The Yellow Notebook
She understood that Paul had said something about his wife. It took some moments for this to sink in. He also said he had two children. She felt a shock, but did not let it disturb her confidence in the moment. The way he spoke of his wife, which was hurried and almost irritable, told Ella he did not love her. She was using the word ‘love’ already, and with a naïvety quite foreign to her normal way of analysing relationships. She even imagined he must be separated from his wife, if he could speak of her so casually.
He made love to her. Ella thought, Well he’s right, it is the right moment, here, where it’s beautiful. Her body held too many memories of her husband for her to lack tensions. But soon she gave herself up, and in confidence, because their bodies understood each other. (But it was only later, she would use a phrase like ‘our bodies understood each other’. At the time, she was thinking: We understand each other.) Yet once, opening her eyes, she saw his face, and it held a hard, almost ugly look. And she shut her eyes not to see it, and was happy in the movements of love. Afterwards, she saw his face turned away, and the hard look again. She instinctively moved away from him, but his hand on her belly held her down. He said, half-teasing: ‘You’re much too thin.’ She laughed, without hurt, because the way his hand lay on her flesh told her he liked her as she was. And she liked herself, naked. It was a frail, slight body, with sharp edges to the shoulders and knees, but her breasts and stomach glistened white, and her small feet were delicate and white. Often she had wanted to be different, had longed to be larger, fuller, rounder, ‘more of a woman’, but the way his hand touched her cancelled all that and she was happy. He kept his hand’s soft pressure on her vulnerable stomach for moments, then suddenly withdrew it and began to dress. She, feeling abandoned, began to dress also. She was suddenly unaccountably close to tears, and her body again seemed too thin and light. He asked: ‘How long since you slept with a man?’
She was confused, wondering: George, he means? But he didn’t count, I didn’t love him. I hated him touching me. ‘I don’t know,’ she said, and as she spoke understood he meant that she had slept with him out of hunger. Her face began to burn and she got quickly up off the rug, turning her face away, and then said, in a voice which sounded ugly to herself: ‘Not since last week. I picked up a man at a party and brought him home with me.’ She was looking for words from her memories of the girls at the canteen, during the war. She found them, and said: ‘A nice piece of flesh, he was.’ She got into the car, slamming the door. He threw the rug into the back of the car, got hastily in, and began the business of reversing the car back and forth so as to get it facing out of the field.