A Perfect Day for Bananafish
by J. D. Salinger
First published in The New Yorker, January 31, 1948, pages 21-25
...."Sybil," he said, "I'll tell you what we'll do. We'll see if we can catch a bananafish."
"A bananafish," he said, and undid the belt of his robe. He took off the robe. His shoulders were white and narrow, and his trunks were royal blue. He folded the robe, first lengthwise, then in thirds. He unrolled the towel he had used over his eyes, spread it out on the sand, and then laid the folded robe on top of it. He bent over, picked up the float, and secured it under his right arm. Then, with his left hand, he took Sybil's hand.
The two started to walk down to the ocean.
"I imagine you've seen quite a few bananafish in your day," the young man said.
Sybil shook her head.
"You haven't? Where do you live, anyway?"
"I don't know," said Sybil.
"Sure you know. You must know. Sharon Lipschutz knows where she lives and she's only three and a half."
Sybil stopped walking and yanked her hand away from him. She picked up an ordinary beach shell and looked at it with elaborate interest. She threw it down. "Whirly Wood, Connecticut," she said, and resumed walking, stomach foremost.
"Whirly Wood, Connecticut," said the young man. "Is that anywhere near Whirly Wood, Connecticut, by any chance?"
Sybil looked at him. "That's where I live," she said impatiently. "I live in Whirly Wood, Connecticut." She ran a few steps ahead of him, caught up her left foot in her left hand, and hopped two or three times.
"You have no idea how clear that makes everything," the young man said. ...
....They waded out till the water was up to Sybil's waist. Then the young man picked her up and laid her down on her stomach on the float.
"Don't you ever wear a bathing cap or anything?" he asked.
"Don't let go," Sybil ordered. "You hold me, now."
"Miss Carpenter. Please. I know my business," the young man said. "You just keep your eyes open for any bananafish. This is a perfect day for bananafish."
"I don't see any," Sybil said.
"That's understandable. Their habits are very peculiar." He kept pushing the float. The water was not quite up to his chest. "They lead a very tragic life," he said. "You know what they do, Sybil?"
She shook her head.
"Well, they swim into a hole where there's a lot of bananas. They're very ordinary-looking fish when they swim in. But once they get in, they behave like pigs. Why, I've known some bananafish to swim into a banana hole and eat as many as seventy-eight bananas." He edged the float and its passenger a foot closer to the horizon. "Naturally, after that they're so fat they can't get out of the hole again. Can't fit through the door."
"Not too far out," Sybil said. "What happens to them?"
"What happens to who?"
"Oh, you mean after they eat so many bananas they can't get out of the banana hole?"
"Yes," said Sybil.
"Well, I hate to tell you, Sybil. They die."
"Why?" asked Sybil.
"Well, they get banana fever. It's a terrible disease."
"Here comes a wave," Sybil said nervously.
"We'll ignore it. We'll snub it," said the young man. "Two snobs." He took Sybil's ankles in his hands and pressed down and forward. The float nosed over the top of the wave. The water soaked Sybil's blond hair, but her scream was full of pleasure.
With her hand, when the float was level again, she wiped away a flat, wet band of hair from her eyes, and reported, "I just saw one."
"Saw what, my love?"
"My God, no!" said the young man. "Did he have any bananas in his mouth?"
"Yes," said Sybil. "Six."
Read A Perfect Day for Bananafish in its entirety in J.D. Salinger's book, Nine Stories, available from Amazon.com