Doris Lessing
The Good Terrorist

Oh yes, all this love and harmony was precarious enough, Alice was thinking as she sat and smiled; just one little thing, puff! and it would be gone. Meanwhile, she put both hands around her mug of coffee, feeling how its warmth fed her, and thought: It is like a family, it is.

Faye was saying, her teeth showing as she bared them, in her characteristic cold excitement, 'Boos! Screams! I'm going to kill him! What right has he got to come here with all that filthy poison of his about women. We have enough reactionaries of our own!'

Roberta said, 'All creeping out of their little holes and showing their true colours. Are you coming with us, Jasper? Bert? Show solidarity with the women?'

A pause. It was to Milchester that Alice longed to go. To Mrs Thatcher. But there was a lift to Liverpool, and that would cost nothing. Jasper knew she wanted Milchester. So did Bert. She had said she had no money. Which was true; only her Social Security. She was ready to go to Liverpool. She hated the Defence Secretary, not only because of his policies—there was something about that sly, malevolent Tory face of his...

As for the fascist American professor, she could not see what Roberta and Faye and all the others were on about. She had never been able to see why the word 'genetic' should provoke such rage. She thought they were silly, and even frivolous. If that's how things were, then-they were. One had to build around that.

Once, long ago during her student days, she had said-earnestly, inquiringly (in a genuine attempt towards harmony based on shared views)—that women had breasts 'and all that kind of thing', while men were 'differently equipped', and surely that must be genetic? And if so, then the glands and hormones must be different? Genetically? This had caused such a storm of resentment that the commune had taken days to recover. All this sex business, she thought, was like that! Anything to do with sex! It simply made people unbalanced. Not themselves. One simply had to learn to keep quiet and let them all get on with it! Provided they left her out of it...

Twenty years ago, more, her mother, in her slapdash, friendly, loud, earth-motherish way had informed Alice that she would shortly menstruate, but she was sure she knew all about that anyway. Of course Alice had known about it from school, but her mother's saying it put it on her agenda, so to speak, made it all real. She was angry, not with Nature, but with her mother. Thereafter her attitude towards 'the curse'-her mother insisted on using this jolly word for it, saying it was accurate—was one of detached efficiency. She was not going to let anything so tedious get in the way of living.

When people probed her about her attitudes towards feminism, sexual politics, it was always this beginning (as she saw it) that she went back to in her mind. 'Of course people ought to be equal,' she would say, starting already to sound slightly irritated. 'That goes without saying.' In short, she was always finding herself in a false position.

Now she sat silent, cuddling her rapidly-cooling coffee, smiling away, and waiting for the subject of the fascist professor to pass.

It did, and Bert remarked, 'I've always liked Milchester.'

This seemed to various people thoroughly off the point. Was he drunk perhaps? He certainly was drinking more than his share. Everyone was humouring him these days, because of Pat. Unconsciously, probably. His appearance, his condition claimed this from them. Gaunt, morose, even absent-minded, it was as though other thoughts ran parallel to the ones he expressed.

He went on, 'It's always been a garrison town.'

Incredulous exclamations. Faye said, 'God, you're mad, you like that? War, soldiers?'

Bert said, 'But it's interesting. Why should towns go on being the same, century after century. Milchester was a garrison town under the Romans.'

  The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,

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Through Eden took their solitary way.