A year ago, for the month of June, I wrote about an online short story each day for the month. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.
Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.
Today’s story, for day Seven – This Sandwich Has No Mayonnaise, by J.D. Salinger
Read it online here:
This Sandwich Has No Mayonnaise
So you’ve read Catcher in the Rye, I know you have. Everyone has. Everyone has to – it is a requirement.
And it doesn’t matter if you liked it, or respected it, or hated it… you know Holden Caulfield. If you let your mind go fuzzy for a second Holden ceases to be a literary character and becomes someone you knew, or thought you knew, or was yourself… when you were that age.
Even though everybody reads Catcher in the Rye, most folks don’t read the rest of J. D. Salinger’s writing. Oh, some drudge through Franny and Zooey, or pick up Nine Stories – but most don’t. Beyond that there are the published but “uncollected” stories. These are not readily available in print form – but there is the web – the ultimate source of all wisdom.
So I’ll bet that you, probably, don’t know what happened to Holden Caulfield.
Read the story first, It’s not very long. It’s protagonist is Vincent Caufield, Holden’s brother, as he attempts to solve a problem, a dilemma, involving a truckload of soldiers in a terrrific rainstorm in Georgia one evening. A sticky situation, but Vincent is only half thinking about it… he is mostly thinking about his brother.
So read it, now, and then come back so I can talk about it. Beware, spoilers ahead. Go on, read it.
So, Holden Caulfield is dead, (don’t let missing in action fool you, he never appears anywhere again). He’s dead at nineteen, only two years after Catcher in the Rye. Not only that, but This Sandwich Has no Mayonnaise was published six years before Catcher in the Rye – so J. D. Salinger already knew Holden was dead when he wrote the famous book.
How could he do that? How could he be so mean?
Easy, it’s easy. It’s because there is no such thing as Holden Caulfield. He’s completely imaginary. You can kill him, torture him, drive him crazy, leave him old and infirm in an Idaho rest home – anything you want. It doesn’t matter because it never really happens.
As for the reader… do you want to think that Holden survived? Do you want to believe that he eventually appeared somewhere, a little shell-shocked but otherwise as confused and loveable as ever? Well, go ahead and believe it – it’s at true as anything else – this is fiction of the highest order, which is all simply a pack of carefully crafted and well-told lies.
Just be glad you are not in the story, though. Because his brother is stuck there, and for him, Holden is gone, and it’s killing him.
“Gotta wait for the lieutenant,” I tell him. I feel my elbow getting wet and bring it in out of the downpour. Who swiped my raincoat? With all my letters in the left-hand pocket. My letters from Red, from Phoebe, from Holden. From Holden. Aw, listen, I don’t care about the raincoat being swiped, but how about leaving my letters alone? He’s only nineteen years old, my brother is, and the dope can’t reduce a thing to a humor, kill it off with a sarcasm, can’t do anything but listen hectically to the maladjusted little apparatus he wears for a heart. My missing-in-action brother. Why don’t they leave people’s raincoats alone?
Inside the Mind of a Young J.D. Salinger