The Free Women 1
Molly was holding a cushion to her breasts, and hugging it and laughing.
‘So he said: But Anna, when you invited me up to coffee you surely must have known what it meant. I’m a very virile man, he said, and I either have a relationship with a woman or I don’t. So then I got tired of him, and said, Oh do go away, Richard, you’re an awful bore … so you can understand that there were bound to be — is the word I’m looking for, tensions? between me and Richard today.’
Molly stopped laughing and said: ‘All the same, you and Richard, you must be mad.’
‘Yes,’ said Anna, completely serious. ‘Yes, Molly, I think I’ve been not far off it.’
But at this Molly got up and said quickly: ‘I’m going to make lunch.’ The look she gave Anna was guilty and contrite. Anna got up too, and said: ‘Then I’ll come into the kitchen for a moment.’
‘You can tell me the gossip.’
‘Ohhh,’ said Anna yawning, very casual. ‘Come to think of it, what can I tell you that’s new? Everything’s the same. But exactly.’
‘In a year? The Twentieth Congress. Hungary. Suez. And doubtless the natural progression of the human heart from one thing to another? No change?’
The small kitchen was white, crammed with order, glistening from the surfaces of ranked coloured cups, plates, dishes; and from drops of steam condensing on the walls and ceiling. The windows were misted. The oven seemed to leap and heave with the energy of the heat inside it. Molly flung up the window and a hot smell of roasting meat rushed out over damp roofs and soiled back yards, as a waiting ball of sunlight leaped neatly over the sill and curled itself on the floor.
‘England,’ said Molly. ‘England. Coming back this time was worse than usual. I felt the energy going out of me even on the boat. I walked in to the shops yesterday and I looked at the nice, decent faces, everyone so kind, and so decent and so bloody dull.’ She stared briefly out of the window, and then determinedly turned her back on it.
‘We’d better accept the fact that we and everybody we know’s likely to spend their lives grumbling about England. We are living in it, however.’
‘I’m going to leave again soon. I’d go tomorrow if it wasn’t for Tommy. Yesterday I was down rehearsing at the theatre. Every man in the cast is a queer but one, and he’s sixteen. So what am I doing here? All the time I was away, everything came naturally, the men treat you like women, you feel good, I never remembered my age, I never thought about sex. I had a couple of nice gay affairs, nothing tormented, everything easy. But as soon as you set foot here, you have to tighten your belt, and remember, Now be careful, these men are Englishmen. Except for the rare exception. And you get all self-conscious and sex-conscious. How can a country so full of screwed up people be any good?’