On Chesil Beach

Free On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

Book: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan Read Free Book Online
Authors: Ian McEwan
Tags: Fiction, Literary
its spell. Who could not? If the opening phrase posed a difficult question about the cohesion of the Ennismore Quartet—named after the address of the girls’ hostel—it was settled by Florence’s resolve in the face of opposition, one against three, and her tough-minded sense of her own good taste.
    As she crossed the bedroom, still with her back to Edward, still playing for time, and carefully set her shoes down on the floor by the wardrobe, the same four notes reminded her of this other aspect of her nature. The Florence who led her quartet, who coolly imposed her will, would never meekly submit to conventional expectations. She was no lamb to be uncomplainingly knifed. Or penetrated. She would demand of herself what it was exactly she wanted and did not want from her marriage, and she would say so out loud to Edward and expect to discover some form of compromise with him. Surely what each of them desired should not be at the other’s expense. The point was to love, and set each other free. Yes, she needed to speak up, the way she did at rehearsals, and she was going to do it now. She even had the beginnings of a proposal she might make. Her lips parted, and she drew breath. Then, at the sound of a floorboard, she turned, and he was coming toward her, smiling, his beautiful face a little pink, and the liberating idea—as if never quite her own—was gone.
    Her going-away dress was of a light summer cotton in cornflower blue, a perfect match for her shoes, and discovered only after many pavement hours between Regent Street and Marble Arch, thankfully without her mother. When Edward drew Florence into his embrace, it was not to kiss her, but first to press her body against his, and then to put a hand on her nape and feel for the zip of this dress. His other hand was flat and firm against the small of her back, and he was whispering in her ear, so loudly, so closely that she heard only a roar of warm moist air. But the zip could not be unfastened with one hand alone, at least, not for the first inch or two. You had to hold the top of the dress straight with one hand while pulling down, otherwise the fine material would bunch and snag. She would have reached over her shoulder to help, but her arms were trapped, and besides, it did not seem right, showing him what to do. Above all, she did not wish to hurt his feelings. With a sharp sigh, he tugged harder at the zip, trying to force it, but the point had already been reached when it would move neither down nor up. For the moment she was trapped inside her dress.
    “Oh God, Flo. Just keep still, will you.”
    Obediently, she froze, horrified by the agitation in his voice, automatically certain that it was her fault. It was, after all, her dress, her zip. It might have helped, she thought, to get free and turn her back, and move nearer the window for the light. But that could appear unaffectionate, and the interruption would admit to the scale of the problem. At home she relied on her sister, who was clever with her fingers, despite her abysmal piano playing. Their mother had no patience for small things. Poor Edward—she felt on her shoulders tremors of effort along his arms as he brought both hands into play, and she imagined his thick fingers fumbling between the folds of pinched cloth and obstinate metal. She was sorry for him, and she was a little frightened of him too. To make even a timid suggestion might enrage him further. So she stood patiently, until at last he freed himself from her with a groan and stepped back.
    In fact, he was penitent. “I’m really sorry. It’s a mess. I’m so bloody clumsy.”
    “Darling. It happens to me often enough.”
    They went and sat together on the bed. He smiled to let her know he did not believe her, but appreciated the remark. Here in the bedroom the windows were open wide toward the same view of hotel lawn, woodland and sea. A sudden shift in wind or tide, or perhaps it was the wake of a passing ship, brought the sound of

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