‘The Worst Moment of the Day’ by Shirley Hazzard

There are too many brilliant things in this story for me to do it any justice, so let me just draw your attention to what Hazzard sees when she raises her eyes, and her writing, upward. Of a character holidaying in Tuscany, she tells us:

He had never experienced such a sky. In England, where heaven is a low-hung, personal affair, thoroughly identified with the King James Version, a sky such as this would not have been tolerated for a moment. It was a high, pagan explosion of a sky, promising indulgence for all kinds of offences to which he had not the slightest inclination. He felt, beneath it, exposed and ridiculed…

There’s so much in the air here: the man’s ambivalence about judgment and pleasure; his longing for, and shrinking from, freedom. In one glance we see more than a page of exposition could reveal. And some of us would simply have written that the sky was bright, or blue. 

First published in The New Yorker, September, 1961and available to subscribers to read here. Collected in Cliffs of Fall, Knpof, 1963. Now available as a Virago Modern Classic, 2005 and 2011