MAGGIE worked steadily at her drawing board for two days. She worked hard, because she did everything hard, and she did not mind this job at all, she thought it was a joke, money for jam, drawing these never-never-land women in various ludicrous positions -- just now with breasts stuck out, as if they were offering peanuts to elephants -- and getting paid for it. She did not worry, she drew: she got paid, maybe not for all of the silly women but for enough of them. She didn't want money except to live, and had no exalted idea of how to live. This time, she wanted money badly.
Her agent had said the Nu-Way people were pleased with her work on the E. Z. Two-Twist Girdle: the Tip-Cup, said her agent, is a big chance for you, you might get a contract. $500 now? Maggie thought, the hell with contracts. She left the wash drawing with her agent's secretary. Then she waited at home for the agent's report. She smoked and roamed about the room and brooded on money.
Couldn't that miserable Dame aux Camelias in the country see for herself how Jim looked? Couldn't she and that household of female hogs cut down a little; what did they live on anyhow, caviar and shredded orchids with cream? Didn't she give a damn, so lost in her successful career of dying, that her legal husband, that self-sacrificing crazy-generous angel and darling, looked like a rug peddler or a bum from under the bridges? Did they ever think about that? How did Jim feel, in those baggy worn-out clothes; what did they think at the office? They probably thought he drank or gambled his money away, maybe they were having conferences about him and saying he looked too awful, it was a disgrace to the store, they'd have to get a sharper-looking fellow for the job. Oh not that, who cared about that? Him. Him. Him. He was beautiful and he was hers and she wanted him to look beautiful and sleek and young, the way he ought to. In dark gray flannel. She knew exactly how he would look, with his black hair and his black eyebrows and his thin stylish nose and his long bitter mouth, and then his shape? Made for that suit, good shoulders and good legs and not loose and handy around the waist, the way city men were. They have to buy it, Maggie thought, I want that suit.
Go to part one of this story.
Return to Flashback: "Remembering Martha Gellhorn"
They did buy it too. Her agent telephoned to congratulate her and said
that Wallenstein at Nu-Way
wanted to talk to her himself, he suggested a conference in his office day
after tomorrow at three, Wallenstein thought she had something, very sexy her
stuff was, they planned to work her in on their fall line.
Maggie ordered the suit herself, taking no chances. Jim's birthday was not until February, it would have to be a Spring Present. She felt nervous, now that she had given the order, Jim was very touchy, but he couldn't refuse, not when it mattered so much to her. Damn that woman, what did she wear, Balenciaga bedjackets probably. A man who earned thousands a year ought to be able to buy himself as many suits as would hang in a closet, and so he could if he didn't have to support those bloodsuckers in Connecticut.
Jim explained it to her, before he moved in; he wanted her to listen and she did, though she hated it. What it came to, obviously, was that with keeping them all in crepe de chine sheets and larks' tongues and the most expensive medicine they could possibly find, and after paying taxes which needless to say they never considered, he had about $3000 left for himself. Just enough, Maggie thought, to go on eating so he can go on working, very liberal of them. "It isn't only that I can't give you anything, Maggie," he'd said, "I can't even keep you. Not even food and rent. Do you see? I'm sixteen years older than you and a pauper. Now what?" She'd told him, with dignity, that if he thought she wanted to be a kept woman, and then she couldn't go on like that, and hurled herself into his arms, crying, and saying she loved him and didn't he love her and they could get a bigger bed on the installment plan and if he didn't want to live with her she'd just as soon be dead.
"I do not care, for myself," Maggie said, looking at their room, which was not a very nice room, chewed up, not awfully fresh, mustard-colored on the whole, but theirs and they were happy in it. That woman, what was she thinking, what was she doing, what did she know, how dared she call that love? He won't take the suit, Maggie thought, he'll look black and angry and hurt and pinched around the nose, he won't take the suit he'll be so beautiful in. James, returning, found her in tears on the bed, immediately thought she was ill and felt a cold shaking emptiness in his stomach, held her in his arms, begged her to tell him what had happened, and was so wildly relieved when he heard that he said he was delighted, he would love to have the suit, she was marvelous, he was going to give her a Spring Present too, only never frighten me like that again. Never.
James's Spring Present was to be a weekend trip. Long Island somewhere, he thought. Maggie took the matter in hand. Couldn't they go to the shack Bill and Jessie rented in the Adriondacks? Jessie had flu so they weren't using it, so much nicer than a hotel.
"We could catch trout and tie a rope around each other and be mountaineers."
They went. Maggie caught a fish, not a trout whatever it was. It lay flapping on the bank by the stream and she was seized with remorse and threw it back into the water, saying she would never eat fish again. They climbed a mountain -- Maggie insisted it was a mountain -- and made love in a nest of rhododendron bushes at the top. That was all James remembered of the mountain.
LITTLE things, James told himself, little things, not worth noticing. How could he not notice them? Hank Martin arrived from Chicago, without warning. He had been James's roommate, hundreds of years ago, at Yale. Yale was what his mother saved for, longer and harder than he ever saved for a suit or anything else. Hank called him at the office, very hearty, Hank was a successful lawyer, one of the friendly, reassuring type who could not talk to you without laying a hand on your shoulder, arm, or knee. The squeeze and pat system of communication. Hank kind been a successful campus politician before. They were oddly assorted roommates.
"I know it's short notice, Jim, but how about having dinner tonight with Ruth and me?"
Leave Maggie? Say what, to Maggie?
"I'm terribly sorry, Hank, if only I'd known you were coming. I'm tied up. It's damn bad luck for me."
"No, for us. Well, lunch tomorrow?"
"This is awful. I've got a business thing and I can't put it off. How about next week? I seem to have a terrible week right now. Lunch conferences, you know."
"We're only here three days. I'll try to wire in advance next time. Sudden trip, I didn't know I had to come, myself."
"What a deal," James said, with too much sincerity. "Give my love to Ruth, will you?"
That would be one of the last, he thought, not that there had ever been many, and fewer still after the war. He didn't cat lunch any more, better for his figure, foolish waste of money. He could not see Hank. Not talking about Maggie was like hiding her.
Or was Maggie his excuse? How did I come to this place where I am, James wondered. I'm all right, only I want to be left alone. It had something to do with being a failure of course. He did not mind that either. What he could not stand was acting, dressing it up, keeping the ball in the fir. That hopeless talk -- how're you boy; fine fine fine, how're you; dandy, never better -- followed by the determined optimistic brag, the plans, the deals, the triumph, the money. No wonder none of his friends could talk to each other, having to lie all the time, lying to each other and themselves about everything being wonderful, more than they could have hoped. I am not who I wanted to be, James thought, and my work is nothing except a pay check; this is a perfectly usual condition; I have Maggie and I am not obliged to pretend end out of office hours. Everyone cannot be Tolstoy or President, James told himself, success is the great American error. Maggie is all I have or need or want.
Maggie's sister, the married one from Minneapolis, came to New York with her husband for some reason or other. Maggie's family was not clear to James, she had a father and mother, they owned a drug store, they lived in a small town in Missouri, and she had a brother in San Francisco and the sister in Minneapolis. She never wrote to them or thought about them, as far as James knew. She didn't have anything against them, she just wasn't interested. She was an orphan gypsy, in fact. But there was no way to get out of seeing the sister. Maggie explained that to James apologetically; she'd meet them at their hotel and have dinner and be home early. She did not say, I'll bring them here for a drink first, so you can all meet. It did not occur to James that Maggie was ashamed of her sister in mutation mink and a fancy hat, and ashamed of her brother-in-law and his brassy sales talk. They were not James's kind, they would revolt him. She was not ashamed of herself because James had chosen her and she was his pupil. She had learned everything she knew from James; you could hardly expect to get an education at Buxton High in Missouri.
IT HAD been a specially worthless day at the store. There was nothing to get angry about, there was simply nothing. The day went on and on, by three o'clock he was promising himself Maggie as if he had not seen her for months. He left his office on the dot of five and walked directly home. He made plans for her evening's pleasure. The weather was lovely, couldn't they take a boat somewhere, up the river, or to Staten Island, after all New York was surrounded by water, not that they benefited from it. Full of these modest hopes, he opened the door and saw at once that something was wrong, Maggie sat still, and unoccupied, looking out of the window. What you saw from the window was the flat brick front of a dingy hotel, across the street; there was no reason ever to look out the window.
"What is it?"
But she could not, or would not, tell him. She launched into an aggrieved recital about her agent and what did he expected and those Nu-Way fiends and their ghastly trusses for the female form. He believed none of it. They took the boat to Staten Island and it might as well have been winter or they might as well have stayed at home. As they walked back to the flat from the subway, he began to think that he didn't want to know what was on her mind, he felt menaced.
In bed, in the dark, she curled against him.
"Maggie tell me now."
"Now. Tell me."
She had been feeling odd, she consulted Jessie, Jessie arranged an appointment with her doctor four days ago, today she went back; now she knew.
His heart made heavy sick thudding sounds.
"But how? But why?" he said. After all this time.
She reminded him of the nest of rhododendron on the mountain, it was the only possible explanation.
In a faraway, brittle voice, Maggie said, "You don't want it, of course?"
Want it? He couldn't think, he had to catch hold of something first, so he could think at all. Suddenly she rolled away from him, gasping with sobs.
"Can't you say something? You can say something. Anything. I didn't do it on purpose. What do you think? Do you think I planned it so I could trap you? I couldn't help it!"
He caught hold of that, of her, he held her so close that it hurt, saying over and over, "I love you, I love you, don't cry, something will happen, Maggie, I love you."
The darkness was a hole to crawl into. Time, he thought, give us time. He felt stupid with tiredness and on the edge of sleep. She was quiet now in his arms. He reminded himself that he must think, and could not. There was no place to begin. From the darkness, he heard his voice, but surely he was thinking, not talking?
"It could kill you," he said. She moved at his side. "Aunt Lucy thinks that's what finished Annette. It was in Georgia at boot camp. Annette had a room in a boardinghouse in town, awful, squalid, she couldn't do anything about it, she wasn't a girl who could fix anything. I knew she was delicate, my God yes, I knew about her asthma all right. I imagined asthma was like hay fever or something, a damned nuisance, I didn't know really. When she told me about the baby, it seemed the most wonderful thing that ever happened. A son, I thought, and she'll have him to look after and keep her happy while I'm away and I'll have them both to come back to. That was what I thought. Divine Providence, everything arranged in the best way you could hope for. She miscarried in the sixth month and nearly died, that's what they wrote me. Her heart, her asthma complicating it, I don't know what. They never bothered to tell me before, the whole bunch of prize fools, that she'd had rheumatic fever when she was eleven and they always knew she had a wacky heart. What do they live by anyhow; I bet her poor doting parents were the worst of the lot. Aunt Lucy treated her like glass, but they never talk about anything they don't like. If I'd known about her heart then."
In the dark, very gently, Maggie kissed his shoulder.
"And what have you been thinking all this time?" he said. "I never told you anything. I wanted to keep it away from us so we could live here alone. That's as hopeless as everything else."
"No, no," Maggie said vaguely.
"I can't tell the truth about Annette anyhow, because I don't remember. It doesn't seem true, whatever I say. But I was in love with her, I know that, even if I can't believe it now. I thought she was the most beautiful girl in the world, and much more, not like all the rest of us ordinary mortals. I couldn't get over her marrying me; who was I; how did I deserve anything so lovely? Then after we were married I moved right into a splendid role, the Tower of Strength. I admired myself very much, I thought I was a Tower of Strength to beat hell. Every day I'd hurry home from work to that apartment we had in the village and find my beautiful wife sitting in chaos, and then I'd soothe her and comfort her and take over. I was a great one for taking over. But it didn't worry me, it was going to be just a phase. Because very soon now I would be the famous rich great writer, translated into forty languages, and then I'd put my wife on a satin cushion where she could be my inspiration. Naturally great writers took a while to get recognized, look at their early lives, they all had to work at stupid little jobs, for a start. I was in the tradition, I thought it was perfect, including Annette's helplessness. It makes me sick to think about it."
"Don't, Jim," Maggie said.
"I've started, you might as well hear it all. Not that there's much, I haven't had a very varied life. There was joining-up and Georgia, and all that. Then my division went to Africa. I got Aunt Lucy's letter there, in 1942. Annette would never have another child and probably not recover from this one. On and on. I didn't believe her. I thought that she and Sarine were hysterical old women, and doctors are all the same. I thought Annette needed me, just me, once I got back I'd cure her. So I did get back, and even after Ted warned me, I couldn't help myself. I'd been gone for three and a half years. I walked into her room and saw her and picked her up and kissed her, the way a man kisses his wife. She had an attack at once. It was probably excitement but also moving her, kissing her hard. I watched it. She was strangling, she couldn't get enough air to breathe, and then there was the pain in her heart and what it did to her eyes and her face. I never saw anything worse and I knew it was true then, they were right, I couldn't cure her, nothing could. I left that night, when everything was under control again, and I went to Hartford to a cheesy hotel. I had a fine orgy of drunkenness and despair, for-about two weeks, and then I went back to work, same old job, waiting for me the way they promised. That was ten years ago. Maybe you never get used to dying yourself but you certainly get used to someone else dying. I haven't any idea what Annette thinks because she hasn't talked to me. She's always the same, sweet and calm and beautiful and delighted to see me and full of little chat about the things she chats about. Of course I've got no reason to worry, I have a good secure job and when I'm too old for it, the store has its own pension scheme. How do people manage," he said. "My God, that's what I want to know. How do people manage?"
Maggie took him in her arms and held his head against her breast, making little sounds without words, smoothing his hair, his cheek, rocking him gently against her. She had never imagined that she could help him; he was all her help, her certainty, wiser than she, older, strong, he was the one who would keep her from being a silly cheap woman with nothing much to do in the world. And she thought he was used to the stale story of Annette, and such a good man that of course he would not abandon his invalid wife, but that was all: a duty he fulfilled and did not think about, a habit that cost him more than he could afford but he was too generous to care. Fool, she told herself, wicked fool; holding him and loving him. She knew better now. She had to save his life she had to, and she would.
Maggie had not foreseen that he would be ashamed of every word he had said, shrugging his shoulders in his office, as if shrinking away from his disgust. Whining, he thought, so sorry for himself, poor little fellow, scrounging sympathy. He could taste it in his mouth. He could not remember when he had loathed himself more. At the end of the day he telephoned Maggie and announced in a flat voice that he had to dine with Thick, and ate at an automate and went to a movie, hoping she would be asleep by the time he got home.
Maggie settled herself, with a new patience, to say nothing and wait. After days of this, each more leaden and disappointing than the last, she believed she understood him. It was not too bad, the only thing she did not want to lose was Jim.
They stood, wedged in the kitchenette, she washing plates, he drying them, and Maggie said, with extreme casualness, "Jessie knows a sort of doctor, seems she had a little trouble herself once. I've got the money, from the Nu-Way garter belt. So we don't have to worry about it any more."
"No. No. No."
"Well what?" she said, close to tears, her hands limp in the dishpan. "What then?"
"Oh Maggie. Leave these clamped dishes. Come here."
He pulled her on to his lap, in their one creaking comfortable chair, and said, "Maggie, what do you want to do? You, yourself."
"I'm like you. I can't get used to it. I don't know. But if it was just me, Jim, I want to have the baby. We could get an orange crate and fix it a bed here in our room and then there'd be you and me and our little brown baby."
He laughed. Heaven, she thought, what a long time it's been. He laughed and hugged her and said, "Naturally. Of course. Of course there's nothing else at all. You and me and our little brown baby in an orange crate."
They had a Practical Talk. This was Maggie's unfavorite kind of talk but she listened and nodded her head wisely. They would be just as poor, the one thing he could not do was cut off any of the Grangeville supplies. Of course, in time he would get a raise, it was automatic, and in more time, about six or seven years, he would get Thick's job, and the Grangeville needs were stationary so they could expect to live fairly decently. Yes, yes, Maggie murmured, nodding her head. It would be cruel to break this to Annette on her birthday, so he would have to stay over an extra day, or at least the whole morning, if it was possible to talk to Annette then. On the other hand, what with time and money, it was better not to make a special trip to see her. Yes, yes, Maggie agreed. The only snag was divorce laws, he didn't know about them, and certainly couldn't afford the six weeks and the trip to Reno but probably they could get a divorce in Connecticut, on the grounds of so many years actual separation. Maggie nodded. She was to be very careful while he was gone, it was these early days that were tricky. Oh yes, Maggie said, yes indeed.
Now, on the train, he could not plan the sentences he knew he would have to say. There was no picture in his mind of him, standing, sitting, in Annette's room and saying, "After thirteen years of no marriage, I want my freedom." He found he had a cracking headache and preferred to think of Maggie's little brown baby, who was as clear to him as if already born, already burbling and waving his legs in the orange crate.
THERE was a small cake, with white icing and pink sugar roses and one candle, to grow on. For him there was a half bottle of champagne, a drink he detested, but it was routine for birthday parties. There was the collection of Emily Dickinson's poems, his present for Annette: no absurd extravagance, this time; he had other obligations. Annette looked at least ten years younger than her age, and especially lovely in a soft blue, ruffled, tucked, gathered robe which Aunt Lucy had made, as her birthday gift. Then there was dinner with Aunt Lucy, and a never-ending night, then the usual brisk after-breakfast talk with Ted, who had sent a lavish box of chocolates the day before. With Ted's permission ("She's really much better, give her a kick too, make her realize how well she is") he opened Annette's door, thinking that this was perhaps the last time he would see her and feeling an unsteady light-headed sense of relief.
"I've come to talk to you, Annette," he said; oh fool, he obviously wasn't coming to beat her, and he must find some reasonable voice, not this croak.
"How lovely, how wonderful. It's the best birthday present of all. I didn't know you could stay over. No one told me. A birthday surprise?"
"Pull your chair out of the sun, darling. It's getting so hot. Is it terribly hot in the city?"
"My darling. I think it's wicked that they won't give you a vacation. It would be so lovely and restful if only you could come here for two weeks."
Ah. Forgot it, he thought, such an old lie that he'd forgotten it. He spent his annual two weeks with Maggie, mostly at Jones Beach. None of the beginnings work, he thought. And said, in a perfectly indecipherable voice, indecisive pherable even to himself, "Do you ever think about us, Annette? "
"James. I think of us all the time." She smiled, lighted up, shone like the sun. "I think of us as a miracle. There isn't anything miraculous about me loving you, I knew I would all my life, from the first day I met you. Do you remember, at the Partridges? I still write, I mean I dictate a letter to Aunt Lucy every year, to Sarah Partridge because she introduced me to you, or you to me, which was it? The miracle is you, James, you're the miracle."
He said nothing, and looked at his nails which seemed very far-off and peculiar, hardly the sort of nails you would expect to see.
"We haven't had the life we meant to have," she said gently. "But think of the people, the poor people, who lose their love, and see it all as a failure, and have to go through a horrible divorce, and then try to start again, worn-out and second-hand. My health," she said, having difficulty with the word, "has been a terrible trial, but it hasn't killed anything. That's what makes it all right, you see, what makes living beautiful for me."
And how about me, he shouted in his mind, me James, the miracle man, what is supposed to make life beautiful for me? I am in fine health, rude health, I haven't got the appetites of a flower or a bird, I am not safely slowed down on a chaise longue. He hated her. He plainly hated her. The word "love" made him sick, made him retch. He must remember to tell Maggie. I am not going to say I love you, Maggie, because love is a dirty word, it's blackmail, it's the word people use when they mean absolute cannibal possessiveness. And throughout all eternity, I will eat you, you will eat me. Christ. He wanted to shake her, hit her, sitting there like a beautiful fresh clean hen on that goddamned egg, her love.
"I get lonely," he said, flat, like a weather report.
"Dearest. I know, I know. You've never said anything, I knew you always wanted to spare me. I know about loneliness. It's worst at night. I always hope you are asleep, not feeling that."
Her hand was stretched out to him; he ignored it.
"Do you think about the child, ever?" Now it was like a policeman, impersonal third-degree. I didn't give you rheumatic fever, I didn't make your misshapen heart, if you'd had the sense to mention a simple fact like that I'd have damn well seen to it you never got pregnant, you wouldn't have to lie on a chaise longue at least not all the time, you would long since have been handed over to the care of a better, gentler, richer man, and it wouldn't matter, honey, it wouldn't matter, baby, you'd be surprised, you just need a caretaker-man to love, it doesn't have to be me.
Since she did not answer, he let his nails alone, and looked at her. And was horrified to see her eyes, the unjustly punished child, but more, much more and worse: anguish. "I don't, I swear I don't," she whispered. "I did for years, I tried always to hide it. How can they live with me if I am like that, mourning for what I've lost and can never have. I never saw his grave, did he have a grave, I couldn't ask. I cannot put that on to you and to them, as well, not that too. I don't think of the child any more, I promise you I don't."
He turned his head, and looked at the garden. He would not see her, nor respond to that pain. He would not. Dead. Long dead. There is life to fight for, he thought, not always death, not always what is past, failed, gone. Now, he told himself, now is what matters. Now.
"I would like to have a child." What a quaint way of saying it. Will you dance the minuet with me? I would like. I must. I will. I am going to. A little brown boy with Maggie's hair and eyes, in an orange crate in our room, next to our bed.
She took in her breath, with a hard grating sound. He rose, ready to get the drops, first emergency treatment, suddenly realizing that he could talk her to death. His hands were sweating.
But now she turned on him eyes that were alight with wonder, something almost insane, an insanity of hope.
"Adopt a baby?" she said. "James! Could we? Could we? Would it be fair, I could do so little for it. But Aunt Lucy and Sarine. Here? Here in the garden, playing and laughing in the garden? A very little baby? I could help to bathe it. Would you? It would be ours, it would be ours, we'd make it ours. I can still sew, I could sew clothes for it, and later I could teach it to read, I think I could."
"No," he said, heavily. He got up from the chair and walked through the open French windows and stood in the garden: the squirrel's tree, the roses growing along the fence, the bird's fountain. Nothing, he thought, she understands nothing; we might be shouting at each other from different planets. Help to bathe it. She isn't guilty, he thought with terrible weariness, she has committed no crime, she doesn't prefer death to life. She is blind and completely unreal from these years of nothingness, but she isn't guilty. Why can't she die? Fighting to live on a chaise longue, fighting off the terrors at night, fighting off the need of a child. Why can't she die? Die. God, make her die.
He had to go back. He had to finish this, although who knew how it would end. The rocketing hope was gone from her eyes, clouded over with a milky strange fixed look, ready to be fear. If he tormented her long enough, if he confused her so that she did not know what was happening to her and to her tiny world, if he made the walls shake and the garden slant and the sunlight turn gray, she could also take leave of her anchorage, that slight whatever-it-was that kept her bound to this time and this place. Thirteen years was a very long time to wait for death; aside from her heart, there was no telling what state her mind was in; if you hurt it enough, it might give too. All right, now, now was the time for the axe and the final blow. However it would end.
"I love," he began, and saw it happening. Saw the fear, saw her push back against the pillows, recoiling as if he had come towards her with murderous hands, saw the fear slipping too and behind it nothing, her eyes already going dull and empty.
"I love you," he said. "It is all right, Annette. I love you."
Then he rang for Sarine and pulled open the door, and ran from the house, like an old man, running down the road. They could look after her, it was their job now. They could hardly expect him to give her anything more.
BLICK had told him not to come back to the office today. Compassionate leave. Thick was a perfectly decent fellow. They all were. Maybe they hated the he job as much as he did, but put on a better show. Maybe they didn't hate the job but that was no reason to despise them. He was not exactly a man who had the right to despise anyone. He would just walk around a bit first, it might be easier later on.
He went up the stairs slowly, wishing there were more of them. Then he opened the door slowly, wishing he had forgotten his key, wishing that Maggie would be out. Maggie was there, and turned to him, her face warm with love and concern and hope, and saw what she saw. He did not have to tell her. He knelt by her chair, smelling paint, and hid his face in her lap.
Grief, he thought, that is what this is: I never knew. No one can live with it. It's beyond caring, beyond hope. A big gray emptiness. We can't, we can't.
Maggie's hand was on his shoulder. He moved, raised his head, and took her hand which was cold. She was looking out of the window. Her face showed nothing.
"Maggie," he said. "Maggie please."
She turned her head and looked at him.
"Maggie, don't. Maggie, wait. Wait. She'll die. She has to die. It can't go on. Maggie, wait."
She did not answer. After a while he got up, his knees hurting and creaking, and sat in the comfortable chair. It grew dark.
In the darkness, across a great distance, he talked to her. His voice seemed to echo, as if he were calling to her on the other side of a canyon.
"Maggie, listen. Turn your face. I beg you to listen."
She stirred, moved, he saw a pale blur.
"If you think I couldn't because I love Annette, you are wrong. I wished her dead. I prayed for her to die." He did not know what he expected, perhaps that Maggie would cry out against this crime. He felt it as a crime, and now something terrible he would always keep with him, a knowledge of himself that he could not escape. Maggie was silent. Did she not believe him; was she too repelled to speak?
"I could even have done it, I think, I'm not sure but to think so, said it all, if it had killed her quickly, at once." Is it true, he asked himself, it may be true. Who am I? "But not what I saw. What it was going to be. That she'd go on lying there, forever in that room, and mad. Crazy. With those eyes."
Maggie was doing something. What? Putting her hands over her ears, not to listen, not to hear this horrible stuff? Shaking herself, to shake him off, to writhe away from this whole vile story, from all he had to say and was? He was afraid of everything now. He could hardly understand what he was saying, or his voice. "You're young. I'm not really old. We'll be free some day, maybe not too long off, but we will be. We can have the baby; we'll be free later. We can count on that, we can, Maggie."
My God, he thought, my God.
"No," Maggie said, shouting the word across the now enormous room.
No. God in heaven, no. Waiting for a funeral, every day, hoping for it with all their strength so they could marry. Dancing on a coffin. I must be mad myself. And besides, it was all very well to live together, you could get away with that, fashion had gone so far, provided you were discreet, but illegitimate children; no one had them, he'd never known anyone; he'd lose his job as soon as they heard, the child would starve; there might even be laws; they'd take the child to an institution; what has happened, James thought, I don't even know what I'm thinking.
"I don't care about the rules," Maggie said harshly. "Or if it got too tough, we could go to another city and say we were married. If it was only you and me, I wouldn't care. But I'm not going to have a father for my child, on loan. Do you hear? Half there, on loan from a damned ghost who won't die!"
She must have been crying, she made ugly sounds, as if the breath in her throat was metal, and she got up and bumped against the card table and the book case and he could hear her heavy on the stairs as she went down to the street.
Later he turned on the lights and went into the kitchenette and opened a can and heated the brownish stuff in a saucepan and sat at the table before the uneaten food, not knowing what he was waiting for.
Thick said to his secretary, "I think Mr. Whiteley's wife must be worse."
Every evening he came home with fear, and found Maggie there, gentle, quiet; they seemed to him like two shadows, performing underwater rites of eating, sleeping, washing, as if they were real people. The fear was so heavy that it ended by numbing him. When he came home now he counted the stairs to their flat, thinking of nothing. The note was on the bed. He walked across the room and picked it up steadily. It was there because it had to be, he had known he would come back one of these days and find it.
"Dear Jim; I have gone to that doctor of Jessie's who fixes things. Afterwards, I am going with Jessie to the Adirondacks for a week or two. It will be nice to lie in the sun. Then I'll come back. I suppose our life will be kind of sad and dull here but maybe that's the way life is, when you get older. Take care of yourself, Maggie."
He folded the note and put it back on the bed. He took off his hat and sat in Maggie's chair, by the drawing board. Wait, wait, he said to himself. No. Wait for what? He thought of Maggie where she was now, and suddenly he was bent over, holding his head, breathing through his mouth, fighting off panic and nausea. After a while he went into the dark little bathroom and drank a glass of water and wiped his face with a towel. Then he came back and stood in the center of the room.
Sad and dull. No. No, my darling, it doesn't have to be. There is no law. It depends on the company you keep. It doesn't have to be, it won't be for you, there's plenty of time for you. Annette feeding on him, he feeding on Maggie. Well, no. He could prevent that, anyhow. You just have to be careful of the company you keep, my little one.
He looked at the room: the bed, the drawing board, the scarred old office desk where Maggie hid her disorderly tools and her underclothes, the card table where they ate, the homemade book case, the hideous lamp, the radio and record player, bought on the installment plan too. He looked at the floor where the nonexistent orange crate would not stand. He pulled two big suitcases from under the bed, and began to pack.
Martha Gellhorn is an American novelist and short-story writer who feels happiest when working abroad. She wrote her first novel in Paris at the age of twenty-three. As a foreign correspondent she covered the Civil War in Spain; Munich; Czechoslovakia; Finland; and the war in China before Pearl Harbor. London was most frequently her headquarters during the Second World War.
Copyright © 1956 by Martha Gellhorn. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; August 1956; The Smell of Lilies; Volume 198, No. 8; pages 41 - 54.