The grottiness and expense of London began to get to her; she got tired of gorging on the canapés at literary launches in order to scrimp on groceries, tired of the fuggy smell of cigarettes ground into the red-and-maroon carpeting of pubs, tired of the pipes bursting every time it froze in winter, and of the Clarissas and Melissas and Penelopes at the magazine rabbitting on about how they had been literally, absolutely, totally freezing all night and how it literally, absolutely, totally, usually never got that cold. It always got that cold. The pipes always burst. Nobody thought of putting in real pipes, ones that would not burst next time. Burst pipes were an English tradition, like so many others.
Like, for instance, English men. Charm the knickers off you with their mellow vowels and frivolous verbiage, and then, once they’d got them off, panic and run. Or else stay and whinge. The English called it whinging instead of whining. It was better, really. Like creating a hinge. It was a traditional compliment to be whinged at by an Englishman. It was his way of saying he trusted you, he was conferring upon you the privilege of getting to know the real him. The inner, whinging him. That was how they thought of women, secretly: whinge receptacles. Kat would play it, but that didn’t mean she liked it.
She has an advantage over English women, though: she was of no class. She had no class. She was a class of her own. She could roll around among the English men, all different kinds of them, secure in the knowledge that she was not being measured against the class yardsticks and accent-detectors they carried around in their back pockets, was not subject to petty snobberies and resentments that lent such richness to their inner lives. The flip side of this freedom was that she was beyond the pale. She was a colonial- how fresh, how vital, how anonymous, how finally of no consequence. Like a hole in the wall, she could be told all secrets and then be abandoned with no guilt.
She was too smart, of course. The English men were very competitive; they liked to win. Several times it hurt. Twice she had abortions, because the men in question were not up for the alternative. She learned to say that she didn’t want children anyway, that if she longed for a rug-rat she would buy a gerbil. Her life began to seem long. Her adrenaline was running out. Soon she would be thirty, and all she could see ahead was more of the same.
He was feeling jaded, over-the-hill; senility was rapidly approaching. He was twenty-two.
In her mother’s account of the way things were, you were young briefly and then you fell. You plummeted downwards like an overripe apple and hit the ground with a squash; you fell, and everything about you fell too. You got fallen arches and a fallen womb, and your hair and teeth fell out. That’s what having a baby did to you. It subjected you to the force of gravity.
This is how she remembers her mother, still: in terms of a pendulous, drooping, wilting motion.
Her mother inspired in almost everyone who encountered her a vicious desire for escape.
They lived in cheerful squalor. Or not squalor: disorder. I couldn’t have stood it myself, but I liked it in her. She made the messes I wouldn’t allow myself to make. Chaos by proxy.
Here’s one for you, Molly: menopause. A pause while you reconsider men.
They look fed up. They’ve had it with this city, they’ve had it with suicide as an option, they’ve had it with the twentieth century. Or so Marcia supposes. She doesn’t blame them: the twentieth century has not been a raving success.
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