He only felt his loneliness after his third gin; until then he despised the crowd, but afterwards he felt his kinship. He had come out of the same streets, but he was condemned by his higher pay to pretend to want other things, and all the time the piers, the peep shows pulled at his heart. He wanted to get back—but all he could do was to carry his sneer along the front, the badge of loneliness.
The imagination hadn’t awoken. That was his strength. He couldn’t see through other people’s eyes or feel with their nerves. Only the music made him uneasy, the catgut vibrating in the heart; it was like nerves losing their freshness, it was like age coming on, other people’s experience battering on the brain.
The inhuman voice whistled round the gallery and the Boy sat silent. It was he this time who was being warned; life held the vitriol bottle and warned him: I’ll spoil your looks. It spoke to him in the music, and when he protested that he for one would never get mixed up, the music had its own retort at hand: ‘You can’t always help it. It sort of comes that way.’
“You are wasting your time, my child,” Mr. Colleoni said. “You can’t do me any harm.” He laughed gently. “If you want a job though, come to me. I like push. I dare say I could find room for you. The World needs young people with energy.” The hand with the cigar moved expansively mapping out the World as Mr. Colleoni visualized it: lots of little electric clocks controlled by Greenwich, buttons on a desk, a good suite on the first floor, accounts audited, reports from agents, silver, cutlery, glass.
He watched her with his soured virginity, as one might watch a draught of medicine offered that one would never, never take; one would die first—or let others die. The chalky dust blew up round the windows.
They lay on the chalk bank side by side with a common geography and a little hate mixed with his contempt. He thought he had made his escape, and here his home was: back beside him, making claims.
Driven to her hole the small animal peered out at the bright and breezy world; in the hole were murder, copulation, extreme poverty, fidelity and the love and fear of God, but the small animal had not the knowledge to deny that only in the glare and open world outside was something which people called experience.
She was good, he’d discovered that, and he was damned: they were made for each other.
It was said to be the worst act of all, the act of despair, the sin without
forgiveness; sitting there in the smell of petrol she tried to realize despair, the mortal sin, but she couldn’t; it didn’t feel like despair. He was going to damn himself, but she was going to show them that they couldn’t damn him without damning her too. There was nothing he could do, she wouldn’t do: she felt capable of sharing any murder. A light lit his face and left it; a frown, a thought, a child’s face. She felt responsibility move in her breasts; she wouldn’t let him go into that darkness alone.
She was sixteen, but this was how she might have looked after years of marriage, of the childbirth and the daily quarrel: they had reached death and it affected them like age.
While Pinkie found the money, she was visited by an almost overwhelming rebellion—she had only to go out, leave him, refuse to play. He couldn’t make her kill herself: life wasn’t as bad as that. It came like a revelation, as if someone had whispered to her that she was someone, a separate creature—not just one flesh with him. She could always escape—if he didn’t change his mind. Nothing was decided. They could go in the car wherever he wanted them to go; she could take the gun from his hand, and even then—at the last moment of all—she needn’t shoot. Nothing was decided—there was always hope.
An enormous emotion beat on him; it was like something trying to get in; the pressure of gigantic wings against the glass. Dona nobis pacem. He withstood it, with all the bitter force of the school bench, the cement playground, the St. Pancras waiting-room, Dallow’s and Judy’s secret lust, and the cold unhappy moment on the pier. If the glass broke, if the beast—whatever it was—got in, God knows what it would do. He had a sense of huge havoc—the confession, the penance and the sacrament—and awful distraction, and he drove blind into the rain.
She smelt of soap and wine: comfort and peace and a slow sleepy physical enjoyment, a touch of the nursery and the mother, stole from the big
tipsy mouth, the magnificent breasts and legs, and reached Hale's withered and frightened and bitter little brain.
She came out of the crematorium, and there from the twin towers above her head fumed the very last of Fred, a thin stream of grey smoke from the ovens. People passing up the flowery suburban road looked up and noted the smoke; it had been a busy day at the furnaces. Fred dropped in indistinguishable grey ash on the pink blossoms: he became part of the smoke nuisance over London, and Ida wept.
“Of course it’s true,” the Boy said. “What else could there be?” he went scornfully on. “Why,” he said, “it’s the only thing that fits. These atheists, they don’t know nothing. Of course there’s Hell. Flames and damnation,” he said with his eyes on the dark shifting water and the lightning and the lamps going out above the black struts of the Palace Pier, “torments.”
“And Heaven too,” Rose said with anxiety while the rain fell interminably
“Oh, maybe,” the Boy said, “maybe.”
He trailed the clouds of his own glory after him: hell lay about him in his infancy. He was ready for more deaths.
That was what happened to a man in the end: the stuffy room, the wakeful children, the Saturday night movements from the other bed. Was there no escape—anywhere—for anyone? It was worth murdering a world.
The shadow of her sixteen-year-old face shifted in the moonlight on the wall. “Right and wrong. That’s what she talks about. I’ve heard her at the table. Right and wrong. As if she knew.” She whispered with contempt, “Oh, she won't burn. She couldn’t burn if she tried.”
He stood back and watched Rose awkwardly sign—his temporal
safety in return for two immortalities of pain. He had no doubt whatever that this was mortal sin, and he was filled with a kind of gloomy hilarity and pride. He saw himself now as a full grown man for whom the angels wept.
Again he grinned: only the devil, he thought, could have made her answer that. She was good, but he’d got her like you got God in the Eucharist—in the guts. God couldn’t escape the evil mouth which chose to eat its own damnation.
Freedom again in the early sun, freedom from the silent prayers at the altar, from the awful demands made on you at the sanctuary rail. She had joined the other side now forever. The half-crown was like a medal for services rendered. People coming back from seven-thirty Mass, people on the way to eight-thirty Matins—she watched them in their dark clothes like a spy. She didn’t envy them and she didn’t despise them: they had their salvation and she had Pinkie and damnation.