‘The Kimono’ by H. E. Bates

I have a strange hardback, The Best of H.E. Bates, published for the American market in 1963, with a preface from—of all the unlikely American writers to introduce H.E. Bates—Henry Miller. (It seems clear to me that the sorts of American readers who would’ve liked Bates would’ve turned tail at Henry Miller’s name, and Miller fans would’ve been nonplussed by Bates squarely-made, well-made, often rather straightforwardly English stories.)

I bought it more than twenty years ago on a summer’s day in Provincetown on Cape Cod. My not-yet-wife was then working as an au pair. Provincetown is of course an American vacation spot of long standing, a terminal vacation spot—you must go back the way you came—and the Cape is written about by writers as far from one another as Thoreau, Henry Beston, Cookie Mueller. So maybe the place of purchase is the only real reason why I thought of ‘The Kimono’ for this list. Or maybe I thought of this Bates story—the only one from that thick book to linger in my mind—because it’s a story that hinges on very hot weather. 

Or perhaps I’m sending it because it’s a story about people who are never really on holiday, and so for whom the idea of escape becomes unbearable. Arthur Lawson narrates: a very middle-of-the-road type from Nottingham, in great, big, new, vast 1911 London to interview with a firm of electrical engineers. Arthur becomes lost and goes into a shop for an ice in a drab part of London. In the shop there’s a woman bending over a broken cooler. She’s wearing a poorly fastened kimono. That’s all I can say—I’ve already said too much. But I’ve never forgotten it, and never let the book slip away, entirely on account of that one story. Or maybe when and where I bought it, which, at this remove amount almost to the same thing.

First published in 1936 and collected in Something Short and Sweet, Jonathan Cape, 1937 and widely thereafter. Picked by Drew Johnson. Drew’s fiction has appeared in Harper’sVQRThe Literary ReviewNew England Review and elsewhere. You can read his full Personal Anthology here.

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