The Free Women 1
‘Perhaps it would have been better if you had in fact chosen a stupid and insensitive woman?’ suggested Molly. ‘Or you shouldn’t have always let her know what you were doing? Stupid! She’s a thousand times better than you are.’
‘It goes without saying,’ said Richard. ‘You always take it for granted that women are better than men. But that doesn’t help me much. Now look here, Molly, Marion trusts you. Please see her as soon as you can, and talk to her.’
‘I don’t know. I don’t care. Anything. Call me names if you like, but see if you can stop her drinking.’
Molly sighed, histrionically, and sat looking at him, a look of half-compassionate contempt around her mouth.
‘Well I really don’t know,’ she said at last. ‘It is really all very odd. Richard, why don’t you do something? Why don’t you try to make her feel you like her, at least? Take her for a holiday or something?’
‘I did take her with me to Italy.’ In spite of himself, his voice was full of resentment at the fact he had had to.
‘Richard,’ said both women together.
‘She doesn’t enjoy my company,’ said Richard. ‘She watched me all the time — I can see her watching me all the time, for me to look at some woman, waiting for me to hang myself. I can’t stand it.’
‘Did she drink while you were on holiday?’
‘No, but …’
‘There you are then,’ said Molly, spreading out her flashing white hands, which said, What more is there to say?
‘Look here, Molly, she didn’t drink because it was a kind of contest, don’t you see that? Almost a bargain — I won’t drink if you don’t look at girls. It drove me nearly around the bend. And after all, men have certain practical difficulties — I’m sure you two emancipated females will take this in your stride, but I can’t make it with a woman who’s watching me like a jailor … getting into bed with Marion after one of those lovely holiday afternoons was like an I’ll-dare-you-to-prove-yourself contest. In short, I couldn’t get a hard on with Marion. Is that clear enough for you? And we’ve been back for a week. So far she’s all right. I’ve been home every evening, like a dutiful husband, and we sit and are polite with each other. She’s careful not to ask me what I’ve been doing or who I’ve been seeing. And I’m careful not to watch the level in the whisky bottle. But when she’s not in the room I look at the bottle, and I can hear her brain ticking over, he must have been with some woman because he doesn’t want me. It’s hell, it really is. Well all right,’ he cried, leaning forward, desperate with sincerity, ‘all right, Molly. But you can’t have it both ways. You two go on about marriage, well you may be right. You probably are. I haven’t seen a marriage yet that came anywhere near what it’s supposed to be. All right. But you’re careful to keep out of it. It’s a hell of an institution, I agree. But I’m involved in it, and you’re preaching from some pretty safe sidelines.’