The Free Women 1
‘You’ll have settled down in a week or two.’
‘I don’t want to settle down. I can feel resignation creeping up already. And this house. It ought to be painted again. I simply don’t want to start — painting and putting up curtains. Why is everything such hard work here? It isn’t in Europe. One sleeps a couple of hours a night and is happy. Here, one sleeps and makes an effort …’
‘Yes, yes,’ said Anna laughing. ‘Well, I’m sure we’ll be making the same speech to each other for years, every time we come back from somewhere.’
The house shook as a train went past, close, underground. ‘And you ought to do something about that ceiling,’ added Anna, looking up at it. The house, laid open by a bomb towards the end of the war, had stood empty for two years, receiving wind and rain through all its rooms. It had been patched up again. When the trains passed, grains of substance could be heard trickling behind clean surfaces of paint. The ceiling had a crack across it.
‘Oh hell,’ said Molly. ‘I can’t face it. But I suppose I shall. Why is it, it’s only in this country everybody one knows seems to put a good face on things, everyone is bravely carrying a burden.’ Tears were smudging her eyes, and she blinked them away and turned back to her oven.
‘Because this is the country we know. The other countries are the places we don’t think in.’
‘That’s not altogether true and you know it. Well. You’d better be quick with the news. I’m going to serve lunch in a minute.’ It was now Molly’s turn to exude an atmosphere of being alone, of not having been met. Her hands, pathetic and stoical, reproached Anna. As for Anna she was thinking: If I join in now, in a what’s-wrong-with-men session, then I won’t go home, I’ll stay for lunch and all afternoon, and Molly and I will feel warm and friendly, all barriers gone. And when we part, there’ll be a sudden resentment, a rancour — because after all, our real loyalties are always to men, and not to women … Anna nearly sat down, ready to submerge herself. But she did not. She thought: I want to be done with it all, finished with the men vs women business, all the complaints and the reproaches and the betrayals. Besides, it’s dishonest. We’ve chosen to live a certain way, knowing the penalties, or if we didn’t we know now, so why whine and complain … and besides, if I’m not careful, Molly and I will descend into a kind of twin old-maidhood, where we sit around saying to each other, Do you remember how that man, what-was-his-name said that insensitive thing, it must have been in 1947…