‘In The Cave’ by Tessa Hadley


Unmade Bed, Tomas Watson, 2008

From The Guardian:

After the sex, he fell asleep. That wasn’t what Linda had expected. Cheated – returned too soon into her own possession – she lay pinned for a while under his flung arm, looking into the corners of the high ceiling where purple shadows bloomed and a flossy strand of cobweb kept time in a draught she couldn’t feel. She liked his flat, what she’d seen of it, better than her own. Books were piled everywhere on the floor, a tide of curiosities was flooded through the rooms in disorder: bird skulls, netsuke, fossils, Christmas cracker jokes pinned on a noticeboard, little animated toys his children had made (he was divorced with two teenage boys), postcard Hammershoi, a marimba, an original 19-century tin zoetrope – an early machine for making moving pictures. (He’d shown her how it worked, she’d been afraid at that point in case they were carried past the moment when something other than companionable chat was possible.) Photographs of cave paintings everywhere. Her own home was too poky and timid and smothered with tending. And where did he have the money from, to rent a flat in Bloomsbury (she was in Tottenham)?

But she wasn’t in love, though she had been ready to be. Love sank down from where it had been swollen in expectation – she imagined a red balloon deflating to a foolish remnant. Lightly, he snored. He was jet-lagged, he’d flown back only yesterday from South Africa. Politely, she eased from underneath his weight. There was only this substantial moment really, for all the sticky trickle on her thighs, and their bodies’ forms and smells imprinted recently and urgently upon each other: of mutually uncomprehending encounter. She didn’t dislike his body, although she had been two inches taller than he was when they were standing up. He was compact, commanding, energetic; careless of his appearance, balding, with a remainder of fine auburn hair. His spirit was in his blue prominent eyes; now they were closed, lids flickering with dream-life, she was released to perceive him with detachment. What was she doing here? Mockery sprang up savagely again from where she had suppressed it after they met and got on so well (first time Ozu at the BFI, second time dinner at a French place in Hornsea High Street, third time lucky) – at herself, for having advertised, which she’d never thought she’d do. Now she drowned in shame at the idea of the sprightly words she’d used in her own description, so wincingly anxiously calculated to lead to just this moment.

Oh well never mind.

The sheet was twisted into a rope underneath her – that clean sheet badly tucked in, and the clean duvet and pillow cases, had let her know he too had been planning, when he suggested she come round for early supper at his place.

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