The Free Women 1
Anna looked at Molly, very dry. Molly raised her brows and sighed.
‘And now what?’ said Richard, good-humoured.
‘We are thinking of the safety of the sidelines,’ said Anna, meeting his good-humour.
‘Come off it,’ said Molly. ‘Have you got any idea of the sort of punishment women like us take?’
‘Well,’ said Richard, ‘I don’t know about that, and frankly, it’s your own funeral, why should I care? But I know there’s one problem you haven’t got — it’s a purely physical one. How to get an erection with a woman you’ve been married to fifteen years?’
He said this with an air of camaraderie, as if offering his last card, all the chips down.
Anna remarked, after a pause, ‘Perhaps it might be easier if you had ever got into the habit of it?’
And Molly came in with: ‘Physical you say? Physical? It’s emotional. You started sleeping around early in your marriage because you had an emotional problem, it’s nothing to do with physical.’
‘No? Easy for women.’
‘No, it’s not easy for women. But at least we’ve got more sense than to use words like physical and emotional as if they didn’t connect.’
Richard threw himsel back in his chair and laughed. ‘All right,’ he said at last. ‘I’m in the wrong. Of course. All right. I might have known. But I want to ask you two something, do you really think it’s all my fault? I’m the villain as far as you are concerned. But why?’
‘You should have loved her,’ said Anna, simply.
‘Yes,’ said Molly.
‘Good Lord,’ said Richard, at a loss. ‘Good Lord. Well I give up. After all I’ve said — and it hasn’t been easy, mind you …’ he said this almost threatening, and went red as both women rocked off into fresh peals of laughter. ‘No, it’s not easy to talk frankly about sex to women.’
‘I can’t imagine why not, it’s hardly a great new revelation, what you’ve said,’ said Molly.
‘You’re such a … such a pompous ass,’ said Anna. ‘You bring out all this stuff, as if it were the last revelation from some kind of oracle. I bet you talk about sex when you’re alone with a popsy. So why put on this club-man’s act just because there are two of us?’
Molly said quickly: ‘We still haven’t decided about Tommy.’
There was a movement outside the door, which Anna and Molly heard, but Richard did not. He said, ‘All right, Anna, I bow to your sophistication. There’s no more to be said. Right. Now I want you two superior women to arrange something. I want Tommy to come and stay with me and Marion. If he’ll condescend to. Or doesn’t he like Marion?’
Molly lowered her voice and said, looking at the door, ‘You needn’t worry. When Marion comes to see me, Tommy and she talk for hours and hours.’
There was another sound, like a cough, or something being knocked. The three sat silent as the door opened and Tommy came in.
It was not possible to guess whether he had heard anything or not. He greeted his father first, carefully: ‘Hullo, father,’ nodded at Anna, his eyes lowered against a possible reminder from her that the last time they met he had opened himself to her sympathetic curiosity, and offered his mother a friendly but ironic smile. Then he turned his back on them, to arrange for himself some strawberries remaining in the white bowl, and with his back still turned enquired: ‘And how is Marion?’
So he had heard. Anna thought that she could believe him capable of standing outside the door to listen. Yes, she could imagine him listening with precisely the same detached ironic smile with which he had greeted his mother.
Richard, disconcerted, did not reply, and Tommy insisted: ‘How is Marion?’