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Authors: Patricia Highsmith

A Game for the Living

BOOK: A Game for the Living

A Game

for the Living


Patricia Highsmith


Strangers on a Train

The Blunderer

The Talented Mr

Deep Water

A Game for the Living

The Cry of the Owl

This Sweet Sickness

The Two Faces of January

The Glass Cell

A Suspension of Mercy

Those Who Walk Away

The Tremor of Forgery

Ripley Under Ground

A Dog's Ransom

Ripley's Game

Edith's Diary

The Boy Who Followed Ripley

People Who Knock on the Door

Found in the Street

Ripley Under Water



The Animal-Lover's Book of Beastly Murder

Little Tales of Misogyny

Slowly, Slowly in the Wind

The Black House

Mermaids on the Golf Course

Tales of Natural and Unnatural Catastrophes

A Game

for the Living

Patricia Highsmith

Grove Press

New York

Copyright © 1958 by Patricia Highsmith

Cover artwork by Elena Climent

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Scanning, uploading, and electronic distribution of this book or the facilitation of such without the permission of the publisher is prohibited. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated. Any member of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use, or anthology, should send inquiries to Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 154 West 14th Street, New York, NY 10011 or
[email protected]

Published simultaneously in Canada

Printed in the United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Highsmith, Patricia

A game for the living.

I. Title.

PS3558.I366G36 1988 813
.54 87-30668

ISBN 978-0-8021-2222-3

eISBN 978-0-8021-9280-6

Grove Press

an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

154 West 14th Street

New York, NY 10011

Distributed by Publishers Group West

To my friend and teacher, Ethel Sturtevant, Assistant Professor of English at Barnard College from 1911 to 1948, I affectionately dedicate this book, with a hope that it may add diversion to a very long and happy retirement

And my gratitude to Dorothy Hargreaves and to Mary McCurdy

for their empathy and for their house


Faith has taken all chances into account
if you are willing to understand that you must love, then is your love eternally secure

—S. K

Just as Theodore had thought, something was going on at the Hidalgos'. He looked up at the four lighted windows on the second floor, from which came an inviting murmur of voices and laughter, shifted his heavy portfolio so that it balanced a little better under his right arm, and debated for the second time whether to ring the Hidalgos' bell or to look for another taxi and go straight home.

It would be chilly at home, the furniture covered with sheets. Inocenza, his maid, was still visiting her family in Durango, because he had not written her that he was coming back. And after all, it was barely midnight, the eve of the Fifth of February, a national holiday. Nobody worked tomorrow. On the other hand, he was burdened with a suitcase, a portfolio of drawings, and a roll of canvas. He hadn't been invited, either, though with the Hidalgos that didn't really matter.

Or would he rather call on Lelia? He had thought of it earlier, on the plane from Oaxaca, and he did not know what impulse had brought him to the Hidalgos'. He had written Lelia that he would be back in Mexico, D.F., tonight, and perhaps she was even waiting for him. She had no telephone. But she did not mind his dropping in at any hour, unless she was painting. Lelia was so good-natured! He decided to call on the Hidalgos, and to see Lelia later, if it did not become too late.

He walked to the door, put his suitcase down, and pressed the Hidalgos' bell firmly. He did not ring again, though it was at least two minutes before someone came to the door. It was Isabel Hidalgo.

“Theodore, you're back!” she greeted him in English. Then in Spanish: “Come in. How nice to see you. Come up. The house is full of people.”

“Thank you, Isabel. I've just flown in from Oaxaca.”

“How exciting!” Isabel went directly into the living-room, waved an arm, and announced: “Theodore's here! Carlos, Theodore's here!”

Theodore set his suitcase down as unobtrusively as he could in the little foyer, leaned his portfolio against it, and stood the roll of canvases up beside the suitcase.

Carlos came into the foyer, carrying a drink. He was wearing one of his boldly patterned tweed jackets. “Don Teodoro!” he cried, embracing Theodore with one arm. “Welcome! Come in and have a drink!”

Most of the guests were men, gathered in little knots in the corners and on the two square studio couches as if they had been talking in the same places for a long while. Theodore knew less than half of them, and didn't want to be presented to every single person, but Carlos, with his ebullient energy that always increased when he drank, took him around to every man, woman, and child—though the two children, both blond American children, happened to be asleep at the back of a studio couch against the wall.

“Don't wake them, don't wake them,” Theodore protested quickly.

“Where've you been keeping yourself?” Carlos asked.

“I've been in Oaxaca, you know,” Theodore said, smiling. “I've painted half a dozen pictures in the last month.”

“Let's see them!” Carlos's face lighted with his big smile.

“Oh, not now. There's not enough room. But I had a splendid time. I even—” He stopped, because Carlos had rushed off somewhere, perhaps to get him a drink.

Theodore turned slowly round, looking for a place to sit down. He glanced at a woman coming in from the hall, with a faint hope she might be Lelia, but she was not. Somebody jostled him. The room was full of the bland smoke of American cigarettes. There were five or six American men in the room, probably professors and instructors from Mexico City College or Ciudad Universidad, where Carlos Hidalgo taught stage direction. On a small table by one of the studio couches stood several bottles of gin and whisky and some glasses.

Carlos, with a fresh drink that was perhaps for him and his own dark, half-finished glass, was making his way across the room from the kitchen, tossing a few words at everybody. He was twenty-nine, but he looked younger with his smooth, compact face that made one think of a handsome little boy aged about ten. Theodore supposed that it was this boyish quality that had attracted Isabel, who was a bit older, but what a shame that it was a spoiled-boyishness, he thought. Carlos rated himself high in regard to women, and before he had married Isabel—who was as quiet a girl as a rake might have been expected to choose for a wife—he had had at least a dozen affairs a year. He had used to tell Theodore about them. Theodore preferred to hear him talk about his work, always hoping to see progress from the rather indiscriminate enthusiasm typical of Mexican directors, actors and playwrights to something approaching refinement. Carlos said, however, that one could not put on restrained drama in Mexico. The people just didn't appreciate it or understand it. Carlos finally reached him, thrust the glass of whisky and soda into his hand, and dashed off again, calling to his wife.

Seeing two men whom he knew slightly standing by a window, Theodore went over and said: “Good evening, Don Ignacio. How are you this evening?”

Sr. Ignacio Ortiz y Guzman B. was a director of one of the government-supported art galleries in the city. Once here at Carlos's house, months ago, he and Theodore had had a long talk about painting. The other man was Vicente something or other, and Theodore had forgotten what he did, though he had once known.

“Are you painting these days?” asked Ortiz y Guzman B.

“Yes. I've just returned from a month of painting in Oaxaca,” Theodore replied.

Ortiz y Guzman B. looked at him but might not have heard him. The man named Vicente was graciously lighting the cigarette of a woman near him.

There was an awkward silence, in which Theodore could think of nothing to say. The two men began to talk to each other again. Theodore was reminded of other moments at parties and dinners when something he said—granted, not of much importance—had been completely ignored as if it had been either inaudible or an unspeakable obscenity. He wondered if it happened to other people as often as it happened to him. More insignificant-looking men than he were listened to, no matter how stupid their remarks were, he thought. Now the two men were talking about somebody Theodore did not know, and it occurred to Theodore too late that Ortiz y Guzman B. might have been interested to know that he had been asked to show four paintings in a group show in May at one of the I.N.B.A. galleries. After a moment, Theodore drifted away and stood by a wall. Perhaps being ignored did not happen more often to him than anybody else.

Theodore Wolfgang Schiebelhut was thirty-three, slender and tall, especially tall compared to the average Mexican. His blond hair, streaked with light brown, lay close to the sides of his head and was rather bushy on top, and unparted. He carried himself well, smiled easily, and there was a lightness in his walk and his manner which gave him an air of youth and cheerfulness, even if he happened to be in a depressed mood. Most people thought of him as cheerful, though all his conscious ideas were those of a pessimist. Polite by nature and training, he concealed his depressions from everyone. His moods usually had no causes that he or anybody else could discover, and so he felt he was not entitled to show them in the social system of things. He believed the world had no meaning, no end but nothingness, and that man's achievements were all finally perishable—cosmic jokes, like man himself. Believing this, he believed as a matter of course that one ought to make the most of what one had, a little time, a little life, try to be as happy as possible and to make others happy if one could. Theodore thought he was as happy as anyone logically could be in an age when atomic bombs and annihilation hung over everybody's head, though the word ‘logically' troubled him in this context. Could one be logically happy? Was there ever anything logical about it?

“Teo, we're so glad you dropped in,” Isabel Hidalgo said to him. “Carlos said this morning he thought you were due back, and we wanted you to come tonight. We rang up your house earlier.”

“Must have been a case of telepathy,” Theodore said, smiling. “Carlos looks tired. Is he working too hard?”

“Yes. As usual. Everybody says he should take a rest.” Her blue-grey eyes looked up at him rather sadly, in spite of her smile. “Now
they're rehearsing
at the Universidad in addition to his classes. He takes on more and more. He worked late even tonight, and no dinner, and then he comes home and the drinks go right to his head.”

Theodore smiled tolerantly and shrugged, though Carlos's drinking was a problem at social gatherings. The presence of people seemed to excite him, and he drank liquor as if it were water. He was not very drunk yet, but Isabel knew it was coming, and was already putting forth explanations. As for his taking on more and more, Theodore knew that was more a manifestation of egotism than of energy. Carlos liked to see his name on as many programmes and posters as he could manage. “I don't suppose Lelia's coming tonight,” Theodore said.

“She certainly was invited,” Isabel said quickly. “Carlos!—Weren't you supposed to pick up Lelia?”

“Yes!” Carlos cried across the room in his loud voice. “But she phoned me at the Universidad at noon and said she couldn't come. No doubt because she was expecting
tonight, Teo.” Carlos smiled and winked, swaying in time to a Cuban dance record he had put on the gramophone.

“I see. Has she—” But Carlos had already turned his back and was bending over the gramophone. Theodore had been going to ask if Lelia had done any painting for him. She occasionally painted backdrops for his plays at the Universidad. He did not want to ask Isabel anything about Lelia, because Isabel knew—or
know—that Carlos was very attracted to Lelia. Carlos had made a fool of himself with Lelia on several occasions, once in the presence of Isabel, who had pretended not to notice.

“Excuse me, Teo,” Isabel said, touching Theodore's sleeve with a nervous hand. “People at the door.” She went away.

Theodore watched Carlos thrusting a drink into the hands of a woman who was firmly but unsuccessfully refusing. It occurred to him that Lelia had phoned Carlos in advance, to avoid an argument over not coming to the party once he had arrived at her apartment. It was nearly impossible to make Carlos take no for an answer. Theodore looked up at a suspended mobile whose pieces seemed about to strike each other but never did, and thought how strange it was that in a room full of artists and writers and professors he could feel so isolated. Even the Americans with halting Spanish were faring better, he saw. He had been happier on the plane an hour or so ago, anticipating the welcome he would get if he telephoned Ramón or dropped in on the Hidalgos or Lelia. Theodore was quite fond of Carlos, but how often really had they had a satisfying, illuminating discussion about anything?
Theodore thought a little bitterly, remembering a conversation concerning the meaning of faith which had stopped exactly where Theodore had stopped, perforce, when he had been trying to think further for himself. There were answers that only time could bring, he supposed, and Carlos was young, but Theodore expected something also to come out of two individuals who put their heads together. Carlos seemed always to be in a state of over-excitement, as if he had just swallowed a half dozen benzedrines. One couldn't keep him on a subject for more than a minute. He jumped from a discussion of a Tennessee Williams play to the scenic designing of some Frenchman, to a Sarah Bernhardt recording he had heard at the Universidad, to a play a student had written for which he was contemplating asking government funds to produce. It might be stimulating, but it was unsatisfactory. And could art come from all that excitement? Wasn't art—most of it—emotion recollected in tranquillity? Even for a Latin? Theodore smiled at his own intensity. The smile brought an answering smile and a nod from a reddish-haired man Theodore did not know. Somehow this decided him. He'd go to see Lebia before it got any later. She did not usually go to bed before one, and even in bed she read for a while.

Theodore glanced around—and he would have said goodbye to Carlos and Isabel if they had seen him, though he was relieved not to have to argue with Carlos about his leaving—then walked to the foyer, picked up his portfolio, suitcase, and canvases and let himself out.

He struggled two blocks to the Avenida de los Insurgentes and got a
after a short wait. A last-minute hesitation as to whether to take the taxi home, which was nearer, or to Lelia's, then, “
Granaditas! Numero cien' vient'y siete. Cuatro pesos. Está bien?

The driver grumbled over the suitcase and the lateness of the hour and the fact that it was a holiday eve, demanded five pesos, and Theodore agreed and got in.

It was a cool, crisp night. Ordinarily, the drive would have been no more than ten minutes from the Hidalgos', but tonight the downtown section was full of pedestrians and automobiles from Juarez to the Zócalo. The driver seemed to aim for the most congested streets just to slow them up.

A rowdy face poked itself through the window at a traffic stop and said: “Any person here named Maria?”

There was a burst of laughter from half a dozen young men's throats, and the drunken face was dragged back.

Theodore, who had started up on the edge of his seat, providently raised his window a little. Many people would be drunk tonight, especially in the section where he was going, behind the Zócalo. He had a present for Lelia, he remembered suddenly, and he began to imagine showing her his drawings and paintings tonight, and he sat up again and told the driver to hurry. Lelia was such a good listener, such a good critic, such a good mistress! She was what every man needed, Theodore thought, and so seldom found, a woman who was good to look at, a good companion, a woman who listened and encouraged, who even knew how to cook, and above all was good-natured about such things as moodiness, spells of solitude, and impulses that sent him flying to her at four in the morning, sometimes because he felt suicidal, sometimes because he felt unbearably happy and had to share it with her. Useless to try to think of such a woman as exemplifying an abstract ideal. There was only Lelia. Perhaps there was no one like her in the whole world.

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