The Blue Notebook
I’ve gone dead on it, or it on me. I’ll see what ‘welfare work’ there is today. And as I reach this point Jack comes in, because John Butte has now gone back to HQ, and he says: ‘Anna, will you share my tea and sandwiches with me?’ Jack lives on the official Party wage, which is eight pounds a week; and his wife earns about the same as a teacher. So he must economize; and one of the economies is, not going out to lunch. I say thank you, and I go into his office and we talk. Not about the two novels, because there is nothing further to be said: they will be published, and we both in our different ways feel ashamed. Jack has a friend who has just come back from the Soviet Union with private information about the anti-semitism there. And rumours about murders, tortures and every kind of bullying. And Jack and I sit and check every piece of information: Is that true? Does that sound true? If that is true then that means that … And I think, for the hundredth time, how strange it is that this man is part of the communist bureaucracy, and yet he knows no more than I, or any rank and file communist, what to believe. We finally decide, not for the first time, that Stalin must have been clinically mad. We sit drinking tea and eating sandwiches and speculate about whether, if we had lived in the Soviet Union during his last years, we would have decided it was part of our duty to assassinate him. Jack says no; Stalin is so much a part of his experience, his deepest experience, that even if he knew him to be criminally insane, when the moment came to pull the trigger he couldn’t do it: he would turn the revolver on himself instead. And I say I couldn’t either, because ‘political murder is against my principles’. And so on and so on; and I think how terrible this talk is, and how dishonest, sitting in safe, comfortable, prosperous London, with our lives and freedom in no danger at all. And something happens I get more and more afraid of — words lose their meaning. I can hear Jack and me talking — it seems the words come out from inside me, from some anonymous place — but they don’t mean anything. I keep seeing, before my eyes, pictures of what we are talking about — scenes of death, torture, cross-examination and so on; and the words we are using have nothing to do with what I am seeing. They sound like an idiotic gabbling, like mad talk. Suddenly Jack says: ‘Are you going to leave the Party, Anna?’ I say: ‘Yes.’ Jack nods. It is a friendly unjudging nod. And very lonely. There is at once a gulf between us — not of trust, because we trust each other, but of future experience. He will stay, because he has been in it so long, because it has been his life, because all his friends are in and will stay in. And soon, when we meet, we will be strangers. And I think what a good man he is, and the men like him; and how they have been betrayed by history — and when I use that melodramatic phrase, it is not melodramatic, it is accurate. And if I said it to him now, he would give his simple friendly nod. And we would look at each other in ironical understanding — there but for the grace of God, etc. (like the two men exchanging places in front of the firing squad).