two without an explanation, Clyde becomes angry and upset. The real trouble comes when Rob Waxman, Joan’s former husband, shows up, and Clyde sees that Joan is terrified of him. When Clyde steps between Joan and Rob, the two men scuffle, and Rob pulls a gun and shoots Clyde in the shoulder. Despite the wound, Clyde attacks Waxman and beats him until someone pulls him off. Joan is upset by the fight. Although she loves Clyde, she has such a fear of violence that seeing him beat Waxman terrifies her. Clyde wants to forget the incident, and the two discuss their situation at length. Clyde thinks that they will continue their relationship, but Joan leaves town and the two never see each other again.

Although Clyde searches for Joan, he never finds her. Sylvie goes away to college and never sees Joan again either. Clyde lives a typical bachelor lifestyle for a time but eventually retreats to a solitary life. The last time Sylvie speaks with Clyde about Joan it is 1971, twelve years after the end of the affair. Clyde’s face, with its “look of furious compression” and the dents that resemble animal tracks, shows his unhappiness. Observing him closely, Sylvie wonders if she is “seeing the man Joan Lunt had fled from or the man her flight had made.” Sylvia and Clyde never learn what became of Joan.

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