The Yellow Notebook
From this world, thought Ella, came no letters to the oracles of the women’s magazines. The door opened in on the brisk, kindly face of Mrs West. She said: ‘So here you are at last,’ and took Ella’s coat. The hall was pretty and clean and practical — Mrs West’s world. She said: ‘My husband tells me you’ve been having another brush with him over his lunatic fringe. It’s good of you to take so much trouble over these people.’ ‘It’s my job,’ said Ella. ‘I’m paid for it.’ Mrs West smiled, with a kindly tolerance. She resented Ella. Not because she worked with her husband — no, this was too crude an emotion for Mrs West. Ella had not understood Mrs West’s resentment until one day she had used the phrase: You career girls. It was a phrase so discordant, like ‘lunatic fringe’ and ‘these people’ that Ella had been unable to reply to it. And now Mrs West had made a point of letting her know that her husband discussed his work with her, establishing wifely rights. In the past, Ella had said to herself: But she’s a nice woman, in spite of everything. Now, angry, she said: She’s not a nice woman. These people are all dead and damned, with their disinfecting phrases, lunatic fringe and career girls. I don’t like her and I’m not going to pretend I do … She followed Mrs West into the living-room, which held faces she knew. The woman for whom she worked at the magazine, for instance. She was also middle-aged, but smart and well-dressed, with bright curling grey hair. She was a professional woman, her appearance part of her job, unlike Mrs West, who was pleasant to look at, but not at all smart. Her name was Patricia Brent, and the name was also part of her profession — Mrs Patricia Brent, editress. Ella went to sit by Patricia, who said: ‘Dr West’s been telling us you’ve been quarrelling with him over his letters.’ Ella looked swiftly around, and saw people smiling expectantly. The incident had been served up as party fare, and she was expected to play along with it a little, then allow the thing to be dropped. But there must not be any real discussion, or discordance. Ella said smiling: ‘Hardly quarrelling.’ She added, on a carefully plaintive-humorous note, which was what they were waiting for: ‘But it’s very depressing, after all, these people you can’t do anything for.’ She saw she had used the phrase, these people, and was angry and dispirited. I shouldn’t have come, she thought. These people (meaning, this time, the Wests and what they stood for) only tolerate you if you’re like them.