‘Then what do you want from life, Netta?’ he asked. ‘What are you getting at in it all?’
When their food had come he had ordered wine, and now, if not drunk, he was careless and bold with drink. Otherwise he would never have asked her a serious, direct question like that. To ask Netta a serious direct question, in the ordinary way, was simply to ask for one of those hideous cuts across the soul she knew so well how to administer. But now, because of what he had drunk, he felt he could take the cut if it came. If it hurt, he was anaesthetized.
They had finished their meal and were having coffee. Eddie Carstairs was still at his table in the corner, though most of the other tables were deserted. There were, however, three people making a good deal of noise at a table nearby, so he could speak in a normal voice without being overheard.
‘What do you mean?’ she said. ‘What do I want from life?’
‘Just what do you want from it? . . . ‘Do you want to be a success on the films, do you want to be married, do you want children – what?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘But you must, Netta. You must know something about what you want.’
‘No, I don’t,’ she said vaguely, looking at a passing waiter, and speaking as a mother, watching the screen at a cinema might speak to her talkative child. ‘Do you know what you want?’
‘Yes. Of course I do. I know what I want.’
‘What?,’ she said, and looked at him.
He paused for a moment, reluctant to start anything. He knew it could lead nowhere, could do him no good. But why shouldn’t he make love to her once in a way, why shouldn’t he get something back from the money he was spending, a little of the luxury of telling her he loved her, of speaking his heart. He hadn’t opened his heart to her for months.
‘I want you, Netta,’ he said, looking into her eyes. ‘That’s all I want.’
‘All right,’ she said. ‘So what?’
‘What do you mean,’ he said, ‘So what?’’
‘Just “So what”,’ said Netta, and she was again looking at the people in the room behind him.
Top: Alex Katz: Ann Lauterbach, 1978
Bottom: Alex Katz: Pas De Deux (Red Grooms and Lizzy Ross), 1994
Text: Patrick Hamilton, Hangover Square (The Third Part, Chapter 4). London, Constable, 1941.