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The End of the Affair, Graham Greene

“Man has places in his heart which do not yet exist, and into them enters suffering in order that they may have existence.” - Leon Bloy


“I'd rather be dead or see you dead,” I said, “than with another man. I'm not eccentric. That's ordinary human love. Ask anybody. They'd all say the same – if they loved at all.” I jibed at her. “Anyone who loves is jealous.”
We were in my room. We had come there at a safe time of day, the late spring afternoon, in order to make love; for once we had hours of time ahead of us and so I squandered it all in a quarrel and there was no love to make. She sat down on the bed and said, “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you angry. I expect you're right.” Bu tI wouldn't let her alone. I hated her because I wished to think she didn't love me: I wanted to get her out of my system. What grievance, I wonder now, had I got against her, whether she loved me or not? She had been loyal to me for nearly a year, she had given me a great deal of pleasure, she had put up with my moods, and what had I given her in return apart from the momentary pleasure? I had come into this affair with my eyes open, knowing that one day this must end, and yet, when the sense of insecurity, the logical belief in the hopeless future descended like a melancholia, I would badger her and badger her, as though I wanted to bring the future in now at the door, an unwanted and premature guest.

She said, “Be quick.”
As I ran down the stairs I heard the next robot coming over, and then the sudden waiting silence when the engine cut out. We hadn't yet had time to learn that that was the moment of risk, to get out of the line of glass, to lie flat. I never heard the explosion, and I woke after five seconds or five minutes in a changed world. I thought I was still on my feet and I was puzzled by the darkness: somebody seemed to be pressing a cold fist into my cheek and my mouth was salty with blood. My mind for a few moments was clear of everything except a sense of tiredness as though I had been on a long journey. I had no memory at all of Sarah and I was completely free from anxiety, jealousy, insecurity, hate: my mind was a blank sheet on which somebody had just been on the point of writing a message of happiness. I felt sure that when my memory came back, the writing would continue and that I should be happy.
But when memory did return it was not in that way.


Dear God, I said – why dear, why dear? - make me believe. I can't believe. Make me. I said, I'm a bitch and a fake and I hate myself. I can't do anything of myself. Make me believe. I shut my eyes tight, and I pressed my nails into the palms of my hands until I could feel nothing but the pain, and I said, I will believe. Let him be alive, and I will believe. Give him a chance. Let him have his happiness. Do this and I'll believe. But that wasn't enough. It doesn't hurt to believe. So I said, I love him and I'll do anything if you'll make him alive. I said very slowly, I'll give him up for ever, only let him be alive with a chance, and I pressed and pressed and I could feel the skin break, and I said, People can love without seeing each other, can't they, they love You all their lives without seeing You, and then he came in at the door, and he was alive, and I thought now the agony of being without him starts, and I wished he was safely back dead again under the door.

But was it me he loved, or You? For he hated in me the things You hate. He was on Your side all the time without knowing it. You willed our separation, but he willed it too. He worked for it with his anger and his jealousy, and he worked for it with his love. For he gave me so much love, and I gave him so much love that soon there wasn't anything left, when we'd finished, but You. For either of us. I might have taken a lifetime spending a little love at a time, eking it out here and there, on this man and that. But even the first time, in the hotel near Paddington, we spent all we had. You were there, teaching us to squander, like you taught the rich man, so that one day we might have nothing left except this love of You. But You are too good to me. When I ask You for pain, You give me peace. Give it him too. Give him my peace – he needs it more.


I remembered how Sarah had prayed to the God she didn't believe in, and now I spoke to the Sarah I didn't believe in. I said: You sacrificed both of us once to bring me back to life, but what sort of a life is this without you? It's all very well for you to love God. You are dead. You have him. But I'm sick with life, I'm rotten with health. If I begin to love God, I can't just die. I've got to do something about it. I had to touch you with my hands, I had to taste you with my tongue: one can't love and do nothing. It's no use your telling me not to worry as you did once in a dream. If I ever loved like that, it would be the end of everything. Loving you I had no appetite for food, I felt no lust for any other woman, but loving him there'd be no pleasure in anything at all with him away. I'd even lose my work, I'd cease to be Bendrix. Sarah, I'm afraid.

I went back home and again I tried to settle to my book. Always I find when I begin to write there is one character who obstinately will not come alive. There is nothing psychologically false about him, but he sticks, he has to be pushed around, words have to be found for him, all the technical skill I have acquired through the laborious years has to be employed in making him appear alive to my readers. Sometimes I get a sour satisfaction when a reviewer praises him as the best-drawn character in the story: if he has not been drawn he has certainly been dragged. He lies heavily on my mind whenever I start to work like an ill-digested meal on the stomach, robbing me of the pleasure of creation in any scene where he is present. He never does the unexpected thing, he never surprises me, he never takes charge. Every other character helps, he only hinders.
And yet one cannot do without him. I can imagine a God feeling in just that way about some of us. The saints, one would suppose, in a sense create themselves. They come alive. They are capable of the surprising act or word. They stand outside the plot, unconditioned by it. But we have to be pushed around. We have the obstinacy of non-existence. We are inextricably bound to the plot, and wearily God forces us, here and there, according to his intention, characters without poetry, without free will, whose only importance is that somewhere, at some time, we help to furnish the scene in which a living character moves and speaks, providing perhaps the saints with the opportunities for their free will.

I said to Sarah, all right, have it your way. I believe you live and that He exists, but it will take more than your prayers to turn this hatred of Him into love. He robbed me and like that king you wrote about I'll rob Him of what he wants in me. Hatred is in my brain, not in my stomach or my skin. It can't be removed like a rash or an ache. Didn't I hate you as well as love you? And don't I hate myself?
I called down to Henry, “I'm ready,” and we walked side by side over the Common towards the “Pontefract Arms”; the lights were out, and lovers met where the roads intersected, and on the other side of the grass was the house with the ruined steps where He gave me back this hopeless crippled life.
“I look forward to these evening walks of ours,” Henry said.
I thought, in the morning I'll ring up a doctor and ask him whether a faith cure is possible. And then I thought, better not; so long as one doesn't know, one can imagine innumerable cures.... I put my hand on Henry's arm and held it there; I had to be strong for both of us now, and he wasn't seriously worried yet.
“They are the only things I do look forward to,” Henry said.
I wrote at the start that this was a record of hate, and walking there beside Henry towards the evening glass of beer, I found the one prayer that seemed to serve the winter mood: O God, you've done enough, You've robbed me of enough, I'm too tired and old to learn to love, leave me alone for ever.


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