Keep the Aspidistra Flying, by George Orwell

Chapter 12

Ravelston wanted to say good-bye outside the registry office, but they would not hear of it, and insisted on dragging him off to have lunch with them. Not at Modigliani’s, however. They went to one of those jolly little Soho restaurants where you can get such a wonderful four-course lunch for half a crown. They had garlic sausage with bread and butter, fried plaice, entrecote aux pommes frites, and a rather watery caramel pudding; also a bottle of Medoc Superieur, three and sixpence the bottle.

Only Ravelston was at the wedding. The other witness was a poor meek creature with no teeth, a professional witness whom they picked up outside the registry office and tipped half a crown. Julia hadn’t been able to get away from the teashop, and Gordon and Rosemary had only got the day off from the office by pretexts carefully manoeuvred a long time ahead. Nobody knew they were getting married, except Ravelston and Julia. Rosemary was going to go on working at the studio for another month or two. She had preferred to keep her marriage a secret until it was over, chiefly for the sake of her innumerable brothers and sisters, none of whom could afford wedding presents. Gordon, left to himself, would have done it in a more regular manner. He had even wanted to be married in church. But Rosemary had put her foot down to that idea.

Gordon had been back at the office two months now. Four ten a week he was getting. It would be a tight pinch when Rosemary stopped working, but there was hope of a rise next year. They would have to get some money out of Rosemary’s parents, of course, when the baby was due to arrive. Mr Clew had left the New Albion a year ago, and his place had been taken by a Mr Warner, a Canadian who had been five years with a New York publicity firm. Mr Warner was a live wire but quite a likeable person. He and Gordon had a big job on hand at the moment. The Queen of Sheba Toilet Requisites Co. were sweeping the country with a monster campaign for their deodorant, April Dew. They had decided that B.O. and halitosis were worked out, or nearly, and had been racking their brains for a long time past to think of some new way of scaring the public. Then some bright spark suggested, What about smelling feet? That field had never been exploited and had immense possibilities. The Queen of Sheba had turned the idea over to the New Albion. What they asked for was a really telling slogan; something in the class of ‘Night-starvation’— something that would rankle in the public consciousness like a poisoned arrow. Mr Warner had thought it over for three days and then emerged with the unforgettable phrase ‘P.P.’ ‘P.P.’ stood for Pedic Perspiration. It was a real flash of genius, that. It was so simple and so arresting. Once you knew what they stood for, you couldn’t possibly see those letters ‘P.P.’ without a guilty tremor. Gordon had searched for the word ‘pedic’ in the Oxford Dictionary and found that it did not exist. But Mr Warner has said, Hell! what did it matter, anyway? It would put the wind up them just the same. The Queen of Sheba had jumped at the idea, of course.

They were putting every penny they could spare into the campaign. On every hoarding in the British Isles huge accusing posters were hammering ‘P.P.’ into the public mind. All the posters were identically the same. They wasted no words, but just demanded with sinister simplicity:

‘P.P.’

WHAT ABOUT

YOU?

Just that — no pictures, no explanations. There was no longer any need to say what ‘P.P.’ stood for; everyone in England knew it by this time. Mr Warner, with Gordon to help him, was designing the smaller ads for the newspapers and magazines. It was Mr Warner who supplied the bold sweeping ideas, sketched the general lay-out of the ads, and decided what pictures would be needed; but it was Gordon who wrote most of the letterpress — wrote the harrowing little stories, each a realistic novel in a hundred words, about despairing virgins of thirty, and lonely bachelors whose girls had unaccountably thrown them over, and overworked wives who could not afford to change their stockings once a week and who saw their husbands subsiding into the clutches of ‘the other woman’. He did it very well; he did it far better than he had ever done anything else in his life. Mr Warner gave golden reports of him. There was no doubt about Gordon’s literary ability. He could use words with the economy that is only learned by years of effort. So perhaps his long agonizing struggles to be a ‘writer’ had not been wasted after all.

They said good-bye to Ravelston outside the restaurant. The taxi bore them away. Ravelston had insisted on paying for the taxi from the registry office, so they felt they could afford another taxi. Warmed with wine, they lolled together, in the dusty May sunshine that filtered through the taxi window. Rosemary’s head on Gordon’s shoulder, their hands together in her lap. He played with the very slender wedding ring on Rosemary’s ring finger. Rolled gold, five and sixpence. It looked all right, however.

‘I must remember to take if off before I go to the studio tomorrow,’ said Rosemary reflectively.

‘To think we’re really married! Till death do us part. We’ve done it now, right enough.’

‘Terrifying, isn’t it?’

‘I expect we’ll settle down all right, though. With a house of our own and a pram and an aspidistra.’

He lifted her face up to kiss her. She had a touch of make-up on today, the first he had ever seen on her, and not too skilfully applied. Neither of their faces stood the spring sunshine very well. There were fine lines on Rosemary’s, deep seams on Gordon’s. Rosemary looked twenty-eight, perhaps; Gordon looked at least thirty-five. But Rosemary had pulled the three white hairs out of her crown yesterday.

‘Do you love me?’ he said.

‘Adore you, silly.’

‘I believe you do. It’s queer. I’m thirty and moth-eaten.’

‘I don’t care.’

They began to kiss, then drew hurriedly apart as they saw two scrawny upper-middle-class women, in a car that was moving parallel to their own, observing them with catty interest.

The flat off the Edgware Road wasn’t too bad. It was a dull quarter and rather a slummy street, but it was convenient for the centre of London; also it was quiet, being a blind alley. From the back window (it was a top floor) you could see the roof of Paddington Station. Twenty-one and six a week, unfurnished. One bed, one reception, kitchenette, bath (with geyser), and W.C. They had got their furniture already, most of it on the never-never. Ravelston had given them a complete set of crockery for a wedding present — a very kindly thought, that. Julia had given them a rather dreadful ‘occasional’ table, veneered walnut with a scalloped edge. Gordon had begged and implored her not to give them anything. Poor Julia! Christmas had left her utterly broke, as usual, and Aunt Angela’s birthday had been in March. But it would have seemed to Julia a kind of crime against nature to let a wedding go by without giving a present. God knew what sacrifices she had made to scrape together thirty bob for that ‘occasional’ table. They were still very short of linen and cutlery. Things would have to be bought piecemeal, when they had a few bob to spare.

They ran up the last flight of stairs in their excitement to get to the flat. It was all ready to inhabit. They had spent their evenings for weeks past getting the stuff in. It seemed to them a tremendous adventure to have this place of their own. Neither of them had ever owned furniture before; they had been living in furnished rooms ever since their childhood. As soon as they got inside they made a careful tour of the flat, checking, examining, and admiring everything as though they did not know by heart already every item that was there. They fell into absurd raptures over each separate stick of furniture. The double bed with the clean sheet ready turned down over the pink eiderdown! The linen and towels stowed away in the chest of drawers! The gateleg table, the four hard chairs, the two armchairs, the divan, the bookcase, the red Indian rug, the copper coal-scuttle which they had picked up cheap in the Caledonian market! And it was all their own, every bit of it was their own — at least, so long as they didn’t get behind with the instalments! They went into the kitchenette. Everything was ready, down to the minutest detail. Gas stove, meat safe, enamel-topped table, plate rack, saucepans, kettle, sink basket, mops, dishcloths — even a tin of Panshine, a packet of soapflakes, and a pound of washing soda in a jam-jar. It was all ready for use, ready for life. You could have cooked a meal in it here and now. They stood hand in hand by the enamel-topped table, admiring the view of Paddington Station.

‘Oh, Gordon, what fun it all is! To have a place that’s really our own and no landladies interfering!’

‘What I like best of all is to think of having breakfast together. You opposite me on the other side of the table, pouring out coffee. How queer it is! We’ve known each other all these years and we’ve never once had breakfast together.’

‘Let’s cook something now. I’m dying to use those saucepans.’

She made some coffee and brought it into the front room on the red lacquered tray which they had bought in Selfridge’s Bargain Basement. Gordon wandered over to the ‘occasional’ table by the window. Far below the mean street was drowned in a haze of sunlight, as though a glassy yellow sea had flooded it fathoms deep. He laid his coffee cup down on the ‘occasional’ table.

‘This is where we’ll put the aspidistra,’ he said.

‘Put the WHAT?’

‘The aspidistra.’

She laughed. He saw that she thought he was joking, and added: ‘We must remember to go out and order it before all the florists are shut.’

‘Gordon! You don’t mean that? You aren’t REALLY thinking of having an aspidistra?’

‘Yes, I am. We won’t let ours get dusty, either. They say an old toothbrush is the best thing to clean them with.’

She had come over to his side, and she pinched his arm.

‘You aren’t serious, by any chance, are you?’

‘Why shouldn’t I be?’

‘An aspidistra! To think of having one of those awful depressing things in here! Besides, where could we put it? I’m not going to have it in this room, and in the bedroom it would be worse. Fancy having an aspidistra in one’s bedroom!’

‘We don’t want one in the bedroom. This is the place for an aspidistra. In the front window, where the people opposite can see it.’

‘Gordon, you ARE joking — you must be joking!’

‘No, I’m not. I tell you we’ve got to have an aspidistra.’

‘But why?’

‘It’s the proper thing to have. It’s the first thing one buys after one’s married. In fact, it’s practically part of the wedding ceremony.’

‘Don’t be so absurd! I simply couldn’t bear to have one of those things in here. You shall have a geranium if you really must. But not an aspidistra.’

‘A geranium’s no good. It’s an aspidistra we want.’

‘Well, we’re not going to have one, that’s flat.’

‘Yes, we are. Didn’t you promise to obey me just now?’

‘No, I did not. We weren’t married in church.’

‘Oh, well, it’s implied in the marriage service. “Love, honour, and obey” and all that.’

‘No, it isn’t. Anyway we aren’t going to have that aspidistra.’

‘Yes, we are.’

‘We are NOT, Gordon!’

‘Yes.’

‘No!’

‘Yes!’

‘NO!’

She did not understand him. She thought he was merely being perverse. They grew heated, and, according to their habit, quarrelled violently. It was their first quarrel as man and wife. Half an hour later they went out to the florist’s to order the aspidistra.

But when they were half-way down the first flight of stairs Rosemary stopped short and clutched the banister. Her lips parted; she looked very queer for a moment. She pressed a hand against her middle.

‘Oh, Gordon!’

‘What?’

‘I felt it move!’

‘Felt what move?’

‘The baby. I felt it move inside me.’

‘You did?’

A strange, almost terrible feeling, a sort of warm convulsion, stirred in his entrails. For a moment he felt as though he were sexually joined to her, but joined in some subtle way that he had never imagined. He had paused a step or two below her. He fell on his knees, pressed his ear to her belly, and listened.

‘I can’t hear anything,’ he said at last.

‘Of course not, silly! Not for months yet.’

‘But I shall be able to hear it later on, shan’t I?’

‘I think so. YOU can hear it at seven months, I can feel it at four. I think that’s how it is.’

‘But it really did move? You’re sure? You really felt it move?’

‘Oh, yes. It moved.’

For a long time he remained kneeling there, his head pressed against the softness of her belly. She clasped her hands behind his head and pulled it closer. He could hear nothing, only the blood drumming in his own ear. But she could not have been mistaken. Somewhere in there, in the safe, warm, cushioned darkness, it was alive and stirring.

Well, once again things were happening in the Comstock family.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 20:48