The Free Women 1
‘It’s a pleasure,’ said Anna. ‘But do you know something? I discovered while you were away that for a lot of people you and I are practically interchangeable.’
‘You’ve only just understood that?’ said Molly, triumphant as always when Anna came up with — as far as she was concerned — facts that were self-evident.
In this relationship a balance had been struck early on: Molly was altogether more worldly-wise than Anna who, for her part, had a superiority of talent.
Anna held her own private views. Now she smiled, admitting that she had been very slow.
‘When we’re so different in every way,’ said Molly, ‘it’s odd. I suppose because we both live the same kind of life — not getting married and so on. That’s all they see.’
‘Free women,’ said Anna, wryly. She added, with an anger new to Molly, so that she earned another quick scrutinizing glance from her friend: ‘They still define us in terms of relationships with men, even the best of them.’
‘Well, we do, don’t we?’ said Molly, rather tart. ‘Well, it’s awfully hard not to,’ she amended, hastily, because of the look of surprise Anna now gave her. There was a short pause, during which the women did not look at each other but reflected that a year apart was a long time, even for an old friendship.
Molly said at last, sighing: ‘Free. Do you know, when I was away, I was thinking about us, and I’ve decided that we’re a completely new type of woman. We must be, surely?’
‘There’s nothing new under the sun,’ said Anna, in an attempt at a German accent. Molly, irritated — she spoke half a dozen languages well — said: ‘There’s nothing new under the sun,’ in a perfect reproduction of a shrewd old woman’s voice, German accented.
Anna grimaced, acknowledging failure. She could not learn languages, and was too self-conscious ever to become somebody else: for a moment Molly had even looked like Mother Sugar, otherwise Mrs Marks, to whom both had gone for psycho-analysis. The reservations both had felt about the solemn and painful ritual were expressed by the pet name, ‘Mother Sugar’; which, as time passed, became a name for much more than a person, and indicated a whole way of looking at life — traditional, rooted, conservative, in spite of its scandalous familiarity with everything amoral. In spite of — that was how Anna and Molly, discussing the ritual, had felt it; recently Anna had been feeling more and more it was because of; and this was one of the things she was looking forward to discussing with her friend.