Free Women 3
The white cushioned window sills on which Molly and Anna had so often sat to talk, with the boxes of flowers behind them, the rain or the pale sunshine on the panes, were all that remained the same in this room. It now contained a narrow tidy bed; a table with a straight chair; some conveniently placed shelves. Tommy was learning Braille. And he was teaching himself to write again with an exercise book and a child’s ruler. His writing was quite unlike what it had been: it was large, square and clear, like a child’s. When Molly knocked to come in, he would raise his black-shaded face over the Braille or his writing and say, ‘Come in,’ with the temporarily though courteously granted attention of a man behind a desk in an office.
So Molly, who had refused a part in a play so as to be able to nurse Tommy, went back to her work and acted again. Anna ceased dropping over in the evenings when Molly was out at the theatre, for Tommy said: ‘Anna, you are very kind to come and take pity on me, but I’m not at all bored. I like being alone.’ As he would have said it had he been an ordinary man who chose to prefer solitude. And Anna, who had been trying to get back to her intimacy with Tommy before the accident, and failing: (she felt as if the boy were a stranger she had never known) took him at his word. She literally could not think of anything to say to him. And besides, alone in a room with him, she kept succumbing to waves of pure panic, which she did not understand.
And now Molly rang Anna, no longer from her home, since the telephone was immediately outside Tommy’s room, but from telephone boxes or from the theatre. ‘How is Tommy?’ Anna would ask.
And Molly’s voice, loud and in command again, but with a permanent note of challenging query, of pain defied, would reply: ‘Anna, it’s all so odd I don’t know what to say or do. He just stays in that room, working away, always quiet; and when I can’t stand it another moment I go in, and he looks up and says: “Well mother, and what can I do for you?”’ ‘Yes, I know.’ ‘So naturally I say something silly, like — I thought you might like a cup of tea. Usually he says no, very politely of course, so I go out again. And now he’s learning to make his own tea and coffee. Even to cook.’ ‘He’s handling kettles and things?’ ‘Yes. I’m petrified. I have to go out of the kitchen, because he knows what I am feeling, and he says, Mother, there’s no need to be frightened, I’m not going to burn myself.’ ‘Well Molly, I don’t know what to say.’ (Here there was a silence, because of what they were both afraid to say.) Then Molly went on: ‘And people come up, oh ever so sweet and kind, you know?’ ‘Yes, indeed I do.’ ‘Your poor son, your unfortunate Tommy … I always knew everything was a jungle, but never as clearly as I do now.’ Anna understood this because mutual friends and acquaintances used her as a target for the remarks, on the surface kindly, but concealing malice, which they would have liked to direct at Molly. ‘Of course it was a pity that Molly went off and left the boy for that year.’ ‘I don’t think that had anything to do with it. Besides, she did it after careful thought.’ Or: ‘Of course, there was that broken marriage. It must have affected Tommy more than anyone guessed.’ ‘Oh quite so,’ Anna would say, smiling. ‘And there’s my broken marriage. I do so trust that Janet won’t end up the same way.’ And all the time, while Anna defended Molly, and herself, there was something else, the cause of the panic they both felt, the something they were afraid to say.