John Updike

I have read most of the short stores that John Updike has published in The New Yorker. And they are by and large wonderful. For years, I have been trying to track down one of them in order to read again. It must have been published in The New Yorker, as I don’t think I’ve ever read any of his stories in another periodical or in one of his several collections.

In this story, as I recall it, a young man sees a beautiful woman on a bus. Or is it on a subway? I think he is also on the bus or subway with the woman standing or maybe sitting some distance away. Or does he see her from the street or platform as the bus/subway is passing by? I can’t be sure now. Understand that it was a long time ago that I read the story. Or think I read it.

The young man goes in search of the woman after she leaves the bus/subway. Of course, he cannot find her. But still she lingers in his mind and we begin to learn more about her as Updike in his special way describes what it will or, more exactly, it would have been like, once they met.

Did I actually read such a story? Maybe I dreamed it or elaborated it from a similar one by Updike. And was it even by Updike? That has always been my unconfirmed belief. It could not have been Roth. Or Salinger. I have never been able to locate the story again. One night I spent a couple of hours at Powell’s Bookstore in Portland, Oregon trying to find it in the many volumes of Updike short stores that this remarkable bookstore has in its Updike collection.

I scanned through the titles and contents of each of the stories I thought might be the one. But I could not find it. Perhaps I went through the volumes too quickly. Or perhaps it wasn’t Updike or anyone else who wrote this story. Rather, it is simply one I had concocted.

For I have often had that experience--one where I see a lovely woman off in the distance and I have imagined the good times we would have together. Usually I see her on a bus, stopped at an intersection while I am standing on the street. Usually, it is in Paris. Soon the bus moves on. Never once has she gotten off the bus. So I’ve never been presented with the chance to follow after her, not that I ever would. I am sure that is most fortunate.

Is this a common experience? Have you ever seen a person off in the distance who you would like to befriend? Or have you had such a dream? And if you have read this Updike story, by all means let me know.

In commenting on the closing of The Twenty Third Avenue Books in Portland, I made note of the following comment by Richard Powers:

“There’s a scene in Plowing where one of the people in Seattle goes into an enormous used bookstore, looking for a book that had moved him as a child and that he had been looking for since the age of nine. It’s a story about a boy whose drawings somehow come alive, and he’s never been able to find this book again. What the writer knows is that the profession that he’s entered into, and the life that he’s taken on, is exactly the desire to recreate this story that he’s never been able to find again.”

So I should get with it and write the story that I am unable to find. It won’t be anywhere near as elegant as Updike’s. That is impossible. But at least my search will be over.