Free Women 3
She was late; but was not worried — Ivor would be there. During the time Tommy was in hospital, and Anna so often with Molly, Ivor had moved into their lives. From being the almost unknown young man who lived in the upper room, saying good night and good morning, coming and going with discretion, he had become Janet’s friend. He had taken her to the pictures when Anna was at the hospital, he helped her with her homework, and he repeated to Anna that she should not worry, he was only too happy to look after Janet. And he was. And yet this new situation made Anna uneasy. Not on his account, or on Janet’s, for with the child he showed the most simple, the most charming perception.
She was thinking now, as she climbed the ugly stairs to the door of her own flat: Janet needs a man, in her life, she misses a father. Ivor’s very kind to her. And yet because he’s not a man — what do I mean when I say he’s not a man? Richard’s a man; Michael’s a man. And yet Ivor isn’t? I know that with ‘a real man’ there would be a whole area of tension, of wry understanding that there can’t be with Ivor; there would be a whole dimension there isn’t now; and yet he’s charming with her, and so what do I mean by ‘a real man’? For Janet adored Ivor. And she adored — or said that she did — his friend Ronnie.
Some weeks ago Ivor had asked if he could have a friend to share his room, who was short of money and out of a job. Anna had gone through the conventional motions of offering to put another bed in the room, and so on. Both sides had played their parts, but Ronnie, an actor out of work, had moved into Ivor’s room and into his bed, and as it made no difference to Anna, she said nothing. Apparently Ronnie had every intention of staying for as long as she said nothing. Anna knew that Ronnie was the price she was expected to pay for Ivor’s new friendship with Janet.
Ronnie was a dark graceful young man with carefully-waved glossy hair, and a white flashing smile, carefully prepared. Anna disliked him, but, realizing she disliked the type rather than the person, controlled the feeling. He also was pleasant with Janet, but not (as Ivor was) from the heart; but out of policy. Probably his relation with Ivor was policy too. All this did not concern Anna, and it did not impinge on Janet, for she trusted Ivor that the child would never be shocked. And yet she was uneasy. Suppose I were living with a man — ‘a real man’ — or was married. There would certainly be tension for Janet. Janet would resent him, would have to accept him, have to come to terms. And the resentment would be precisely because of the quality of sex, of being a man. Or even if there was a man living here I didn’t sleep with, or didn’t want to sleep with, even then the business of his being ‘a real man’ would spark off tensions, set a balance. Well then? Why then should I feel that in fact I ought to have a real man and even for Janet’s sake, let alone mine, instead of that charming friendly perceptive young man Ivor? Am I then saying, or assuming (is everyone assuming?) that children need the tension to grow up? But why? And yet I obviously do feel it, or I wouldn’t be uneasy when I see Ivor with Janet because he’s like a big friendly dog, or a sort of harmless elder brother — I use the word harmless. Contempt. I feel contempt. It’s contemptible of me that I should. A real man — Richard? Michael? Both of them are very stupid with their children. And yet there is no doubt I feel that their quality, their liking women rather than men, would be better for Janet than what Ivor has.