Free Women 2
‘But we’re not individuals for you at all. We are simply temporary shapes of something. Phases.’ And he laughed, angrily. Anna thought that this was the first time he had really laughed, and was encouraged. For a while they were both silent, while he fingered the notebooks, half-turned away from her, and she watched him, trying to calm herself, trying to breathe deeply and remain quiet and steady. But her palms were still wet; the thought kept coming into her mind: it’s as if I were fighting something, fighting some invisible enemy. She could almost see the enemy — something evil, she was sure of it; an almost tangible shape of malice and destruction, that stood between her and Tommy, trying to destroy them both.
She said at last: ‘I know what you’ve come here for. You’ve come so that I can tell you what we are alive for. But you know in advance what I’m likely to say, because you know me so well. So that means you’ve come here already knowing what I’m going to say — to confirm something.’ She added in a low voice, not meaning to say it: ‘That’s why I’m so frightened.’ It was an appeal; Tommy gave her a quick glance; it was an acknowledgement that she was right to be afraid.
He said stubbornly: ‘You’re going to tell me that in a month’s time I’ll feel differently. Suppose I don’t? Well tell me, Anna — what are we alive for?’ Now he was shaking with silent triumphant laughter, his back turned.
‘We’re a sort of latter-day stoic,’ said Anna. ‘Our kind of people.’
‘You’re including me in your kind of people? Thank you, Anna.’
‘Perhaps your trouble is, you have too many choices.’ The set of his shoulders said that he was listening, so she went on: ‘Through your father you can reach half a dozen different countries and almost any kind of work. Your mother and I could get you a dozen different sorts of job in the theatre or in publishing. Or you could spend five years or so pleasantly bumming about — your mother or I would pay for you, even if your father wouldn’t.’
‘A hundred things to do, but only one thing to be,’ he said, obstinately. ‘But perhaps I don’t feel myself worthy of such a wealth of opportunity? And perhaps I’m not a stoic, Anna — have you met Reggie Gates?’
‘The milkman’s son? No, but your mother has told me.’
‘Of course she has. I can almost hear her. The point is, and I’m sure she’s made it, he hasn’t any choice at all. He’s got a scholarship, and if he fails to make the exam, he’ll spend his life delivering milk with his father. But if he passes, and he will, he’ll be up in the middle-class with us. He hasn’t got a hundred opportunities. He’s got just one. But he really knows what he wants. He’s not suffering from paralysis of the will.’
‘You’re envying Reggie Gates for his handicaps?’