Keep the Aspidistra Flying(98)

By: George Orwell

‘We shall have to get married, I suppose,’ he said flatly.

‘Well, shall we? That’s what I came here to ask you.’

‘But I suppose you want me to marry you, don’t you?’

‘Not unless you want to. I’m not going to tie you down. I know it’s against your ideas to marry. You must decide for yourself.’

‘But we’ve no alternative—if you’re really going to have this baby.’

‘Not necessarily. That’s what you’ve got to decide. Because after all there is another way.’

‘What way?’

‘Oh, you know. A girl at the studio gave me an address. A friend of hers had it done for only five pounds.’

That pulled him up. For the first time he grasped, with the only kind of knowledge that matters, what they were really talking about. The words ‘a baby’ took on a new significance. They did not mean any longer a mere abstract disaster, they meant a bud of flesh, a bit of himself, down there in her belly, alive and growing. His eyes met hers. They had a strange moment of sympathy such as they had never had before. For a moment he did feel that in some mysterious way they were one flesh. Though they were feet apart he felt as though they were joined together—as though some invisible living cord stretched from her entrails to his. He knew then that it was a dreadful thing they were contemplating—a blasphemy, if that word had any meaning. Yet if it had been put otherwise he might not have recoiled from it. It was the squalid detail of the five pounds that brought it home.

‘No fear!’ he said. ‘Whatever happens we’re not going to do that. It’s disgusting.’

‘I know it is. But I can’t have the baby without being married.’

‘No! If that’s the alternative I’ll marry you. I’d sooner cut my right hand off than do a thing like that.’

Ping! went the door-bell. Two ugly louts in cheap bright blue suits, and a girl with a fit of the giggles, came in. One of the youths asked with a sort of sheepish boldness for ‘something with a kick in it—something smutty’. Silently, Gordon indicated the shelves where the ‘sex’ books were kept. There were hundreds of them in the library. They had titles like Secrets of Paris and The Man She Trusted; on their tattered yellow jackets were pictures of half-naked girls lying on divans with men in dinner-jackets standing over them. The stories inside, however, were painfully harmless. The two youths and the girl ranged among them, sniggering over the pictures on their covers, the girl letting out little squeals and pretending to be shocked. They disgusted Gordon so much that he turned his back on them till they had chosen their books.

When they had gone he came back to Rosemary’s chair. He stood behind her, took hold of her small firm shoulders, then slid a hand inside her coat and felt the warmth of her breast. He liked the strong springy feeling of her body; he liked to think that down there, a guarded seed, his baby was growing. She put a hand up and caressed the hand that was on her breast, but did not speak. She was waiting for him to decide.

‘If I marry you I shall have to turn respectable,’ he said musingly.

‘Could you?’ she said with a touch of her old manner.

‘I mean I shall have to get a proper job—go back to the New Albion. I suppose they’d take me back.’

He felt her grow very still and knew that she had been waiting for this. Yet she was determined to play fair. She was not going to bully him or cajole him.

‘I never said I wanted you to do that. I want you to marry me—yes, because of the baby. But it doesn’t follow you’ve got to keep me.’

‘There’s no sense in marrying if I can’t keep you. Suppose I married you when I was like I am at present—no money and no proper job? What would you do then?’

‘I don’t know. I’d go on working as long as I could. And afterwards, when the baby got too obvious—well, I suppose I’d have to go home to father and mother.’

‘That would be jolly for you, wouldn’t it? But you were so anxious for me to go back to the New Albion before. You haven’t changed your mind?’

‘I’ve thought things over. I know you’d hate to be tied to a regular job. I don’t blame you. You’ve got your own life to live.’