The Swimmer John Cheever (Full Audiobook)

The Swimmer John Cheever (Full Audiobook)

The Swimmer written by John Cheever and read
by Michael DuBon It was one of those midsummer Sundays when
everyone sits around saying, “I drank too much last night.” You might
have heard it whispered by the parishioners leaving church,
heard it from the lips of the priest himself, struggling with his
cassock in the vestiarium, heard it from the golf links and the
tennis courts, heard it from the wildlife preserve where the
leader of the Audubon group was suffering from a terrible
hangover. “I drank too much,” said Donald Westerhazy. “We
all drank too much,” said Lucinda Merrill. “It must have been
the wine,” said Helen Westerhazy. “I drank too much of that
claret.” This was at the edge of the Westerhazys’
pool. The pool, fed
by an artesian well with a high iron content, was a pale shade
of green. It was a fine day. In the west there was a massive stand
of cumulus cloud so like a city seen from a distance—from the
bow of an approaching ship—that it might have had a name. Lisbon. Hackensack. The sun was hot. Neddy Merrill sat by
the green water, one hand in it, one around a glass of gin. He
was a slender man—he seemed to have the especial slenderness
of youth—and while he was far from young he had slid down
his banister that morning and given the bronze backside of
Aphrodite on the hall table a smack, as he jogged toward the
smell of coffee in his dining room. He might have been compared
to a summer’s day, particularly the last hours of one, and
while he lacked a tennis racket or a sail bag the impression was
definitely one of youth, sport, and clement weather. He had
been swimming and now he was breathing deeply, stertorously
as if he could gulp into his lungs the components of that moment,
the heat of the sun, the intenseness of his pleasure. It all
seemed to flow into his chest. His own house stood in Bullet
Park, eight miles to the south, where his four beautiful daughters
would have had their lunch and might be playing tennis. Then it occurred to him that by taking a dogleg
to the southwest he could reach his home by water. His life was not confining and the delight
he took in this observation could not be explained by its suggestion of
escape. He seemed to see, with a cartographer’s
eye, that string of swimming pools, that quasi-subterranean stream
that curved across the county. He had made a discovery, a contribution to
modern geography; he would name the stream Lucinda after
his wife. He was not a practical joker nor was he a
fool but he was determinedly original and had a vague
and modest idea of himself as a legendary figure. The day was beautiful and it
seemed to him that a long swim might enlarge and celebrate
its beauty. He took off a sweater that was hung over his
shoulders and dove in. He had an inexplicable contempt for men who
did not hurl themselves into pools. He swam a choppy crawl,
breathing either with every stroke or every fourth stroke and
counting somewhere well in the back of his mind the one-two
one-two of a flutter kick. It was not a serviceable stroke for
long distances but the domestication of swimming had saddled
the sport with some customs and in his part of the world a
crawl was customary. To be embraced and sustained by the
light green water was less a pleasure, it seemed, than the resumption
of a natural condition, and he would have liked to
swim without trunks, but this was not possible, considering his
project. He hoisted himself up on the far curb—he
never used the ladder—and started across the lawn. When Lucinda asked
where he was going he said he was going to swim home. The only maps and charts he had to go by were
remembered or imaginary but these were clear enough. First there
were the Grahams, the Hammers, the Lears, the Howlands, and
the Crosscups. He would cross Ditmar Street to the Bunkers
and come, after a short portage, to the Levys, the Welchers,
and the public pool in Lancaster. Then there were the Hallorans,
the Sachses, the Biswangers, Shirley Adams, the Gilmartins,
and the Clydes. The day was lovely, and that he lived
in a world so generously supplied with water seemed like a
clemency, a beneficence. His heart was high and he ran across
the grass. Making his way home by an uncommon route gave
him the feeling that he was a pilgrim, an explorer, a man with
a destiny, and he knew that he would find friends all along the
way; friends would line the banks of the Lucinda River. He went through a hedge that separated the
Westerhazys’ land from the Grahams’, walked under some
flowering apple trees, passed the shed that housed their pump
and filter, and came out at the Grahams’ pool. “Why, Neddy,” Mrs. Graham
said, “what a marvelous surprise. I’ve been trying to get you
on the phone all morning. Here, let me get you a drink.” He
saw then, like any explorer, that the hospitable customs and
traditions of the natives would have to be handled with diplomacy
if he was ever going to reach his destination. He did not
want to mystify or seem rude to the Grahams nor did he have
the time to linger there. He swam the length of their pool and
joined them in the sun and was rescued, a few minutes later, by
the arrival of two carloads of friends from Connecticut. During
the uproarious reunions he was able to slip away. He went
down by the front of the Grahams’ house, stepped over a
thorny hedge, and crossed a vacant lot to the Hammers’. Mrs.
Hammer, looking up from her roses, saw him swim by
although she wasn’t quite sure who it was. The Lears heard
him splashing past the open windows of their living room. The
Howlands and the Crosscups were away. Afterleaving the Howlands’
he crossed Ditmar Street and started for the Bunkers’,
where he could hear, even at that distance, the noise of a party. The water refracted the sound of voices and
laughter and seemed to suspend it in midair. The Bunkers’ pool was on a
rise and he climbed some stairs to a terrace where twenty-five
or thirty men and women were drinking. The only person in
the water was Rusty Towers, who floated there on a rubber
raft. Oh, how bonny and lush were the banks of the
Lucinda River! Prosperous men and women gathered by the sapphirecolored
waters while caterer’s men in white coats passed them
cold gin. Overhead a red de Haviland trainer was circling
around and around and around in the sky with something like
the glee of a child in a swing. Ned felt a passing affection for
the scene, a tenderness for the gathering, as if it was something
he might touch. In the distance he heard thunder. As soon as
Enid Bunker saw him she began to scream: “Oh, look who’s
here! What a marvelous surprise! When Lucinda said that you
couldn’t come I thought I’d die.” She made her way to him
through the crowd, and when they had finished kissing she led
him to the bar, a progress that was slowed by the fact that he
stopped to kiss eight or ten other women and shake the hands
of as many men. A smiling bartender he had seen at a hundred
parties gave him a gin and tonic and he stood by the bar for a
moment, anxious not to get stuck in any conversation that
would delay his voyage. When he seemed about to be surrounded
he dove in and swam close to the side to avoid colliding
with Rusty’s raft. At the far end of the pool he bypassed
the Tomlinsons with a broad smile and jogged up the garden
path. The gravel cut his feet but this was the only
unpleasantness. The party was confined to the pool, and as
he went toward the house he heard the brilliant, watery
sound of voices fade, heard the noise of a radio from the
Bunkers’ kitchen, where someone was listening to a ball game. Sunday afternoon. He made his way through the parked cars and
down the grassy border of their driveway to Alewives
Lane. He did not
want to be seen on the road in his bathing trunks but there
was no traffic and he made the short distance to the Levys’
driveway, marked with a private property sign and a green
tube for The New York Times. All the doors and windows of
the big house were open but there were no signs of life; not
even a dog barked. He went around the side of the house to
the pool and saw that the Levys had only recently left. Glasses
and bottles and dishes of nuts were on a table at the deep end,
where there was a bathhouse or gazebo, hung with Japanese
lanterns. After swimming the pool he got himself a glass
and poured a drink. It was his fourth or fifth drink and he had
swum nearly half the length of the Lucinda River. He felt tired,
clean, and pleased at that moment to be alone; pleased with
everything. It would storm. The stand of cumulus cloud—that city—
had risen and darkened, and while he sat there he heard the
percussiveness of thunder again. The de Haviland trainer was
still circling overhead and it seemed to Ned that he could
almost hear the pilot laugh with pleasure in the afternoon; but
when there was another peal of thunder he took off for home. A train whistle blew and he wondered what
time it had gotten to be. Four? Five? He thought of the provincial station at that
hour, where a waiter, his tuxedo concealed by a raincoat, a
dwarf with some flowers wrapped in newspaper, and a woman
who had been crying would be waiting for the local. It was
suddenly growing dark; it was that moment when the pinheaded
birds seem to organize their song into some acute and knowledgeable recognition of the storm’s
approach. Then
there was a fine noise of rushing water from the crown of an
oak at his back, as if a spigot there had been turned. Then the
noise of fountains came from the crowns of all the tall trees. Why did he love storms, what was the meaning
of his excitement when the door sprang open and the rain wind
fled rudely up the stairs, why had the simple task of
shutting the windows of an old house seemed fitting and urgent,
why did the first watery notes of a storm wind have for him
the unmistakable sound of good news, cheer, glad tidings? Then there was an
explosion, a smell of cordite, and rain lashed the Japanese
lanterns that Mrs. Levy had bought in Kyoto the year before
last, or was it the year before that? He stayed in the Levys’ gazebo until the
storm had passed. The rain had cooled the air and he shivered. The force of the
wind had stripped a maple of its red and yellow leaves and
scattered them over the grass and the water. Since it was midsummer
the tree must be blighted, and yet he felt a peculiar
sadness at this sign of autumn. He braced his shoulders, emptied
his glass, and started for the Welchers’ pool. This meant
crossing the Lindleys’ riding ring and he was surprised to find
it overgrown with grass and all the jumps dismantled. He wondered
if the Lindleys had sold their horses or gone away for the
summer and put them out to board. He seemed to remember
having heard something about the Lindleys and their horses
but the memory was unclear. On he went, barefoot through
the wet grass, to the Welchers’, where he found their pool was
dry. This breach in his chain of water disappointed
him absurdly, and he felt like some explorer who seeks a
torrential headwater and finds a dead stream. He was disappointed and mystified. It
was common enough to go away for the summer but no one
ever drained his pool. The Welchers had definitely gone away. The pool furniture was folded, stacked, and
covered with a tarpaulin. The bathhouse was locked. All the windows of the house
were shut, and when he went around to the driveway in front
he saw a for sale sign nailed to a tree. When had he last
heard from the Welchers—when, that is, had he and Lucinda
last regretted an invitation to dine with them? It seemed only a
week or so ago. Was his memory failing or had he so disci730 plined it in the repression of unpleasant
facts that he had damaged his sense of the truth? Then in the distance he heard the
sound of a tennis game. This cheered him, cleared away all his
apprehensions and let him regard the overcast sky and the cold
air with indifference. This was the day that Neddy Merrill
swam across the county. That was the day! He started off then
for his most difficult portage. Had you gone for a Sunday afternoon ride that
day you might have seen him, close to naked, standing on
the shoulders of Route 424, waiting for a chance to cross. You might have
wondered if he was the victim of foul play, had his car broken
down, or was he merely a fool. Standing barefoot in the deposits
of the highway—beer cans, rags, and blowout patches—
exposed to all kinds of ridicule, he seemed pitiful. He had
known when he started that this was a part of his journey—it
had been on his maps—but confronted with the lines of traffic,
worming through the summery light, he found himself unprepared. He was laughed at, jeered at, a beer can was
thrown at him, and he had no dignity or humor to bring
to the situation. He could have gone back, back to the Westerhazys’,
where Lucinda would still be sitting in the sun. He had signed nothing,
vowed nothing, pledged nothing, not even to himself. Why,
believing as he did, that all human obduracy was susceptible to
common sense, was he unable to turn back? Why was he determined
to complete his journey even if it meant putting his
life in danger? At what point had this prank, this joke, this
piece of horseplay become serious? He could not go back, he
could not even recall with any clearness the green water at
the Westerhazys’, the sense of inhaling the day’s components,
the friendly and relaxed voices saying that they had drunk too
much. In the space of an hour, more or less, he
had covered a distance that made his return impossible. An old man, tooling down the highway at fifteen
miles an hour, let him get to the middle of the road,
where there was a grass divider. Here he was exposed to the ridicule of the
northbound traffic, but after ten or fifteen minutes
he was able to cross. From here he had only a short walk to the
Recreation Center at the edge of the village of Lancaster,
where there were some handball courts and a public pool. The effect of the water on voices, the illusion
of brilliance and suspense, was the same here as it had
been at the Bunkers’ but the sounds here were louder, harsher,
and more shrill, and as soon as he entered the crowded enclosure
he was confronted with regimentation. “all swimmers must take
a shower before using the pool. all swimmers must use
the footbath. all swimmers must wear their identification
disks.” He took a shower, washed his feet in a cloudy
and bitter solution, and made his way to the edge of the water. It stank of chlorine and looked to him like
a sink. A pair of lifeguards
in a pair of towers blew police whistles at what seemed
to be regular intervals and abused the swimmers through a
public address system. Neddy remembered the sapphire water
at the Bunkers’ with longing and thought that he might contaminate
himself—damage his own prosperousness and charm
—by swimming in this murk, but he reminded himself that he
was an explorer, a pilgrim, and that this was merely a stagnant
bend in the Lucinda River. He dove, scowling with distaste,
into the chlorine and had to swim with his head above water to
avoid collisions, but even so he was bumped into, splashed,
and jostled. When he got to the shallow end both lifeguards
were shouting at him: “Hey, you, you without the identification
disk, get outa the water.” He did, but they had no way of
pursuing him and he went through the reek of suntan oil and
chlorine out through the hurricane fence and passed the handball
courts. By crossing the road he entered the wooded
part of the Halloran estate. The woods were not cleared and the
footing was treacherous and difficult until he reached the lawn
and the clipped beech hedge that encircled their pool. The Hallorans were friends, an elderly couple
of enormous wealth who seemed to bask in the suspicion
that they might be Communists. They were zealous reformers but they were
not Communists, and yet when they were accused,
as they sometimes were, of subversion, it seemed to gratify
and excite them. Their beech hedge was yellow and he guessed
this had been blighted like the Levys’ maple. He called hullo, hullo, to warn
the Hallorans of his approach, to palliate his invasion of their
privacy. The Hallorans, for reasons that had never
been explained to him, did not wear bathing suits. No explanations
were in order, really. Their nakedness was a detail in their un732 compromising zeal for reform and he stepped
politely out of his trunks before he went through the opening
in the hedge. Mrs. Halloran, a stout woman with white hair
and a serene face, was reading the Times. Mr. Halloran was taking beech
leaves out of the water with a scoop. They seemed not surprised
or displeased to see him. Their pool was perhaps the
oldest in the country, a fieldstone rectangle, fed by a brook. It
had no filter or pump and its waters were the opaque gold of
the stream. “I’m swimming across the county,” Ned
said. “Why, I didn’t know one could,” exclaimed
Mrs. Halloran. “Well, I’ve made it from the Westerhazys’,”
Ned said. “That
must be about four miles.” He left his trunks at the deep end, walked
to the shallow end, and swam this stretch. As he was pulling himself out of the
water he heard Mrs. Halloran say, “We’ve been terribly sorry
to hear about all your misfortunes, Neddy.” “My misfortunes?” Ned asked. “I don’t know what you
mean.” “Why, we heard that you’d sold the house
and that your poor children . . .”
“I don’t recall having sold the house,” Ned said, “and the
girls are at home.” “Yes,” Mrs. Halloran sighed. “Yes . . .” Her voice filled the
air with an unseasonable melancholy and Ned spoke briskly. “Thank you for the swim.” “Well, have a nice trip,” said Mrs. Halloran. Beyond the hedge he pulled on his trunks and
fastened them. They were loose and he wondered if, during
the space of an afternoon, he could have lost some weight. He was cold
and he was tired and the naked Hallorans and their dark water
had depressed him. The swim was too much for his strength
but how could he have guessed this, sliding down the banister
that morning and sitting in the Westerhazys’ sun? His arms
were lame. His legs felt rubbery and ached at the joints. The
worst of it was the cold in his bones and the feeling that he
might never be warm again. Leaves were falling down around
him and he smelled wood smoke on the wind. Who would be
burning wood at this time of year? He needed a drink. Whiskey would warm him, pick him up, carry him through the last of his journey,
refresh his feeling that it was original and valorous to swim
across the county. Channel swimmers took brandy. He needed a stimulant. He
crossed the lawn in front of the Hallorans’ house and went
down a little path to where they had built a house for their
only daughter, Helen, and her husband, Eric Sachs. The
Sachses’ pool was small and he found Helen and her husband
there. “Oh, Neddy,” Helen said. “Did you lunch at Mother’s?” “Not really,” Ned said. “I did stop to see your parents.” This seemed to be explanation enough. “I’m terribly sorry to
break in on you like this but I’ve taken a chill and I wonder if
you’d give me a drink.” “Why, I’d love to,” Helen said, “but
there hasn’t been anything in this house to drink since Eric’s operation. That was
three years ago.” Was he losing his memory, had his gift for
concealing painful facts let him forget that he had sold
his house, that his children were in trouble, and that his friend
had been ill? His
eyes slipped from Eric’s face to his abdomen, where he saw
three pale, sutured scars, two of them at least a foot long. Gone
was his navel, and what, Neddy thought, would the roving
hand, bed-checking one’s gifts at 3 a.m., make of a belly with
no navel, no link to birth, this breach in the succession? “I’m sure you can get a drink at the Biswangers’,”
Helen said. “They’re having an enormous do. You can hear it from
here. Listen!” She raised her head and from across the road,
the lawns, the gardens, the woods, the fields, he heard again
the brilliant noise of voices over water. “Well, I’ll get wet,” he said, still
feeling that he had no freedom of choice about his
means of travel. He dove into the Sachses’ cold water and,
gasping, close to drowning, made his way from one end of the
pool to the other. “Lucinda and I want terribly to see you,”
he said over his shoulder, his face set toward the Biswangers’. “We’re sorry it’s
been so long and we’ll call you very soon.” He crossed some fields to the Biswangers’
and the sounds of revelry there. They would be honored to give him a drink,
they would be happy to give him a drink. The Biswangers invited
him and Lucinda for dinner four times a year, six weeks in advance. They were always rebuffed and yet they continued
to send out their invitations, unwilling to comprehend the
rigid and undemocratic realities of their society. They were the
sort of people who discussed the price of things at cocktails,
exchanged market tips during dinner, and after dinner told
dirty stories to mixed company. They did not belong to Neddy’s
set—they were not even on Lucinda’s Christmas-card list. He
went toward their pool with feelings of indifference, charity,
and some unease, since it seemed to be getting dark and these
were the longest days of the year. The party when he joined it
was noisy and large. Grace Biswanger was the kind of hostess
who asked the optometrist, the veterinarian, the real-estate
dealer, and the dentist. No one was swimming and the twilight,
reflected on the water of the pool, had a wintry gleam. There was a bar and he started for this. When Grace Biswanger
saw him she came toward him, not affectionately as he had
every right to expect, but bellicosely. “Why, this party has everything,” she
said loudly, “including a gate crasher.” She could not deal him a social blow—there
was no question about this and he did not flinch. “As a gate crasher,” he asked
politely, “do I rate a drink?” “Suit yourself,” she said. “You don’t seem to pay much attention
to invitations.” She turned her back on him and joined some
guests, and he went to the bar and ordered a whiskey. The bartender served
him but he served him rudely. His was a world in which the
caterer’s men kept the social score, and to be rebuffed by a
part-time barkeep meant that he had suffered some loss of
social esteem. Or perhaps the man was new and uninformed. Then he heard Grace at his back say: “They
went for broke overnight—nothing but income—and he showed
up drunk one Sunday and asked us to loan him five thousand
dollars. . . .” She was always talking about money. It was worse
than eating your peas off a knife. He dove into the pool, swam
its length and went away. The next pool on his list, the last but two,
belonged to his old mistress, Shirley Adams. If he had suffered any injuries at
the Biswangers’ they would be cured here. Love—sexual
roughhouse in fact—was the supreme elixir, the pain killer, the brightly colored pill that would put the spring
back into his step, the joy of life in his heart. They had had an affair last
week, last month, last year. He couldn’t remember. It was he
who had broken it off, his was the upper hand, and he stepped
through the gate of the wall that surrounded her pool with
nothing so considered as self-confidence. It seemed in a way to
be his pool, as the lover, particularly the illicit lover, enjoys the
possessions of his mistress with an authority unknown to holy
matrimony. She was there, her hair the color of brass,
but her figure, at the edge of the lighted, cerulean
water, excited in him no profound memories. It had been, he thought, a lighthearted
affair, although she had wept when he broke it off. She seemed confused to see him and he wondered
if she was still wounded. Would she, God forbid, weep again? “What do you want?” she asked. “I’m swimming across the county.” “Good Christ. Will you ever grow up?” “What’s the matter?” “If you’ve come here for money,” she
said, “I won’t give you another cent.” “You could give me a drink.” “I could but I won’t. I’m not alone.” “Well, I’m on my way.” He dove in and swam the pool, but when he
tried to haul himself up onto the curb he found that the
strength in his arms and shoulders had gone, and he paddled to
the ladder and climbed out. Looking over his shoulder he saw, in the lighted
bathhouse, a young man. Going out onto the dark lawn he
smelled chrysanthemums or marigolds—some stubborn autumnal
fragrance—on the night air,strong as gas. Looking overhead
he saw that the stars had come out, but why should he
seem to see Andromeda, Cepheus, and Cassiopeia? What had
become of the constellations of midsummer? He began to cry. It was probably the first time in his adult
life that he had ever cried, certainly the first time in his life
that he had ever felt so miserable, cold, tired, and bewildered. He could not understand
the rudeness of the caterer’s barkeep or the rudeness of a
mistress who had come to him on her knees and showered his
trousers with tears. He had swum too long, he had been immersed
too long, and his nose and his throat were sore from the water. What he needed then was a drink, some company,
and some clean, dry clothes, and while he could have cut directly
across the road to his home he went on to the Gilmartins’
pool. Here, for the first time in his life, he did
not dive but went down the steps into the icy water and
swam a hobbled sidestroke that he might have learned as a
youth. He staggered
with fatigue on his way to the Clydes’ and paddled the length
of their pool, stopping again and again with his hand on the
curb to rest. He climbed up the ladder and wondered if he
had the strength to get home. He had done what he wanted, he
had swum the county, but he was so stupefied with exhaustion
that his triumph seemed vague. Stooped, holding on to the
gateposts for support, he turned up the driveway of his own
house. The place was dark. Was it so late that they had all gone to
bed? Had Lucinda stayed at the Westerhazys’ for
supper? Had
the girls joined her there or gone someplace else? Hadn’t they
agreed, as they usually did on Sunday, to regret all their invitations
and stay at home? He tried the garage doors to see what
cars were in but the doors were locked and rust came off the
handles onto his hands. Going toward the house, he saw that
the force of the thunderstorm had knocked one of the rain
gutters loose. It hung down over the front door like an umbrella
rib, but it could be fixed in the morning. The house was
locked, and he thought that the stupid cook or the stupid maid
must have locked the place up until he remembered that it had
been some time since they had employed a maid or a cook. He
shouted, pounded on the door, tried to force it with his shoulder,
and then, looking in at the windows, saw that the place
was empty.

5 thoughts on “The Swimmer John Cheever (Full Audiobook)

  1. Your voice us soooooo perfect for this story!
    Maybe next you'll do Updike? Rabbit Run.. ..?! 😁😁😁😂

  2. when i got to the ending and u read that last sentence i was shook, and idk whats going on, like im more confused then before helppp

  3. This is my favorite short story ever, how people and neighbors and family turn on that someone that they can point at and shame and think, we are better than him so we must be ok, I got this one at st bonaventure, I hurl my self into pools Also, the man is a survivor and I write a continuation to his story everyday I draw breath, hank azaria would be my choice for the audio reading, his story is mine, and that feeling that you'll never be warm again I warn you ain't one
    you wanna feel

  4. This beloved epic reminds me of another close-to -heart short story: The Quest of Iranon by Lovecraft, also a swell You Tube audio book. (Both are dreamy-escapist, tragic futility, & Doom.)

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