Essays: Extracts from “In Love” |
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Extracts from “In Love”

by Alfred Hayes

Alfred Hayes

“I suppose no evening is ever again like the very first evening, the nakedness ever again quite the nakedness it is that first time, the initial gestures, hesitant and doubtful and overintense, ever again what they were, for nothing we want ever turns out quite the way we want it, love or ambition or children, and we go from disappointment to disappointment, from hope to denial, from expectation to surrender, as we grow older, thinking or coming to think that what was wrong was the wanting, so intense it hurt us, and believing or coming to believe that hope was our mistake and expectation our error, and that everything the more we want it the more difficult the having it seems to be, though Howard said no, the man she married said no, he said what people wanted most was money,  because money represented everything else, but that people were ashamed of having so exclusive a feeling for money, and they concealed this feeling, and in the end possibly even I agreed with him.

“She recalled, too (we were sitting on the terrace of the cafeteria in the zoo in Central Park, and a lion was roaring) that when she was at school and was initiated in to her sorority, she was blindfolded and somebody tied a string to an oyster and they told her she had to swallow the oyster and she could taste it in her mouth, the awful slimy dead taste and she gulped and gulped and when it finally lodged in her throat and she was about to swallow it they tugged the oyster back and God the sensation was just awful and every time she even saw a plate of oysters sitting on a bed of ice she got ill remembering. And at fourteen (we were eating in a small Italian restaurant off Sixth Avenue and I had spilled some red wine) she had acne and she was fat and she thought she was never going to be slender like the ballet dancers whose photographs clipped from a magazine she had tacked to the wall of her bedroom and then at sixteen she was suddenly slender and very pretty and the acne was all gone and then she realized that her breasts would always  be small, that she would never have any sort of an impressive bosom at all and the boys downtown standing outside the drugstore or the candystore would never whistle at her when she walked by and probably nobody would ever be mad about her, really mad, and shoot himself out of sheer love, and she sighed and reconciled herself to it and when she got older nobody ever really did, it would be sort of nice, she thought, to be really madly loved and have somebody actually threaten to kill himself about her, but she supposed it would never happen.  And then at seventeen she was married. Incredibly married.” (pp 31-33)


“Now she was searching my face anxiously to see how agitated I was, and what it was I intended to do. She did not believe that I would hurt her, and yet she was afraid that I might hurt her. But she was in no danger. She would have been struck by nothing heavier than a laborious adjective. She was quite safe, and needed only to have permitted me to exhaust the not very effective phrases with which I clumsily tried to transfix her, and to empty myself of all the exaggerated accusations I made against her, and have allowed me to drain the cisterns of self-pity, and I would have turned, satisfied, and have made, or tried to make, an exit appropriate to the moment: the door theatrically slammed, and my footsteps going loudly down the stairs. She would have, had she been penetrating enough, even permitted me the luxury of a bitter and conclusive: whore.” (pp 103-104)


“A few days later, there was a disturbance down the corridor. Mr. Lanzetti, a round man, who was the hotel’s assistant manager, explained when I opened my door that it was a woman. The occupant of 615 had thrown her out.

She was outside 615 now, kicking at the door. She was red-haired.

You son of a bitch, she shouted at 615, you’ll pay for this.

Mr. Lanzetti fluttered to her.

Madame, Mr. Lanzetti said, you’ll just force me to call the police. Is that what you want, I should call the police?

Shut up, the red-haired woman said. Fatface.

All right then, Mr. Lanzetti said. Bob.

Yes sir, the elevator boy said.

Telephone the police.

The police, the red-haired woman said. She slung her purse which she wore on a shoulder strap out of the way. Go call the sucking police. I’ll cut your balls off, she shouted at the locked door.

Madame, Mr. Lanzetti said. You’re just making a spectacle of yourself. You’re just disturbing our tenants.

Screw your tenants, the red-haired woman said. Throw me out. He’s got another guess coming if he thinks he can just lay me and throw me out. I don’t go that easy. I’ll cut his balls off. So help me Mary. Sidney! she screamed. Open this door!

Madame, Mr. Lanzetti said.

Madame your ass, the red-haired woman said. She began methodically to kick again at Sidney’s door.

Then someone called the police and they took the lady away.

So that others and elsewhere were having difficulties with love. Madame your ass. She was quite right, the lady in the corridor. I wished that I too, having been betrayed, could kick at the door of outrage. That I could howl somewhere in an empty corridor. I closed my own door, wondering if Sidney had ever had a tear-gas pen fired at him.” (pp 109-111)

(Extracts selected by Cécile Menon, with kind permission from Peter Owen Publishers) .