Free Women 3
Anna reached the cleanliness of her own flat from the dark and dusty stairs, and heard Ivor’s voice over her head. He was reading to Janet. She passed the door of her big room, climbed the white staircase, and found Janet sitting cross-legged on her bed, a black-haired urchin of a girl, and Ivor, dark, shaggy and friendly, sitting on the floor, one hand raised, reading with emphasis a story about some girls’ school. Janet shook her head at her mother, in a warning not to interrupt. Ivor, using his raised hand as a sort of baton, winked and raised his voice as he read: ‘And so Betty put her name down for the hockey team. Would she be chosen? Would she be lucky?’ He said to Anna in his normal voice: ‘We’ll call you when we’re finished,’ and went on: ‘Everything depended on Miss Jackson. Betty wondered if she had been sincere when she wished her luck last Wednesday after the match? Had she really meant it?’ Anna paused outside the door listening: there was a new quality in Ivor’s voice: mockery. The mockery was aimed at the world of the girls’ school, at the feminine world, not at the absurdity of the story; and had started from the moment Ivor had become aware of Anna’s presence. Yes, but there was nothing new in that; that she was familiar with. Because the mockery, the defence of the homosexual, was nothing more than the polite over-gallantry of a ‘real’ man, the ‘normal’ man who intends to set bounds to his relationship with a woman, consciously or not. Usually unconsciously. It was the same cold evasive emotion, taken a step further; there was a difference in degree but not in kind. Anna glanced round the edge of the door at Janet, and saw that the child’s face showed a delighted but half-uneasy grin. She sensed the mockery being directed at her, a female. Anna directed the silent, compassionate thought towards her daughter: Well my poor girl, you’d better get used to it early, because you’re going to have to live in a world full of it. And now that she, Anna, was well removed from the scene, Ivor’s voice had lost its element of parody and gone back to normal.