The escape of Mr. Flitcraft
From Claudia Roth Pierpont’s “Tough Guy: The mystery of Dashiell Hammett” (The New Yorker [11 February 2002]: 70):
There is one section of “The Maltese Falcon” that could not be filmed, and for many readers it is the most important story Hammett ever told. A dreamlike interruption in events, it is a parable that Spade relates to Brigid about a man called Flitcraft, dutiful husband and father of two, who was nearly hit by a falling beam while walking to lunch one day. Instead of going back to work, Flitcraft disappeared. “He went like that,” Spade says, in what may be Hammett’s most unexpected and beautiful phrase, “like a fist when you open your hand.” His narrow escape had taught this sane and orderly man that life is neither orderly nor sane, that all our human patterns are merely imposed, and he went away in order to fall in step with life. He was not unkind; the love he bore his family “was not of the sort that would make absence painful,” and he left plenty of money behind. He travelled for a while, Spade relates, but he ended up living in a city near the one he’d fled, selling cars and playing golf, with a second wife hardly different from the first. The moral: one can attempt to adjust one’s life to falling beams but will readjust as soon as the shock wears off.