what he had wanted so passionately when he was young, when he was younger than that girl. But then he remembered how it had been to be so hemmed in and frustrated, and realised that the girl—whom he still thought of as the girl—was probably enduring the same restrictions as those which now came back to him with astonishing force. Young people, he thought, should not be so confined; it did them no good in later life. All at once he felt a powerful sympathy for the girl, marooned in that alienflat, and unable to get out of it, and with nowhere else to go.
For himself he felt only sadness, the sadness that seemed to hover like a shadow over the end of every day. To be young, to start again! But this time to be different, to be selfish, to be obdurate! One paid a heavy price for behaving well. This freedom of his was illusory, based on honourable retirement, it was true, but a poor facsimile of the real thing, which belonged to the fleet of foot, the light of heart. And it was too late even to feel anger, he thought, for anger had turned to sorrow. He felt such a constriction of the heart that he thought he might weep. Without Putnam, or even the office, to restore his self-respect, he was lost, his life mere boredom. Struck by this realisation he lay wide-eyed for a good part of the night, without a thought for lost rest, but with a desire for change that obliterated or subsumed all other desires, both those he had forgotten and those which burned in his consciousness, as if he were St Antony in the desert. The events of the day seemed to him curiously significant. He thought that they marked some sort of turning point, the true meaning of which would be revealed to him when time had run its course.
H ALLOA!’ SHOUTED MRS CARDOZO FROM THE front door: her usual greeting. ‘Good morning!’ he shouted back, then went into the kitchen to prepare her coffee. So this was to be retirement, he reflected, tea with this one, coffee with that one, and none of it of his own choosing. But she was a cheerful, if noisy woman; he responded to her cheerfulness, and tried to rise above her outbursts of song and the ribald attitude she chose to take with regard to his puny arrangements. She frequently protested her loyalty to him; he in his turn was unwillingly dependent on her, and submitted with good grace to the half-hour which was set aside for coffee and conversation, although he did not always attend too carefully to what she was saying, having heard most of it before, and able to tune in to any new proposition as and when it came along.
She was married to a hospital porter who was always on the verge of losing his job. The reasons for this were mysterious. Bland had heard, on more than one occasion, an account of the machinations of the department in which he worked, and had tried to disentangle them, but without success. He had met the man once or twice when he had come to collect his wife; he had seemed decent and sensible, if anything more amenable than his riotous partner. Bland had offered to put in a word for him, if a personal reference were ever needed. Mrs Cardozo had dismissed the suggestion out of hand, not, she assured him, because she believed him to be without influence, but because she considered her husband a waste of time, a lost cause, like most men. Her view of Bland, whom she saw as a wealthy ninny, as she did most Englishmen, verged on the irreverent, sometimes the incredulous. Bland had learned to put up with this. Fortunately her contempt was largely reserved for her husband, to whose misdemeanours she alluded at some length. Gusts of laughter concluded this exchange, always the same, after which she would consent to rise from the table, turn on both taps and the radio, and begin her work. Bland, who found her heavy going, and something of a liability, consequently overdid his concern for her well-being. He thought it impolite to leave the flat when she was there, although the noise pursued him from
Courtney Nuckels, Rebecca Gober