Prologue: He’s moving to Greece.
(D-day – 2)
…Then I lost my temper. I dragged up everything I could remember that might hurt her. She didn’t say anything, but undressed and got into bed, and lay with her face turned to the wall. She began to cry. In the silence I kept remembering, with intense relief, that I should soon be free of all this. It was not that I believed my own vicious accusations; but I still hated her for having made me make them. In the end I sat beside her and watched the tears trickle out of her swollen eyes…
(D-day – 1)
I picked up Alison and we went to the garage that was going to sell the car for me. I’d offered it to her some time before, but she had refused.
“If I had it I’d always think of you.”
“Then have it.”
“I don’t want to think of you. And I couldn’t stand anyone else sitting where you are,”
“Will you take whatever I get for it? It won’t be much.”
“Don’t be silly.”
“I don’t want anything.”
But I knew she wanted a scooter. I could leave a check with Towards a scooter on a card, and I thought she would take that, when I had gone.
It was curious how quiet that last evening was; as if I had already left, and we were two ghosts talking to each other. We arranged what we should do in the morning. She didn’t want to come and see me off at Victoria; we would have breakfast as usual, she would go, it was cleanest and simplest that way. We arranged our future. As soon as she could she would try to get herself to Athens. If that was impossible, I might fly back to England at Christmas. We might meet halfway somewhere — Rome, Germany.
“Alice Springs,” she said.
In the night we lay awake, knowing each other awake, yet afraid to talk. I felt her hand feel out for mine. We lay for a while without talking. Then she spoke.
“If I said I’d wait?” I was silent. “I think I could wait. That’s what I mean.”
“You’re always saying ‘I know.’ But it doesn’t answer anything.”
“I know.” She pinched my hand. “Suppose I say, yes, wait, in a year’s time I shall know. All the time you’ll be waiting, waiting.”
“I wouldn’t mind.”
“But it’s mad. It’s like putting a girl in a convent till you’re ready to marry her. And then deciding you don’t want to marry her. We have to be free. We haven’t got a choice.”
“Don’t get upset. Please don’t get upset.”
“We’ve got to see how things go.”
There was a silence.
“I was thinking of coming back here tomorrow night. That’s all.”
“I’ll write. Every day.”
“It’s a sort of test, really. We’ll see how much we miss each other.”
“I know what it’s like when people go away. It’s agony for a week, then painful for a week, then you begin to forget, and then it seems as if it never happened, it happened to someone else, and you start shrugging. You say, dingo it’s life, that’s the way things are. Stupid things like that. As if you haven’t really lost something forever.”
“I shan’t forget. I shan’t ever forget.”
“You will. And I will.”
“We’ve got to go on living. However sad it is.”
After a long time she said, “I don’t think you know what sadness is.”
* * *
We overslept in the morning. I had deliberately set the alarm late, to make a rush, not to leave time for tears. Alison ate her breakfast standing up. We talked about absurd things: cutting the milk order, where I would be at lunchtime, where a library ticket I had lost might be. And then she put down her coffeecup and we were standing at the door. I saw her face, as if it was still not too late, all a bad dream, her gray eyes searching mine, her small puffy cheeks. There were tears forming in her eyes, and she opened her mouth to say something. But then she leant forward, desperately, clumsily, kissed me so swiftly that I hardly felt her mouth, and was gone. Her camelhair coat disappeared down the stairs. She didn’t look back. I went to the window, and saw her walking fast across the street, the pale coat, the straw-colored hair almost the same color as the coat, a movement of her hand to her handbag, her blowing her nose; not once did she look back. She broke into a sort of run. I opened the window and leant out and watched until she disappeared around the corner at the end of the street into Marylebone Road. And not even then, at the very end, did she look back.
I turned to the room, washed up the breakfast things, made the bed; then I sat at the table and wrote out a check for fifty pounds, and a little note.
Alison darling, please believe that if it was to be anyone, it would have been you; that I’ve really been far sadder than I could show, if we were not both to go mad. Please wear the earrings. Please take this money and buy a scooter and go where we used to go — or do what you want with it. Please look after yourself. Oh God, if only I was worth waiting for . . . Nicholas It was supposed to sound spontaneous, but I had been composing it on and off for days. I put the check and the note in an envelope, and set it on the mantelpiece with the little box containing the pair of jet earrings we had seen in a closed antique-shop one day. Then I shaved, and went out to get a taxi.
The thing I felt most clearly, when the first corner was turned, was that I had escaped. Obscurer, but no less strong, was the feeling that she loved me more than I loved her, and that consequently I had in some indefinable way won. So on top of the excitement of the voyage into the unknown, the taking wing again, I had an agreeable feeling of emotional triumph. A dry feeling; but I liked things dry. I went towards Victoria as a hungry man goes towards a good dinner after a couple of glasses of Manzanilla. I began to sing, and it was not a brave attempt to hide my grief but a revoltingly unclouded desire to sing.