The Yellow Notebook
[The yellow notebook continued.]
THE SHADOW OF THE THIRD
It was Patricia Brent, editress, who suggested Ella should spend a week in Paris. Because it was Patricia, Ella’s instinct was to refuse immediately. ‘Mustn’t let them get us down,’ she had said, the ‘them’ being men. In short, Patricia was over-eager to welcome Ella into the club of forlorn women; there was kindness in it, but also a private satisfaction. Ella said she thought it was a waste of time to go to Paris. The pretext was that she must interview the editor of a similar French magazine in order to buy the rights of a serial story for Britain. The story, Ella said, might be right for the housewives of Vaugirard; but it was wrong for the housewives of Brixton. ‘It’s a free holiday,’ said Patricia, tart because she knew Ella was rejecting more than a Paris trip. After a few days Ella changed her mind. She had been reminded that it was over a year since Paul had left her and that everything she did, said, or felt, still referred to him. Her life was shaped around a man who would not return to her. She must liberate herself. This was an intellectual decision, unbacked by moral energy. She was listless and flat. It was as if Paul had taken with him, not only all her capacity for joy, but also her will. She said she would go to Paris, like a bad patient agreeing at last to take medicine, but insisting to the doctor that: ‘Of course it won’t do me any good.’
It was April; Paris as always, charming; and Ella took a room in the modest hotel on the Left Bank she had last been in, two years before with Paul. She fitted herself into the room, leaving space for him. It was only when she saw what she was doing that it occurred to her that she should not be in this hotel at all. But it seemed too much effort to leave it and find another. It was still early in the evening. Below her tall windows Paris was animated with greening trees and strolling people. It took Ella nearly an hour to get herself out of the room and into a restaurant to eat. She ate hastily, feeling exposed; and walked home with her eyes kept deliberately preoccupied. Nevertheless two men good-humouredly greeted her, and both times she froze into nervous annoyance, and walked on with hastening steps. She got into her bedroom and locked the door as if against a danger. Then she sat at the window and thought that five years before the dinner alone would have been pleasant because of its solitariness, and because of the possibilities of an encounter; and the walk home from the restaurant alone delightful. And she would certainly have had a cup of coffee or a drink with one or other of the two men. So what had happened to her? It was true that with Paul she had taught herself never to look at a man, even casually, because of his jealousy; she was, with him, like a protected indoors woman from a Latin country. But she had imagined this was an outward conformity to save him from self-inflicted pain. Now she saw that her whole personality had changed.