Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Wednesday, June 12, 2024


 "You Were Perfectly Fine"  by Dorothy Parker  (first published in The New Yorker, February 23, 1929; reprinted twice in The Evening Standard, on November 23, 1937, and on December 7, 1946; included in Parker's collections Laments of the Living, 1930, Here Lies:  The Collected Stories of Dorothy Parker, 1939, The Portable Dorothy Parker, 1944, and Complete Stories, 1995; included in many anthologies, including The Pocket Book of Modern American Short Stories, edited by Philip Van Doren Stern, 1943, Desert Island Decameron, edited by H. Allen Smith, 1945, The Harper Anthology of Fiction edited by Sylvan Barnet, 1991, Light and Lively, edited by Mira B. Felder, 1997, and The American Short Story and Its Writer:  An Anthology, edited by Ann Charters, 1999.

There's an old story about a farmer who has just returned from a weekend trip and he happened to meet his neighbor at the train station.  "Anything happen i town while I was gone?" he asked.  "Well, your dog died," he was told.  The farmer was shocked because he loved that dog.  "What happened/" he asked.  "Well, he was trampled by your horses."  The farmer was aghast.  "What?  How?"  "Well, they stampeded when your barn burned down."  "My barn?  How did that happen?"  "Well, it caught fire after your house burned down."  The farmer had to sit down from the shock.  "Well, it was set afire by some escaped prisoners who broke in and killed your wife."  The farmer lost all color and began to sob.  "My wife's dead?  I can't believe it.  How could this happen?  What are you telling?"  The neighbor looked the farmer squarely in the eye and replied, "Well, your dog died."

This is a very bad joke. So why am I telling it?

Basically it's the theme of Parker's abbreviated short story, "You Were Perfectly Fine."

A young man wakes up at four in the afternoon with a blazing headache after a night on the town.  He seats himself in the living room, muttering "Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh."  The clear-eyed girl on the couch says, "Not feeling well today?"  He admits he is not, and says he is worried about how he might have acted the night before.

"You were perfectly fine," she replied.

Slowly, she recounts what had happened.  The young man was perfectly funny.  Well, Jim Pierson took offense but was stopped before he socked the young man.  Don't worry, she said, the young man was perfectly fine.  And he did not make a pass at Elinor, although she was just a tiny bit annoyed once, when he pour calm-juice down her neck, but don't worry, you were perfectly fine.  He was also perfectly fine when he insisted on singing loudly throughout the entire evening, although the maitre d' thought police would come in and close the place.  And he was perfectly fine when he took offense as a necktie some old gentleman was wearing, and he was perfectly fine he insisted the waiter was his long-lost brother, changed at the cradle by a gypsy band, and he was perfectly fine he started to walk him and slipped in the ice and had a magnificent fall.  (That explains the pain in my..., the young man thought.)  And he was perfectly fine when they took a taxi and he insisted the cab take then round and round the park and admitted he never knew that he actually had a soul and that she had never known known his he actually felt about her and that the taxi ride was the most important thing ever to happen to either of them in their lives.  So, yes, the young man was perfectly fine.  The clear-eyed girl decided what the young man really needed then  was a whiskey and soda and went into the other room to make one.  And the young man kept repeating, "Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy."

A very brief and enjoyable tale, told with all of Parker's wit, available at many locations on the internet.

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