Of the Strength, Sex and Reduction : Excerpt about a Whore

(Fay Weldon portrays the insanity of women – women suppressing, enhancing , accepting and acting on their passions in the moments of confusion. Always encountering the tussle between the vulgarity and respect, Praxis is the war-time story of personal survival with flesh and tears, dustpan and brush, feeling and unfeeling, bed-time stories and sexual mysteries, subjugation and freedom.)

Praxis Coverpage

Praxis Coverpage

By Fay Weldon

Could it really go on?

It did. It seemed so.

Until the event occurred: the extraordinary happening, which divided her life into two: before and after.

He bought her a double whiskey,  and for once that’s what she had, instead of a sweet yellow liquid from the bottle Douglas kept  especially for her and Elaine. By so doing she lost some two shillings and fourpence,  but she needed the whisky, for although he was suave and charming, he made her nervous and self- conscious. He was, she supposed, rare in the Raffles, a man difficult to despise. He was not young, perhaps even about sixty, but his hair was still thick, though grey, and what was more, it was his own. Too often her hand had encountered hair which moved not strand by strand, but in whole slices, tipping here and there across the sclap, and would turn out to be a toupee, a wig. He drank double whisky after double whisky, but seems unaffected by the alcohol. His voice was low, smooth and gentlemanly: he smiled at her and seemed to appreciate what he saw.

Elaine and Praxis had tossed up for the privilege of sitting beside him; and they had never done before. He was wealthy: you could tell from his shirt and shoes, and not just the thickness of his wallet. Estate agents and farmers could be rich, and often were, flashed gold signet rings and watch- chains to show it, but that was no guarantee that the money would easily come the girls’ way. This man was what Elaine and Praxis described as Bond Street rich: he had an easy affluence.

‘The sort of man,’ as Elaine said romantically, ‘who steps on a bus and finds he doesn’t have the money to pay the fare, because he has better things to do than think about it.’

However, Praxis won the toss, and then wished she hadn’t/ he asked her name.

‘Pattie’, she said.

‘ An ordinary name,’ he said, ‘ for a not very ordinary young person.’ His blue eyes travelled, with not so much speculation as was usual, but rather, with a contemplative admiration, over her breasts and down to her legs and up again to meet her eyes, quite frankly.

‘What blue eyes you have,’ he ssaid.

‘I like blue eyes better than brown, ‘ she replied. ‘Brown eyes hide feelings: blue eyes show them.’ Hilda had brown eyes.

‘I agree,’ h said, ‘but perhaps that’s just because we both have blue eyes.’

‘ We both,’ he said, and the feeling of inclusion warmed and satisfied her. Nor did he ask, as so many did, what’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this, before going on to make sure that the notion of niceness did not apply. He accepted her right to be there. As much as his own: hr right to be penetrated by him, as much as his to penetrate. Nor, on the way to the summer house, did he go behind, or before, as one ashamed, but took her arm in his and walked beside her, talking about himself and her.

‘Was she married’? More or less.

Children? More or less.

‘You don’t say much about yourself,’ he complained.

‘There is so little to say,’ she complained, in return.

‘Only because you have not investigated yourself,; he maintained, ‘or no one has yet investigated you. If you had, or they had, you would be of infinite interest to yourself.’

‘I am,’ he assured her. ‘I amy bore other people, but I never bore myself, and that’s the main thing.’

Did she like Brighton?

‘No,’ she replied.

‘Neither do I,’ he said. ‘It makes me feel desperate. Perched on the end of the world, in danger of falling off. That’s why I’m behaving like a man half my age. I am rather old,’ he apologized.

‘Not nearly so old as some,’ she remarked.

‘if I live in Brighton,’ he said, presently, as they reached the summer house,’ more or less married, more or less with children’- he stopped.

What?

‘I’d get out,’ he replied.

 Her hands shook as she tried to disengage her brassier strap.

‘Why are you trembling?, he asked, doing it for her.

‘I don’t know’, she replied, truthfully.

‘You’re not new to this?’

She shook her head.

‘It’s the terrible effect I have on people. My wife trembles all the time, but mostly with indignation.’

So, he was married.

She stood naked. He knelt, with his head pressed against her belly, in his grey expensive suit, well manicured hands clasped behind her back.

‘I love young women,’ he said. ‘All young women, any young women. I love to hear them talk, and feel them breathe. They are the centre of the universe. And their centre is the nearest a man can ever get to. When their centre moves, when I make it move, the world shifts.’

She hardly liked to ask for money.

‘ We all try to do it,’ he said, lying white and pale beside her, his skin not young but smooth from health and care. ‘We all try to do it, to move the universe to our way of thinking.’

She wished the sheets were cleaner, less familiar, the bed more unsullied by fumes, the tears, the odors and the struggles of the many who had lain upon it. He did not seem to mind. What was she to call him? He had not given her a name, and it was not her place to ask for one. What was she, after all? A whore. But titles were absurd, definitions were absurd.; she’d always known that: words used to simplify relationships between one person and another: granting one privilege, the other disadvantage. Bastard, Jew, student, wife, mother, prostitute, murderer: all made assumptions that reduced the individual, rather than defined them.

His hands moved over her body, hear breast, between her legs.

‘Pattie,’ he said’ smile, smile.’

It seemed more indecent than anything she had ever been asked to do.

‘Keep your eyes open: look at me.’

Willy always kept his eyes closed: so did she. Her clients would watch what she did, to herself, or to them: they would look for pain or pleasure on her face, but it was the reaction they needed and one bought about themselves; but it made no difference who it was. This man acknowledged her: it was not comfortable or what she wanted.

‘Pattie,’ he repeated. ‘Pattie,’ when she tried to retreat into solitary isolation, bringing her back into contact with him.

His methods were straightforward: himself on top of her : admiring, leisurely,  talking at first, later busy and exciting. She cried out, in genuine orgasm: she had all but forgotten how not to feign them.

‘Pattie,’ he said again, ‘Pattie,’ almost as if her climax had been all he wanted, but then he came on his own, and lay there for a time, half asleep.

‘You’re very restful,’ he said, although her mind kept racing ahead to Mary’s return home from school, and the necessity usually fulfilled- of being there first. But she felt, for once, happy where she was.

‘And more beautiful supine than upright,’ he added. ‘All the best women are.’

‘A pity we can’t have children,’ he said. ‘I always want to have children. But I suppose it’s impractical.’

‘Yes,’ said Pattie.

He made no suggestion that he might see her again, and for once, she was disappointed. But what else could she expect? His hand continued to run over hers, however , as if, although the prime purpose of their encounter had been met, his interest and concerns for her remained.

‘I used to live in Brighton once,’ he said. ‘It was a terrible time. Before the war. I was more or less married and more or less had children. Lucy, she was called. Loony Lucy. I think she was even more impossible than me, but it was a long time ago. How could one tell? Who was right and who was wrong?’

‘What became of her?’ asked Pattie, eventually. Her mind moved quickly to the defence, while her feelings remained stunned. Incest, she told herself, rapidly, was merely another label: so, come to that, was father.  A father was someone who brought up a child: not abandoned it. Incest was something disturbing which happened, inside families.

‘She was provided for,’ he said. ‘They were her idea, not mine. It would only be an embarrassment now, to seek them out. It was a long time ago.’

Pattie lay quiet. His hand moved up from her hand, to her arm, to her breast.

‘You’re lovely,’ he said, as if surprised. ‘I want you again. You make me feel young again.’

To commit incest knowingly, Pattie supposed, was a great deal worse than to do so unknowingly, and that was bad enough. Oedipus had out his eyes, and been pursued by furies, for ever after, for such a sin. But she was committing nothing: she was lying these, while her progenitor plunged and failed in the body of his own creating. She was glad he liked it. She would say nothing. She would take his guilt upon herself.

He was a charming, impossible man; a hopeless, dangerous romantic. No wonder he had driven Lucy mad. Had he lain his head upon her belly, and tried to listen to the breathing of the universe? No doubt, and then gone straight down to the golf-club, listening in to the waitresses’ hot-line to infinity as well.

Pattie laughed out loud, with bitterness and exultation mixed, at which orgasm shook her body, so that the laughter turned almost to a cry of distress.

‘Christ,’ he said, with reverence. But she had altogether demystified him: turned him from saint to client, from father to man, from someone who must be pleased to someone who could pleasure her. He was a natty, grey- haired old gentleman, spending the afternoon with a provincial whore, and that was all there was to it. As to being her father: he had renounced his rights to that a long time ago.

As is sensing the change in her, his erection wilted and all but died, and she obliged it up again, and used it for her own purposes, and found she could. She had become, at his expense, autonomous, wresting from him what he had failed to offer.

What am I doing here, wondered Praxis. What am I trying to prove and to whom? Who is there in the world to care how low I’ve sunk; to take blame for it? It has all been my own doing.

He dressed: Praxis lay naked on the bed and watched. He left her twenty pounds, white five pound noted. It occurred to her that perhaps the same knowledge had come to him as had to her, mid-intercourse, causing the momentary lapse in psychic energy, the temporary failure of desire.

He paused before he left.

‘So long as this is only part of your life, not all of it,’ he said, and she was conscious once again of affection between him and her: of something he was trying to offer her, within the very narrow limits of what he saw as his responsibility.

‘All right,’ she said, and he gave her the most paternal of pecks upon the forehead, and a rather less paternal one on each of her breasts, and left.

Pattie got up, washed, dressed, went home, packed, met Mary out of school, took a taxi to the station, the train to Waterloo, and within hours was knocking on Colleen’s front door.

Excerpt from ‘Praxis’ by Fay Weldon

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