Brighton rock, p.22
Brighton Rock, p.22Graham Greene
He was taken by a craving for air, walked softly to the door. In the passage he could see nothing: it was full of the low sound of breathing—from the room he had left, from Dallow’s room. He felt like a blind man watched by people he couldn’t see. He felt his way to the stairhead and on down to the hall, step by step, creakingly. He put out his hand and touched the telephone, then with his arm outstretched made for the door. In the street the lamps were out, but the darkness no longer enclosed between four walls seemed to thin out across the vast expanse of a city. He could see basement railings, a cat moving, and, reflected on the dark sky, the phosphorescent glow of the sea. It was a strange world: he had never been alone in it before. He had a deceptive sense of freedom as he walked softly down towards the Channel.
The lights were on in Montpellier Road. Nobody was about, and an empty milk bottle stood outside a gramophone shop; far down were the illuminated clock tower and the public lavatories. The air was fresh like country air. He could imagine he had escaped. He put his hands for warmth into his trouser-pockets and felt a scrap of paper which should not have been there. He drew it out—a scrap torn from a notebook—big, unformed, stranger’s writing. He held it up into the grey light and read—with difficulty. ‘I love you, Pinkie. I don’t care what you do. I love you for ever. You’ve been good to me. Wherever you go, I’ll go too.’ She must have written it while he talked to Cubitt and slipped it into his pocket while he slept. He crumpled it in his fist, a dustbin stood outside a fishmonger’s—then he held his hand. An obscure sense told him you never knew—it might prove useful one day.
He heard a whisper, looked sharply round, and thrust the paper back. In an alley between two shops, an old woman sat upon the ground; he could just see the rotting and discoloured face: it was like the sight of damnation. Then he heard the whisper, ‘Blessed art thou among women,’ saw the grey fingers fumbling at the beads. This was not one of the damned: he watched with horrified fascination: this was one of the saved.
It did not seem in the least strange to Rose that she should wake alone—she was a stranger in the country of mortal sin, and she assumed that everything was customary. He was, she supposed, about his business. No alarm-clock dinned her to get up but the morning light woke her, pouring through the uncurtained glass. Once she heard footsteps in the passage, and once a voice called ‘Judy’ imperatively. She lay there wondering what a wife had to do—or rather a mistress.
But she didn’t lie long—that was frightening, the unusual passivity. It wasn’t like life at all—to have nothing to do. Suppose they assumed she knew—about the stove to be lit, the table to be laid, the debris to be cleared away. A clock struck seven; it was an unfamiliar clock (all her life she had lived in hearing of the same one till now), and the strikes seemed to fall more slowly and more sweetly through the early summer air than any she had ever heard before. She felt happy and scared: seven o’clock was a terribly late hour. She scrambled out and was about to mutter her quick ‘Our Fathers’ and ‘Hail Marys’ while she dressed, when she remembered again. . . What was the good of praying now? She’d finished with all that: she had chosen her side: if they damned him they’d got to damn her, too.
In the ewer there was only an inch of water with a grey heavy surface, and when she lifted the lid of the soap-box she found three pound notes wrapped round two half-crowns. She put the lid back: that was just another custom you had to get used to. She took a look round the room, opened a wardrobe and found a tin of biscuits and a pair of boots; some crumbs crunched under her tread. The gramophone record caught her attention on the chair where she’d lain it and she stowed it in the cupboard for greater safety. Then she opened the door: not a sound or sign of life: looked over the banisters, the new wood squeaked under her pressure. Somewhere down below must be the kitchen, the living room, the places where she had to work. She went cautiously down—seven o’clock—what furious faces—in the hall a ball of paper scuffled under her feet. She smoothed it out and read a pencilled message: ‘Lock your door. Have a good time.’ She didn’t understand it: it might as well have been in code—she assumed it must have something to do with this foreign world where you sinned on a bed and people lost their lives suddenly and strange men hacked at your door and cursed you in the night.
She found the basement stairs; they were dark where they dropped under the hall, but she didn’t know where to find a switch. Once she nearly tripped and held the wall close with beating heart, remembering the evidence at the inquest, how Spicer had fallen. His death gave the house a feeling of importance: she had never been on the scene of a recent death. At the bottom of the stairs she opened the first door she came to, cautiously, expecting a curse: it was the kitchen all right, but it was empty. It wasn’t like either of the kitchens she knew: the one at Snow’s clean, polished, busy: the one at home which was just the room where you sat, where people cooked and ate and had moods and warmed themselves on bitter nights and dozed in chairs. This was like the kitchen in a house for sale: the stove was full of cold coke: on the window-sill there were two empty sardine tins: a dirty saucer lay under the table for a cat which wasn’t there: a cupboard stood open full of empties.
She went and raked at the dead coke; the stove was cold to the touch: there hadn’t been a fire alight there for hours or days. The thought struck her that she’d been deserted: perhaps this was what happened in this world, the sudden flight, leaving everything behind, your empty bottles and your girl and the message in code on a scrap of paper. When the door opened she expected a policeman.
It was Dallow in pyjama trousers. He looked in, said, ‘Where’s Judy?’ then seemed to notice her. He said, ‘You’re up early.’
‘Early?’ She couldn’t understand what he meant.
‘I thought it was Judy routing around. You remember me. I’m Dallow.’
She said, ‘I thought maybe I’d better light the stove.’
He said, ‘If that polony’s gone and forgotten—’ He went to a dresser and pulled open a drawer. ‘Why,’ he said, ‘what’s got you? You don’t want a stove. There’s plenty here.’ Inside the drawer were stacks of tins: sardines, herrings. . . She said, ‘But tea.’
He looked at her oddly. ‘Anyone’d think you wanted work. No one here wants any tea. Why take the trouble? There’s beer in the cupboard, and Pinkie drinks the milk out of the bottle.’ He padded back to the door. ‘Help yourself, kid, if you’re hungry. Pinkie want anything?’
‘He’s gone out.’
‘Christ’s sake, what’s come over this house?’ He stopped in the doorway and took another look at her as she stood with helpless hands near the dead stove. He said, ‘You don’t want to work, do you?’
‘No,’ she said doubtfully.
He was puzzled. ‘I wouldn’t want to stop you,’ he said. ‘You’re Pinkie’s girl. You go ahead and light that stove if you want. I’ll shut up Judy if she barks, but Christ knows where you’ll find the coke. Why, that stove’s not been lit since March.’
‘I don’t want to put anyone out,’ Rose said. ‘I came down. . . I thought. . . I’d got to light it.’
‘You don’t need to do a stroke,’ Dallow said. ‘You take it from me, this is Liberty Hall.’ He said, ‘You’ve not seen a bitch with red hair routing around, have you?’
‘I haven’t seen a soul.’
‘Well,’ Dallow said, ‘I’ll be seeing you.’ She was alone again in the cold kitchen. Needn’t do a stroke. . . Liberty Hall. . . She leant against the whitewashed wall and saw an old flypaper dangling above the dresser; somebody a long time ago had set a mousetrap by a hole, but the bait had been stolen and the trap had snapped on nothing at all. It was a lie when people said that sleeping with a man made no difference: you emerged from pain to this—freedom, liberty, strangeness. A stifled exhilaration moved in her breast, a kind of pride. She opened the kitchen door boldly and there at the head of the
The woman saw her and took her mouth from Dallow’s. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘who’s here?’
‘It’s Pinkie’s girl,’ Dallow said.
‘You’re up early. Hungry?’
‘No. I just thought—maybe I ought to light the fire.’
‘We don’t use that fire often,’ the woman said. ‘Life’s too short.’ She had little pimples round her mouth and an air of ardent sociability. She stroked her carrot hair and coming down the stairs to Rose fastened a mouth wet and prehensile like a sea anemone upon her cheek. She smelt faintly, stalely, of Californian Poppy. ‘Well, dear,’ she said, ‘you’re one of us now,’ and she seemed to present to Rose in a generous gesture the half-naked man, the bare dark stairs, the barren kitchen. She whispered softly so that Dallow couldn’t hear, ‘You won’t tell anyone you saw us, dear, will you? Frank gets worked up, an’ it don’t mean anything, not anything at all.’
Rose dumbly shook her head: this foreign land absorbed her too quickly—no sooner were you past the customs than the naturalization papers were signed, you were conscripted. . .
‘There’s a duck,’ the woman said. ‘Any friend of Pinkie’s is a friend of all of us. You’ll be meeting the boys before long.’
‘I doubt it,’ said Dallow from the top of the stairs.
‘We got to talk to Pinkie serious.’
‘Did you have Cubitt here last night?’ the woman asked.
‘I don’t know,’ Rose said. ‘I don’t know who anyone is. Someone rang the bell and swore a lot and kicked the door.’
‘That was Cubitt,’ the woman gently explained.
‘We got to talk to Pinkie serious. It’s not safe,’ Dallow said.
‘Well, dear, I’d better be getting back to Frank.’ She paused on a step just above Rose. ‘If you ever want a dress cleaned, dear, you couldn’t do better than give it to Frank. Though I say it who shouldn’t. There’s no one like Frank for getting out grease marks. An’ he hardly charges a thing to lodgers.’ She bent down and laid a freckled finger on Rose’s shoulder. ‘It could do with a sponge now.’
‘But I haven’t got anything to wear, only this.’
‘Oh well, dear, in that case. . . ’ She bent and whispered confidentially, ‘Make your hubby buy you one,’ then gathered the faded dressing-gown around her and loped up the stairs. Rose could see a dead white leg, like something which has lived underground, covered with russet hairs, a dingy slipper flapped a loose heel. It seemed to her that everyone was very kind: there seemed to be a companionship in mortal sin.
Pride swelled in her breast as she came up from the basement. She was accepted. She had experienced as much as any woman. Back in the bedroom she sat on the bed and waited and heard the clock strike eight. She wasn’t hungry; she was sensible of an immense freedom—no time-table to keep, no work which had got to be done. You suffered a little pain and then came out on the other side to this amazing liberty. There was only one thing she wanted now—to let others see her happiness. She could walk into Snow’s now like any other customer, rap the table with a spoon and demand service. She could boast. . . It was a fantasy, but sitting on the bed while time drifted by it became an idea, something she was really able to do. In less than half an hour they would be opening for breakfast. If she had the money. . . She brooded with her eyes on the soap-dish. She thought: after all we are married—in a way; he’s given me nothing but that record; he wouldn’t grudge me half a crown. She stood up and listened, then walked softly over to the washstand. With her fingers on the lid of the soap-dish she waited—somebody was coming down the passage: it wasn’t Judy and it wasn’t Dallow—perhaps it was the man they called Frank. The footsteps passed; she lifted the lid and unwrapped the half-crown. She had stolen biscuits, she had never stolen money before. She expected to feel shame, but it didn’t come—only again the odd swell of pride. She was like a child in a new school who finds she can pick up the esoteric games and passwords in the cement playground, at once, by instinct.
In the world outside it was Sunday—she’d forgotten that: the church bells reminded her, shaking over Brighton. Freedom again in the early sun, freedom from the silent prayers at the altar, from the awful demands made on you at the sanctuary rail. She had joined the other side now for ever. The half-crown was like a medal for services rendered. People coming back from seven-thirty Mass, people on the way to eight-thirty Matins—she watched them in their dark clothes like a spy. She didn’t envy them and she didn’t despise them: they had their salvation and she had Pinkie and damnation.
At Snow’s the blinds had just gone up; a girl she knew called Maisie was laying a few tables—the only girl she cared about, a new girl like herself and not much older. She watched her from the pavement—and Doris, the senior waitress with her habitual sneer, doing nothing at all except flick a duster where Maisie had already been. Rose clutched the half-crown closer; well, she had only got to go in, sit down, tell Doris to fetch her a cup of coffee and a roll, tip her a couple of coppers—she could patronize the whole lot of them. She was married. She was a woman. She was happy. What would they feel like when they saw her coming through the door?
And she didn’t go in. That was the trouble. How would she feel, flaunting her freedom? Then through the pane she caught Maisie’s eye; she stood there with a duster staring back, bony, immature, like her own image in a mirror. And she stood now where Pinkie had stood—outside, looking in. This was what the priests meant by one flesh. And just as she days ago had motioned, Maisie motioned—a slant of the eyes, an imperceptible nod towards the side door. There was no reason at all why she shouldn’t go in at the front, but she obeyed Maisie. It was like doing something you’d done before.
The door opened and Maisie was there. ‘Rose, what’s wrong?’ She ought to have had wounds to show: she felt guilty at having only happiness. ‘I thought I’d come,’ she said, ‘and see you. I’m married.’
‘Oh, Rose, what’s it like?’
‘You got rooms?’
‘What do you do all day?’
‘Nothing at all. Just lie about.’
The childish face in front of her took on the wrinkled expression of grief. ‘God, Rosie, you’re lucky. Where did you meet him?’
A hand bonier than her own seized her by the wrist: ‘Oh, Rosie, ain’t he got a friend?’
She said lightly, ‘He’s not got friends.’
‘Maisie,’ a voice called shrilly from the café, ‘Maisie.’ Tears lay ready in the eyes: in Maisie’s eyes not Rose’s: she hadn’t meant to hurt her friend. An impulse of pity made her say, ‘It’s not all that good, Maisie.’ She tried to destroy the appearance of her own happiness. ‘Sometimes he’s bad to me. Oh, I can tell you,’ she urged, ‘it’s not all roses.’
But ‘not roses,’ she thought as she turned back to the parade, ‘if it’s not all roses, what is it?’ And mechanically, walking back towards Frank’s without her breakfast, she began to think—what have I done to deserve to be so happy? She’d committed a sin? that was the answer: she was having her cake in this world, not in the next, and she didn’t care. She was stamped with him, as his voice was stamped on the vulcanite.
A few doors from Frank’s, from a shop where they sold the Sunday papers, Dallow called to her. ‘Hi, kid.’ She stopped. ‘You got a visitor.’
She was stirred by a feeling of gratitude and pity: her mother hadn’t been happy like this. She said, ‘Give me a News of the World. Mum likes a Sunday paper.’ In the back room somebody was playing a gramophone. She said to the man who kept the shop, ‘Sometime would you let me come here—and play a record I got?’
‘O’ course he will,’ Dallow said.
She crossed the road and rang at Frank’s door. Judy opened it; she was still in her dressing-gown, but underneath she now had on her corsets. ‘You got a visitor,’ she said.
‘I know.’ Rose ran upstairs: it was the biggest triumph you could ever expect—to greet your mother for the first time in your own house—ask her to sit down on your own chair: to look at one another with an equal experience. There was nothing now, Rose felt, her mother knew about men she didn’t know: that was the reward for the painful ritual upon the bed. She flung the door gladly open and there was the woman.
‘What are you—?’ she began, and said, ‘They told me it was my mother.’
‘I had to tell them something,’ the woman gently explained. She said, ‘Come in, dear, and shut the door behind you,’ as if it were her room.
‘I’ll call Pinkie.’
‘I’d like a word with your Pinkie.’ You couldn’t get round her; she stood there like the wall at the end of an alley scrawled with the obscene chalk messages of an enemy. She was the explanation—it seemed to Rose—of sudden harshnesses, of the nails pressing her wrist. She said, ‘You’ll not see Pinkie. I won’t have anyone worry Pinkie.’
‘He’s going to have plenty to worry him soon.’
‘Who are you?’ Rose implored her. ‘Why do you interfere with us? You’re not the police.’
‘I’m like everyone else. I want justice,’ the woman cheerfully remarked, as if she were ordering a pound of tea. Her big prosperous carnal face hung itself with smiles. She said, ‘I want to see you’re safe.’
Brighton Rock by Graham Greene / Mystery & Detective / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes