Harriet and David met each other at an office party neither had particularly wanted to go to, and both knew at once that this was what they had been waiting for. Someone conservative, old-fashioned,not to say obsolescent; timid, hard to please: this is what other people called them, but there was no end to the unaffectionate adjectives they earned. They defended a stubbornly held view ofthemselves, which was that they were ordinary and in the right of it, should not be criticized for emotional fastidiousness, abstemiousness, just because these were unfashionable qualities.
At this famousoffice party, about two hundred people crammed into a long, ornate, and solemn room, for three hundred and thirty-four days of the year a boardroom. Three associated firms, all to do with putting upbuildings, were having their end-of-year party. It was noisy. The pounding rhythm of a small band shook walls and floor. Most people were dancing, packed close because of lack of space, couples bobbingup and down or revolving in one spot as if they were on invisible turntables. The women were dressed up, dramatic, bizarre, full of colour: Look at me! Look at me! Some of the men demanded as muchattention. Around the walls were pressed a few non-dancers, and among these were Harriet and David, standing by themselves, holding glasses – observers. Both had reflected that the faces of the dancers,women more than men, but men, too, could just as well have been disorted in screams and grimaces of pain as in enjoyment. There was a forced hecticity to the scene…but these thoughts, like so manyothers, they had not expected to share with anyone else.
From across the room – if one saw her at all among so many eye-demanding people – Harriet was a pastel blur. As in an Impressionist picture, or atrick photograph, she seemed a girl merged with her surroundings. She stood near a great vase of dried grasses and leaves and her dress was something flowery. The focusing eye then saw curly dark...
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