The Golden Notebook
'When we're so different in every way,' said Molly, 'it's odd. I suppose because we both live the same kind of life--not getting married and so on. That's all they see.'
'Free women,' said Anna, wryly. She added, with an anger new to Molly, so that she earned another quick scrutinising glance from her friend: 'They still define us in terms of relationships with men, even the best of them.'
'Well, we do, don't we?' said Molly, rather tart. 'Well, it's awfully hard not to,' she amended, hastily, because of the look of surprise Anna now gave her. There was a short pause, during which the women did not look at each other but reflected that a year apart was a long time, even for an old friendship.
Molly said at last, sighing: 'Free. Do you know, when I was away, I was thinking about us, and I've decided that we're a completely new type of woman. We must be, surely?'
HARRIET AND DAVID met each other at an office party neither had particularly wanted to go to, and both knew at once that this was what they had been waiting for. Someone conservative, old-fashioned, not to say obsolescent; timid, hard to please: this is what other people called them, but there was no end to the unaffectionate adjectives they earned. They defended a stubbornly held view of themselves, which was that they were ordinary and in the right of it, should not be criticised for emotional fastidiousness, abstemiousness, just because these were unfashionable qualities.
At this famous office party, about two hundred people crammed into a long, ornate, and solemn room, for three hundred and thirty-four days of the year a boardroom. Three associated firms, all to do with putting up buildings, were having their end-of-year party. It was noisy. The pounding rhythm of a small band shook walls and floor. Most people were dancing, packed close because of lack of space, couples bobbing up and down or revolving in one spot as if they were on invisible turntables. The women were dressed up, dramatic, bizarre, full of colour: Look at me! Look at me! Some of the men demanded as much attention. Around the walls were pressed a few non-dancers, and among these were Harriet and David, standing by themselves, holding glasses—observers. Both had reflected that the faces of the dancers, women more than men, but men, too, could just as well have been distorted in screams and grimaces of pain as in enjoyment. There was a forced hecticity to the scene … but these thoughts, like so many others, they had not expected to share with anyone else.
From across the room—if one saw her at all among so many eye-demanding people—Harriet was a pastel blur. As in an Impressionist picture, or a trick photograph, she seemed a girl merged with her surroundings. She stood near a great vase of dried grasses and leaves and her dress was something flowery. The focussing eye then saw curly dark hair, which was unfashionable … blue eyes, soft but thoughtful … lips rather too firmly closed. In fact, all her features were strong and good, and she was solidly built. A healthy young woman, but perhaps more at home in a garden?
David had been standing just where he was for an hour drinking judiciously, his serious grey-blue eyes taking their time over this person, that couple, watching how people engaged and separated, ricochetting off each other. To Harriet he did not have the look of someone solidly planted: he seemed almost to hover, balancing on the balls of his feet. A slight young man—he looked younger than he was—he had a round, candid face and soft brown hair girls longed to run their fingers through, but then that contemplative gaze of his made itself felt and they desisted. He made them feel uncomfortable. Not Harriet. She knew his look of watchful apartness mirrored her own. She judged his humorous air to be an effort. He was making similar mental comments about her: she seemed to dislike these occasions as much as he did. Both had found out who the other was. Harriet was in the sales department of a firm that designed and supplied building materials; David was an architect.