What Was She Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal]

All my life I have been the sort of person in whom people confide. And all my life I have been flattered by this role - grateful for the frisson of importance that comes with receiving important information. In recent years, however, I have noticed that my gratification is becoming diluted by a certain weary indignation. They tell me because they regard me as safe. All of them, they make their disclosures to me in the same spirit that they might tell a castrato or a priest - with a sense that I am so outside the loop, so remote from the doings of the great world, as to be defused of any possible threat. The number of secrets I receive is in inverse proportion to the number of secrets anyone expects me to have of my own. And this is the real source of my dismay. Being told secrets is not - never has been - a sign that I belong or that I matter. It is quite the opposite: confirmation of my irrelevance.

Always mind the distance between your dreams and your reality.

Being alone is not the most awful thing in the world. You visit your museums and cultivate your interests and remind yourself how lucky you are not to be one of those spindly Sudanese children with flies beading their mouths. You make out To Do lists - reorganise linen cupboard, learn two sonnets. You dole out little treats to yourself - slices of ice-cream cake, concerts at Wigmore Hall. And then, every once in a while, you wake up and gaze out of the window at another bloody daybreak, and think, I cannot do this anymore. I cannot pull myself together again and spend the next fifteen hours of wakefulness fending off the fact of my own misery.

People like Sheba think that they know what it's like to be lonely. They cast their minds back to the time they broke up with a boyfriend in 1975 and endured a whole month before meeting someone new. Or the week they spent in a Bavarian steel town when they were fifteen years old, visiting their greasy-haired German pen pal and discovering that her hand-writing was the best thing about her. But about the drip drip of long-haul, no-end-in-sight solitude, they know nothing. They don't know what it is to construct an entire weekend around a visit to the laundrette. Or to sit in a darkened flat on Halloween night, because you can't bear to expose your bleak evening to a crowd of jeering trick-or-treaters. Or to have the librarian smile pityingly and say, ‘Goodness, you're a quick reader!’ when you bring back seven books, read from cover to cover, a week after taking them out. They don't know what it is to be so chronically untouched that the accidental brush of a bus conductor's hand on your shoulder sends a jolt of longing straight to your groin. I have sat on park benches and trains and schoolroom chairs, feeling the great store of unused, objectless love sitting in my belly like a stone until I was sure I would cry out and fall, flailing, to the ground. About all of this, Sheba and her like have no clue.

But about the drip drip of long-haul, no-end-in-sight solitude, they know nothing. They don't know what it is to construct an entire weekend around a visit to the laundrette. Or to sit in a darkened flat on Halloween night, because you can't bear to expose your bleak evening to a crowd of jeering trick-or-treaters. Or to have the librarian smile pityingly and say, ‘Goodness, you're a quick reader!’ when you bring back seven books, read from cover to cover, a week after taking them out. They don't know what it is to be so chronically untouched that the accidental brush of a bus conductor's hand on your shoulder sends a jolt of longing straight to your groin.

I cannot do this anymore. I cannot pull myself together again and spend the next fifteen hours of wakefulness fending off the fact of my own misery.

I don't cook anything fancy. Sheba's appetite isn't up to much and I've never been one for sauces. We eat nursery food mainly. Beans on toast, Welsh rarebit, fish fingers. Sheba leans against the oven and watches me while I work. At a certain point, she usually asks for wine. I have tried to get her to wait until she's eaten something, but she gets very scratchy when I do that, so these days I tend to give in straightaway and pour her a small glass from the carton in the fridge. You choose your battles. Sheba is a bit of a snob about drink and she keeps whining at me to get a grander sort. 'Something in a bottle, at least', she says. But I continue to buy the cartons. we are on a tight budget these days. And for all her carping, Sheba doesn't seem to have too much trouble knocking back the cheap stuff.

If everybody was so reverent of the institute of marriage, how did all the adultery get committed?

If this was cynical, then we must allow that all courtship is cynical.

I'm a child in that respect: able to live, physically speaking, on a crumb of anticipation for weeks at a time, but always in danger of crushing the waited-for event with the freight of my excessive hope.

I mean, what is romance, but a mutual pact of delusion? When the pact ends, there's nothing left.

In the end, I suspect, being female will do nothing for Sheba, except deny her the grandeur of genuine villainy.

It is always difficult, the transition from noisy refusal to humble acceptance.

It's always a disappointing business confronting my own reflection. My body isn't bad. It's a perfectly nice, serviceable body. It's just that the external me- the study, lightly wrinkled, handbagged me- does so little credit to the stuff that's inside.

It's clear that politeness to one's elders can't always be justified on the basis of the elder's superior wisdom. It's just that it's not attractive to see a young person answering an older person back.

It's similar to the way you feel cuddling an infant or a kitten, when you want to squeeze it so hard you'd kill it...

[...]One pretends that manners are the formalisation of basic kindness and consideration, but a great deal of the time they're simply aesthetics dressed up as moral principles, aren't they?

Talking to him is rather like talking to a school play.

The number of secrets I receive is in inverse proportion to the number of secrets anyone expects me to have of my own. And this is the real source of my dismay. Being told secrets is not - never has been - a sign that I belong or that I matter. It is quite the opposite: confirmation of my irrelevance.

There are certain people in whom you can detect the seeds of madness - seeds that have remained dormant only because the people in question have lived relatively comfortable, middle class lives. They function perfectly well in the world, but you can imagine, given a nasty parent, or a prolonged bout of unemployment, how their potential for craziness might have been realized.

There it was again - the perverse refusal to acknowledge my hostility. She seemed to me like some magical lake in a fairy tale: nothing could disturb the mirror-calm of her surface. My snide comments and bitter jokes disappeared soundlessly into her depths, leaving not so much as a ripple.

Things that are truly innocent don’t need to be labelled as such.

We are bound by the secrets we share.

...what is romance, but a mutual pact of delusion? When the pact ends, there's nothing left.

When you live alone, your furnishings, your possessions, are always confronting you with the thinness of your existence.