Thursday, April 18, 2013

Doris Lessing: The Habit of Loving

Then one night she woke and saw him watching her.
“What’s the matter?” she asked, startled. "Can't you sleep?"
"I'm only watching you, dear," he said hopelessly.
She lay curled up beside him, her fist beside her on the pillow, between him and her. "Why aren't you happy?" she asked suddenly; and as George laughed with a sudden bitter irony, she sat up, arms around her knees, prepared to con­sider this problem practically.
"This isn't marriage; this isn't love," he announced. He sat up beside her. He didn’t know that he had never used that tone to her before. A portly man, his elderly face flushed with sorrow, he had forgotten her for the moment, and he was speaking across her from his past, resurrected in her, to his past. He was dignified with responsible experience and the warmth of a lifetime's responses. His eyes were heavy, satirical and condemning. She rolled herself up against him and said with a small smile, "Then show me. George."
"Show you?" he said, almost stammering. “Show you?” But he held her, the obedient child, his cheek against hers, until she slept; then a too close pressure of his shoulder on hers caused her to shrink and recoil from him away to the edge of the bed.
In the morning she looked at him oddly, with an odd sad little respect, and said, “You know what, George? You've just got into the habit of loving."
"What do you mean, dear?"
She rolled out of bed and stood beside it, a waif in her white pyjamas, her black hair ruffled. She slid her eyes at him and smiled. "You just want some­thing in your arms, that's all. What do you do when you're alone? Wrap yourself around a pillow?"
He said nothing; he was cut to the heart.
"My husband was the same," she remarked gaily. "Funny thing is, he didn't care anything about me." She stood considering him, smiling mockingly. "Strainge, ain't it?" she commented and went off to the bathroom. That was the second time she had mentioned her husband.
That phrase, " the habit of loving," made a revolution in George. It was true, he thought. He was shocked out of himself, out of the instinctive response to the movement of skin against his, the pressure of a breast. It seemed to him that he was seeing Bobby quite newly. He had not really known her before. The de­lightful little girl had vanished, and he saw a young woman toughened and wary because of defeats and failures he had never stopped to think of. He saw that the sadness that lay behind the black eyes was not at all impersonal; he saw the first sheen of grey lying on her smooth hair; he saw that the full curve of her cheek was the beginning of the softening into middleage. He was appalled at his ego­tism. Now, he thought, he would really know her, and she would begin to love him in response to it.

Doris Lessing, The Habit of Loving

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