The Pumpkin Eater | Chapter 15 of 34

Author: Penelope Mortimer | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1638 Views | Add a Review

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It was late at night and all the children, even Dinah, were asleep. Jake had just gone downstairs with our family doctor, a sturdy, middle-aged G.P. who had never seen me ill before, although he had bullied and encouraged me through many labours. He had given me an injection earlier in the evening, but when I woke up the tears were still pouring out, a kind of haemorrhage of grief. Now, exhausted, I wondered if I was going out of my mind. Was this how it began, with this terrible sense of loss, as though everyone had died?

I got out of bed and went to the door; it squeaked when I opened it, but the landing light wasn’t on, so I ran to the banisters and leant over. As I had hoped, the sitting room door was open. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, so I crept halfway down the stairs. Now I could hear. I crouched on the stairs, hugging my knees, alert for the sound of the nurse or a child but straining for every word through the open door.

“… very unhappy,” the doctor said.

“What did she say to you?”

“Nothing very much. Why? Do you think …?”

They were moving about the room. I heard the hiss of the soda syphon. “… gets mad ideas into her head,” Jake said.

“What sort of ideas?”

“Oh … thinks everyone’s against her, finds fault all the time. You know the sort of thing.”

“I’ve known it in many people, not your wife. Don’t forget I’ve known her for, what is it, eleven, twelve years. She’s a remarkable …” He must be leaning forward for his drink. “Tough, sensible, full of life. This doesn’t make sense to me.”

“Doesn’t make sense to me, either.”

“No, I don’t, thanks … She’s not got enough to do, you know.”

“Oh, balls … Sorry, but that’s a lot of balls. She never sews on a button, never lifts a duster, never cooks a meal …”

“Since when?”

“I don’t know. The last few months. Just sits here and mopes all the time.”

There was a short silence. I eased myself farther down the stairs. My heart was pounding again and I felt sick. Eavesdroppers, my mother would say, hear what they deserve.

“How are you getting on? Together, I mean?”

“Oh … fine. I’m busy, of course. But … fine.”

“So you can’t think of any reason for this … sudden collapse? She’s very disturbed, you know. I don’t think you should take it lightly.”

Why didn’t Jake speak? “Jake!” I had cried, “Jake!”, as the crackling white nurses had carried me off for aspirin and sweet tea in some kind of antiseptic rest room through Lingerie. “Jake! Jake!”, as though I were literally dying of grief. But they hadn’t been able to find him, so one of them had brought me back in a taxi, allowing me to hold her plump, grey-gloved hand, and the children, just back from school, had stared dumbfounded as I was helped upstairs.

“No,” Jake said. “I can’t think of a reason …” The syphon hissed again. “I suppose … she’d like to have another child.”

“How old is she?”

“I don’t know. Thirty-eight, I think.”

“And the youngest?”


“Then why doesn’t she have one? When this little storm’s over, probably just the thing. She drops those babies like a cat, you know — it’s a pleasure to watch …”

“We’ve got enough children! Good God, we’ve got enough!” The doctor murmured something I couldn’t hear. I was shivering. “It may be a pleasure to watch for you … When’s she going to face facts? She can’t go on having children for ever, anyway what for? They’ll all grow up in the end. She’s got a bloody houseful already, and me, she’s got me! Why can’t she grow up, settle for what she’s got, why can’t she take some interest in the outside world for a change? I’m sick of living in a bloody nursery! …” There was a long silence. He must have paced to the far side of the room because I could hardly hear him now… love her … all right … can’t go on indefinite … obsession …”

“Obsession is a very strong word,” the doctor said.

“All right. It’s a strong word.” Jake came to the doorway, his back to me. He had one hand in his pocket and the other hammered his words. “Look, I work harder than anyone else in the business. I work because I like working, and because I like money. Right. But all she wants is to sit in some shack with a tin of corned beef and have more children. Is that sane? She’s got everything any woman could want — clothes, a car, servants, she’s attractive. Why doesn’t she go abroad, or make some friends or … make a life for herself? That’s what I don’t understand.”

“Maybe she doesn’t want to,” the doctor said.

Jake stalked away out of sight. “You’re dead right she doesn’t want to. Drink?”

“No, thanks. I must be going.” I heard the effort of raising himself from the sofa and got up, ready to run. “I see your point, Armitage. But has she ever said to you that she wants another child?”

“Not in so many words. No.”

“She didn’t say so to me, either. I wonder … if you’re right?”

“I don’t know. I give up.”

“I shouldn’t do that … just at the moment.”

“I get back to the office after a bloody hard day and I’m told my wife’s gone off her nut in Harrods. Harrods, of all places. Well … what do we do?”

“I think she should probably see a psychiatrist, try and get this depression sorted out before it takes root, you understand. I know a very good man … You’d like to pay, of course? You don’t want this on the National Health?”

“I suppose so. I mean, yes. I’ll pay.”

“There’s a lot you can do in the meanwhile. I hope you will.”

“Such as?”

“Be kind to her, for a start.”

“I’m always kind to her.”

“Tell her … well, you know. Tell her you love her and so forth.”

“I never stop. But it’s not me she wants. I’ve told you. It’s another bloody baby she wants.”

“I should cut down on the drink, if I were you. It doesn’t … it doesn’t help the situation.”

“It helps me.”

“Yes. Well. Your wife loves you, you know.” He was coming towards the door. I ran, two stairs at a time, to the landing. This was the place, hidden by the linen cupboard, where children peered down at parties. My teeth were chattering. I pressed my hands over my mouth. “I’ll come again in the morning. You have the tablets, but don’t give her any more unless she starts weeping.”

They walked slowly along the hall. Jake’s scalp shone pink through his dark, thin hair; the doctor had grey hair like a mat.

“Perhaps she ought to go away?” Jake said.

“Could you go with her?”

“I’m afraid not. I’m off to North Africa in a couple of weeks and I’ve got a hell of a lot to get through before then.”

“Why not take her to North Africa?”

“She wouldn’t want to go.”

“Are you sure of that?”

“I’ve asked her. She hates going on location. You know, there’s nothing for her to do, she just sits about and gets in the — she feels she gets in the way.”

“I see. Well … take care of her. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“I’ve got one or two things I must do, so if I’m not here I’ll ring you. All right? I’ll ring you at lunch time.”

“I should stay here if you can,” the doctor said.

I drew back quickly. The front door slammed. I turned to race to the bedroom, but Jake wasn’t coming upstairs. He had gone back into the sitting room. The telephone dial whirred deliberately, seven times. He began to speak, but so softly that I couldn’t hear a word. I waited for a few minutes, but it was a long conversation. I got into bed and lay down flat under the bedclothes. At last I heard the sharp ting as he put down the receiver. Now he was having another drink. Now, heavily, he was coming up the stairs. I closed my eyes. He opened the door very cautiously.


“No …” I held out my hand. He took it, sitting on the edge of the bed. “Has he gone?”

“Yes. Don’t wake up.”

“What did he say?”

“Oh … nothing much.” He bent over and kissed my forehead. “We’ll straighten you out. Don’t worry.”

“When will they finish the tower?”

“Soon. Go to sleep now. Happy dreams …”

I shut my eyes. He stroked my hair for a time, until he grew uncomfortable; then he went away.

A woman whom I knew to be his mother closed the door. We were in a dark castle. She was going to have a party, she said; we were invited. We were there early, eating a meal with Jake’s mother and another woman who didn’t like her very much. She said, “I’ve asked Philpot for a cup of tea.” There was a storm and we ran for shelter, Jake and myself and the others, I was wearing a fur coat. Philpot was standing wearing terrible clothes, looking plain and poor. The party began. There were hundreds of people in a vast, white, icy hall. “Who are these people?” I asked, “and why don’t we know them too?” Someone said, “They are Jake’s cousins.” Jake wasn’t there and I was nervous, but there was a Paul Jones, so I joined in and danced with the Mongol boy. It was a marvellous dance, elated, soaring. I was enjoying it, but he went away and I walked over to a group of street-corner louts who were sitting on a bench and asked, “Why don’t you dance?” One of them said, “I don’t dance with hard-faced bitches.” I said, “I’m not a hard-faced bitch,” and he believed me. We waltzed very beautifully on the ice.

I walked down a broad, long corridor, as though dug out of the earth. Philpot was walking a long way in front of me carrying a great sheaf of copper beech leaves. I laughed, unpleasantly, and she dropped the leaves and ran away. When I reached them, the leaves had all disintegrated into dust and twigs. I felt ashamed, and found her in a brightly lit little cabin with her child. “I’m sorry I laughed,” I said. She burst into tears and threw something at me, something soft, a cushion or a scarf. I caught it and gave it back to her and walked away.

There was a huge barn, and wagons made out of ice. I sat on top of one of the wagons with a lot of other people, waiting for a film to begin. It began, and Philpot, dressed in stuffy clothes and a cartwheel hat, was the Snow Queen. “She is here in a menial capacity,” I said, “as an actor.” The lights went out and she sang, off key and rather sadly, a little song. Jake appeared, sitting by me on the wagon. I said, “I’m having a wonderful time, what have you been doing?” He said, “I’ve been making love to your friend here.” I looked down, there was a schoolgirl in an old, broken down car beside the wagon.

Jake and I set off somewhere, through a great fair. I kept on saying how much it must have cost. We found that we had to go the wrong way, through a chain of caverns, each cavern contained Mickey Mouse or Popeye or the Sleeping Beauty. But we were going the wrong way. We walked along the truck lines and at last climbed up a conveyor belt: the belt carried wooden painted mermaids, which were going down, but it was not too difficult. When we came out, the party, the people, had all gone: nothing was left but icy water lapping against the walls, darkness and cold. A man in uniform, a fireman, was poking about in the water. Jake had disappeared. I looked and searched, but couldn’t see him. Then I heard him calling and saw a hand coming up out of the water. I ran and put my hand down into the water, feeling the rim and neck of some big jar or hole into which he had fallen. I felt his head and hand inside. He was holding a blade of grass and I pulled at it, trying to pull him out, but it broke. I shouted for the fireman, but he shouted back, “I’ve got six more down here!” I tried to hold Jake, to pull him out, but my hand kept slipping and at last he stopped moving, and I knew he was dead.


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Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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