The Yellow Notebook
He had a bed-sitting-room and a bath in an expensive hotel. The rooms were in the heart of the building, air-conditioned, windowless, claustrophobic, neatly and anonymously furnished. Ella felt caged; but he seemed quite at home. He supplied her with a whisky, then drew the telephone to him and made, as he had said he would, about twenty telephone calls, a process that took half an hour. Ella listened, and noted that tomorrow he had at least ten appointments, including four visits to well-known London hospitals. When he had finished the calls, he began striding exuberantly up and down the small room. ‘Boy,’ he exclaimed. ‘Boy! But I feel great.’ ‘If I weren’t here, what would you be doing?’ ‘I’d be working.’ There was a great heap of medical journals on his night-table, and she said: ‘Reading?’ ‘Yes. There’s a lot to read, if you’re going to keep up.’ ‘Do you ever read, except for your work?’ ‘Nope.’ He laughed, and said: ‘My wife’s the one for culture. I haven’t time.’ ‘Tell me about her.’ He instantly produced a photograph. She was a pretty baby-faced blonde surrounded by five small children. ‘Boy! Isn’t she pretty? She’s the prettiest girl in the whole town!’ ‘Is that why you married her?’ ‘Why, sure …’ He caught her tone, laughed at himself with her, and said, shaking his head as if in wonder at himself: ‘Sure! I said to myself, I’m going to marry the prettiest and classiest girl in this town and I did. That’s just what I did.’ ‘And you’re happy?’ ‘She’s a great girl,’ he said at once, enthusiastic. ‘She’s fine, and I’ve got five fine boys. I wish I had a girl, but my boys are fine. And I just wish I had more time to be with them, but when I am, then I feel fine.’
Ella was thinking: If I get up now and say I must go, he’d agree, without rancour, with good-nature. Perhaps I’ll see him again. Perhaps not. Neither of us will care. But I have to do the directing now, because he doesn’t know what to do with me. I ought to go — but why? Only yesterday I decided it was ridiculous, women like me, having emotions that don’t fit our lives. A man now, in this situation, the sort of man I would be if I’d been born a man, would go to bed and think no more of it. He was saying: ‘And now, Ella, I’ve been talking about myself, and you’re a darned fine listener, I must say that, but do you know, I don’t know the first thing about you, not the first thing.’
Now, thought Ella. Now.
But she temporized: ‘Did you know it was after twelve?’
‘No? Is it? Too bad. I never go to bed before three or four and I’m up by seven, every day of my life.’
Now, thought Ella. It’s ridiculous, she thought, that it should be so difficult. To say what she now said was going against every one of her deepest instincts, and she was surprised that it came out apparently casual, and only slightly breathless: ‘Would you like to go to bed with me?’