The Black Notebook
Edwina Wright, forty-five or fifty; a plump, pink-and-white woman, with iron-grey hair, curled and shining; gleaming blue-grey lids; shining pink lips; shining pale-pink nails. A suit of soft blue, very expensive. An expensive woman. Easy chatty friendliness over the martinis. She has three. I, two. She swallows hers down, she really has to have them. She leads the talk to English literary personalities, finding out which I know personally. I know hardly anyone. Trying to place me. Finally she pigeon-holes me - smiling and saying: ‘One of my dearest friends meeting’ (mentioning an American writer) ‘… always tells me he hates … other writers. I think he’s got a very interesting future.’ We go into the dining-room. Warm, comfortable, discreet. Seated she looks around, for one second off guard: her crinkling painted lids narrowing, her pink mouth slightly open - she is looking for somebody or something. Then she assumes a regretful, sad look, which however, must be genuine, because she says, meaning it: ‘I love England. I love coming to England. I make excuses to be sent here.’ I wonder if this hotel is ‘England’ for her; but she looks too shrewd and intelligent for that. She asks me if I’d like another martini; I am going to refuse, then see she wants one; I say yes. A tension starts in my stomach; then I see it is her tension, communicating itself to me. I look at the controlled defensive handsome face and I’m sorry for her. I understand her life very well. She orders dinner - she is solicitous, tactful. It is like being taken out by a man. Yet she is not at all masculine; it is that she is used to controlling situations like this. I can feel how this role is not natural to her, what it costs her to play it. While we wait for the melon, she lights a cigarette. She sits, lids lowered, the cigarette dangling, surveying the room again. Her face flashes into relief, which she instantly masks; then she nods and smiles to an American who has come in and is sitting ordering dinner by himself in a corner of the room. He wags a hand back at her, she smiles, the smoke curling up past her eyes. She turns back to me, concentrating on me with an effort. She seems suddenly much older. I like her very much. I see, vividly, how later that night she will be in her room, wearing something over-feminine. Yes, I see flowered chiffon, something like that… yes, because of the strain of having to play this role in her working day. And she will even look at the chiffon ruffles and make some wisecrack about it to herself. But she is waiting. Then the discreet knock on the door. She opens it, with a joke. They are both by then blurred and amiable with alcohol. Another drink. Then the dry and measured coupling.