Somewhere in England, I so want to believe, lives a jazz-loving, relentlessly honest, incisively bright, deeply sentimental 78-year-old woman named Esmé who long ago befriended an American GI in a tea shop on the eve of the D-Day invasion.
They only talked for half an hour — this self-confident and vulnerable 13-year-old girl, a war orphan, and this Army sergeant, who, in civilian life, had published a few fledgling short stories — chaperoned by her governess and her young brother, Charles. They never met again, although they exchanged letters, but somehow this chance encounter mattered deeply to both of them.
Maybe it was the way that Esmé told him, with the frankness and gravity of youth, “I’d be extremely flattered if you would write a story exclusively for me sometime. I’m an avid reader.” The soldier promised that he would, although he warned that he was not terribly prolific.
Though for my money Salinger’s best short story is still The Laughing Man.