The Yellow Notebook
For some time she sat, listless, at the window, watching the darkening but blossoming city, and told herself she should make herself walk through its streets, and force herself into talking to people; she should let herself be picked up and flirt a little. But she understood she was as incapable of walking down the hotel stairs, leaving her key at the desk and going into the streets, as if she had just served a prison sentence for four years in solitary confinement and then been told to behave normally. She went to bed. She was unable to sleep. She put herself to sleep, as always, by thinking of Paul. She had never, since he had left her, been able to achieve a vaginal orgasm; she was able to reach the sharp violence of the exterior orgasm, her hand becoming Paul’s hand, mourning as she did so, the loss of her real self. She slept, overstimulated, nervous, exhausted, cheated. And using Paul thus brought close to her his ‘negative’ self, the man full of self-distrust. The real man retreated further and further from her. It was becoming hard for her to remember the warmth of his eyes, the humour of his voice. She would sleep beside a ghost of defeat; and the ghost wore, even when she woke, briefly, out of habit, to open her arms so that his head might come to her breast, or to lay her head on his shoulder, a small, bitter, self-derisive smile. Yet when she dreamed of him, asleep, he was always to be recognized in the various guises he chose, because his image was one of warmth, a calm masculinity. Paul, whom she had loved, she kept sleeping; awake she retained nothing but shapes of pain.
Next morning she slept too long, as she always did when away from her son. She woke thinking that Michael must have been up, dressed, and breakfasted hours ago with Julia; he would be nearing his lunchtime at school. Then she told herself she had not come to Paris to follow in her mind the stages of her son’s day; she reminded herself that Paris lay waiting for her outside, under a light-hearted sun. And it was time for her to dress for her appointment with the editor.
The offices of Femme et Foyer were across the river and in the heart of an ancient building that one must enter where once carriages, and before then, troops of privately owned soldiers had pressed under a noble carved archway. Femme et Foyer occupied a dozen soberly modern and expensive rooms in decaying piles of masonry that smelt even now of the church, of feudalism. Ella, expected, was shown into Monsieur Brun’s office, and was received by Monsieur Brun, a large, well-kept, ox-like young man who greeted her with an excess of good manners which failed to conceal his lack of interest in Ella and in the proposed deal. They were to go out for an aperitif. Robert Brun announced to half a dozen pretty secretaries that since he would be lunching with his fiancée he would not be back until three, and received a dozen congratulatory and understanding smiles. Ella and Robert Brun passed through the venerable courtyard, emerged from the ancient gateway, and set out for the café, while Ella enquired politely about his projected marriage. She was informed in fluent and correct English that his fiancée was formidably pretty, intelligent and talented. He was to marry her next month, and they were now engaged in preparing their apartment. Elise (he spoke the name with an already practised propriety, grave and formal) was at that very moment negotiating for a certain carpet they both coveted. She, Ella, would have the privilege of seeing her for herself. Ella hastened to assure him that she would be delighted, and congratulated him again.