Elizabeth Bowen's Essentially Cruel Young Man

Wednesday, 29 April 2020 12:52

The shallow curve of the bay held a shingly murmur that was just not silence and imperceptibly ended where silence was. There was no wind, just a sensation round one’s collar and at the roots of one’s hair. Eddie and Portia stood on the esplanade, watching the sky and water slowly blot themselves out. Eddie stood aloofly, like someone who after hours allows himself to be freely alone again. There was never much connexion between his affability and his spirit - which now, in a sombre way, came out to stand at its own door. Only Portia had this forbidding intimacy with him - she was the only person to whom he need not pretend that she had not ceased existing when, for him, she had ceased to exist. The tender or bold play of half-love with grown-up people becomes very exacting: it tired Eddie. It was only Portia that he could pack off - like that, at the turn of a moment - with tired simplicity. She did, therefore, enjoy one kind of privilege: he allowed her at least to stay in body beside him when he was virtually not there, gone. No presence could be less insistent than hers. He treated her like an element (air, for instance) or a condition (darkness): these touch one with their equality and lightness where one could endure no human touch. He could look right through her, without a flicker of seeing, without being made shamefully conscious of the vacuum there must be in his eyes.

Portia, waiting for Eddie as she had often waited, turned her fists round slowly in her pockets, regretting that he should have been called away just now.

- Elizabeth Bowen, The Death Of The Heart