‘One Warm Saturday’ by Dylan Thomas

No writer’s short stories are more bursting with rude, salty life that those of Dylan Thomas, and ‘One Warm Saturday’ is a fine example. It’s the story of a Bank Holiday romance, infused with youthful longing and lust, as well as a sense of life’s inevitable disappointments waiting just around the corner. The tale begins with Jack, ‘a young man in a sailor’s jersey, sitting near the summer huts to see the brown and white women coming out and the groups of pretty-faced girls with pale vees and scorched backs who picked their way delicately on ugly, red-toed feet over the sharp stones to the sea’. When he meets the earthy Lou later in the pub, he’s persuaded by the shifty Mr O’Brien – the man she lives with – to take a bottle back to her place. The story’s power comes from the distance between Jack’s naivety and the reader’s knowledge of the worldly people he becomes entangled with over the course of a boozy evening. For Jack, Lou is ‘a wise, soft girl whom no hard company could spoil for her soft self’, but we fear the worst. When he goes to visit the ‘House of Commons’ – a toilet on the floor below – he returns to find a night of erotic promise reduced to ashes, with Lou and everyone else suddenly vanished. The lush imagery of the opening paragraphs morphs into some of the most barren lines ever to finish a story: ‘Up the rotten, bruising, mountainous stairs he climbed, in his sickness, to the passage where he had left the the one light burning in an end room…The light of the one weak lamp in a rusty circle fell across  the brick heaps and the broken wood and the dust that had been houses once’.

First published in Life and Letters Today, 1940, and collected in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog, JM Dent & Sons, 1940, most recent edition from Weidenfeld & Nicholson. Also in the Collected Stories and Omnibus

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