Free Women 3
She was thinking: If someone cracks up, what does that mean? At what point does a person about to fall to pieces say: I’m cracking up? And if I were to crack up, what form would it take? She shut her eyes, seeing the glare of the light on her lids, feeling the pressure of bodies, smelling sweat and dirt; and was conscious of Anna, reduced to a tight knot of determination somewhere in her stomach. Anna, Anna, I am Anna, she kept repeating; and anyway, I can’t be ill or give way, because of Janet; I could vanish from the world tomorrow, and it wouldn’t matter to anyone except to Janet. What then am I, Anna? — something that is necessary to Janet. But that’s terrible, she thought, her fear becoming worse. That’s bad for Janet. So try again: Who am I, Anna? Now she did not think of Janet, but shut her out. Instead she saw her room, long, white, subdued, with the coloured notebooks on the trestle table. She saw herself, Anna, seated on the music-stool, writing, writing; making an entry in one book, then ruling it off, or crossing it out; she saw the pages patterned with different kinds of writing; divided, bracketed, broken — she felt a swaying nausea; and then saw Tommy, not herself, standing with his lips pursed in concentration, turning the pages of her orderly notebooks.
She opened her eyes, giddy and afraid, and saw the sway of the glistening ceiling, a confusion of advertisements, and faces blank and staring with the effort of keeping a balance on the train. A face, six inches away: the flesh was yellowish grey and large-pored, the mouth crumpled-looking and damp. The eyes were fixed on hers. The face smiled, half-frightened, half-inviting. She thought: While I stood here with my eyes shut he was looking into my face and imagining it under him. She felt sick; turned her neck; and stared away from him. His uneven breath staled her cheek. There were still two stations to go. Anna edged herself away, inch by inch, feeling in the shake and sway of the train how the man pressed after her, his face sickly with excitement. He was ugly. Lord, but they are ugly, we are so ugly, thought Anna, her flesh, menaced by his nearness, crawling with repulsion. At the station she squeezed out of the train as others squeezed in; and the man stepped down after her, pressed behind her on to the escalator and stood behind her at the ticket barrier. She handed in her ticket and hastened on, turning to frown at him as he said just behind her: ‘Like a walk? Like a walk?’ He was grinning in triumph; in his fantasy he had humiliated and triumphed over her while she stood, eyes shut, on the train. She said: ‘Go away,’ and walked on and out of the underground into the street. He was still following her. Anna was frightened; and then she was amazed at herself — and frightened because she was afraid. What’s happened to me? This happens every day, this is living in a city, it doesn’t affect me — but it was affecting her; just as Richard’s aggressive need to humiliate her had affected her, half an hour before, in his office. The knowledge that the man still followed her, grinning unpleasantly, made her want to break into a run of panic. She thought: If I could see something or touch something that wasn’t ugly … there was a fruit barrow just ahead, offering tidy coloured loads of plums, peaches, apricots. Anna bought fruit: smelling at the tart clean smell, touching the smooth or faintly hairy skins. She was better. The panic had gone. The man who had been following her stood near, waiting and grinning; but now she was immune from him. She walked past him, immune.