The Blue Notebook
That evening he asked me to an evening party at his house. I said I’d go. After he left I knew I shouldn’t go because I felt uneasy about it. Yet on the face of it, why not? He’d never be my lover, and so we were friends, so why not go and meet his friends, his wife?
As soon as I entered their flat I realized how much I had not been using my imagination, how stupid I had chosen to be. Sometimes I dislike women, I dislike us all, because of our capacity for not-thinking when it suits us; we choose not to think when we are reaching out for happiness. Well, entering the flat, I knew I had chosen not to think, and I was ashamed and humiliated.
A large rented flat, full of tasteless, anonymous furniture. And I knew that when they moved into a house and filled it with their own chosen things, they would still be anonymous — that was the quality, anonymity. The safety of anonymity. Yes, and I understand that too, too well. They mentioned the rent of this flat and I was filled with disbelief. Thirty pounds a week, it’s a fortune, it’s crazy. There were about twelve people, all Americans to do with television or the films — ‘show business’ people; and of course they joked about it. ‘We’re show biz, and why not? Nothing wrong with that, is there?’ They all knew each other, their ‘knowing each other’ was on the basis of being show business, on the arbitrary contacts of their work; yet they were friendly, it was an attractive, accepting, casual friendliness. I liked it, it reminded me of the casual, informal friendliness of the white people of Africa. ‘Hallo, Hallo! How are you? My house is yours, though I’ve only met you once.’ Yet I liked it. By English standards they were all rich. In England people as rich as they are don’t talk about it. An atmosphere of money all the time, anxious money, with these American people. Yet, with all the money, everything so expensive (which they apparently take for granted), a middle-class atmosphere that is hard to define. I sat there, trying to define it. It’s a kind of deliberate ordinariness, a scaling-down of the individual; it’s as if they all have, built in, a need to fit themselves to what is expected. And yet one likes them so much, they are such good people, one watches them full of pain because they choose to scale themselves down, to set limits. The limits are money-limits. (Yet why? — half of them were left-wingers, had been blacklisted, were in England because they couldn’t earn in America. Yet money, money, money all the time.) Yes, I could feel the money-anxiety, it was in the air, like a question. Yet the rent of Nelson’s big ugly flat would keep an English middle-class family in comfort.
I was secretly fascinated by Nelson’s wife — half the ordinary curiosity — what is this new person like? But the other half I was ashamed of — what does she lack that I have? Nothing — that I could see.