Sleeveless Errand

Another dazzling and quick hit from the 1920s, this one published in 1929 by Norah James. A sleeveless errand is defined at the beginning from the Oxford Dictionary as “ending in, or leading to nothing” which is indeed how this one ends. The piercing first sentence “Philip resented her intensely at that moment” details the feelings of Paula’s now ex-lover who has just broken things off with her. She tries to hold back tears but fails, sobbing, saying that she has nothing to live for now. Once she gets out of his apartment, she staggers to a coffee shop where she drowns her tears in endless cups of coffee and meets another lost soul, Bill the architect who has just witnessed his wife’s infidelities with his friend. Paula leaves the coffee shop and Bill slips out after her, following to make sure she doesn’t fling herself into the river. He rushes up to her on the bridge and introduces himself, and they walk for a bit, both bonding over their mutual desire for suicide. Paula takes him to a few of her local spots, exposing him to other wives who have cheated to give him perspective for his own case. He (chastely) sleeps over, and they plan to rent a car the next day to drive over a cliff to their deaths. They reveal their backstories as they stay up all night in bed, alternating their out loud statements with their inner thoughts. The next day, Paula gets a will written, to be sent to her for signing at lunch. Much alcohol begins to be consumed, which does not deter the road trip. They stop in a field to finish Bill’s life story, then give a man (Percival) a lift to a town where he is a theater performer, only their car breaks down on the outskirts and they must stay the night while it is fixed, drinking and hanging with the theater troupe. The car is fixed by midnight, Bill retires to his room and Paula to hers where she determines that she can’t bring him with her, she goes to his room at 4 AM to whisper her reasons that he must go back to his wife and why she must die. She drives off before dawn, sits on the edge of the cliff soaking in its beauty, then lets it rip, plummeting from the cliff.