Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Restless as maggots

When Jake and I were first married — after the three eldest children had been taken away — we lived together in the evenings. Like actors, our lives began when the curtain went down. We ate and quarrelled and made love, cooked and drank and talked through the night, while the audience slept. Then, beginning with Dinah, the children began staying up later. They needed help with homework. They needed food. They needed conversation. They needed more and more of our lives. In a useless attempt to keep something for ourselves, we gave them bed-sitting rooms, television sets, new electric fires; but at eight o'clock, then nine o'clock, then ten o'clock they would be sitting in a patient row on the sofa preparing to talk to us or play games with us or perhaps just watch us, their eyes restless as maggots, expecting us to bring them up. My guilt and Jake's exasperation loaded the atmosphere until, to me, it became unbearable. But the children breathed it in placidly. There were now more great bored ones staying up in the evening than there were small, manageable ones asleep with their teeth cleaned. The nurse went off duty, as she called it, at half past seven, seldom failing to remark that she had had a twelve hour day. We went out, in order to be alone, to the great dirty pub on the corner, to the cinema, anywhere where we might be anonymous and behave, if necessary, unsuitably to our age and situation. That night, after I came home, there was no question of going out. We waited, with bad grace and burning impatience, for them to go to bed.

At last, lingeringly, with sad backward glances at the glorious day, they went. They could well look after themselves, but because I had been away I went about picking up socks, opening windows, telling them to hurry, tucking them in. Encouraged, they clung to my hand, each jealous of another, demanding to know about death and sex and other subjects which they hoped might interest me. When one of them pestered unduly, another would demand that I was left alone; when one of them called for me to go back and listen, another said crushingly, "You are a beast, can't you see she's tired." By the time I left Dinah, dazed by the possibility of a Supreme Being, my longing to be alone with Jake had cooled and hardened into a longing to forget, to postpone, to sleep.

— from The Pumpkin Eater, by Penelope Mortimer.

I'm guessing (with desperate hope that I am not alone) that anyone with children, no matter how many, will find something to relate to in this passage.
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