From “The Blue Film”

The ending of Graham Greene’s short story, “The Blue Film”:

They went upstairs in silence. He went straight to the bathroom and locked the door. The mosquitoes gathered around the lamp and the great jar of water. As he undressed he caught glimpses of himself in the small mirror; thirty years had not been kind: he felt his thickness and his middle-age. He thought, I hope to God she’s dead. Please, God, he said, let her be dead. When I go back in there, the insults will start again.

But when he returned Mrs. Carter was standing by the mirror. She had partly undressed. Her thin bare legs reminded him of a heron waiting for fish. She came and put her arms round him: a slave bangle joggled against his shoulder. She said, “I’d forgotten how nice you looked.”

“I’m sorry. One changes.”

“I didn’t mean that. I like you as you are.”

She was dry and hot and implacable in her desire. “Go on,” she said, “go on,” and then she screamed like an angry and hurt bird. Afterwards she said, “It’s years since that happened,” and continued to talk for what seemed a long half hour excitedly at his side. Carter lay in the dark silent, with a feeling of loneliness and guilt. It seemed to him that he had betrayed that night the only woman he loved.

And some people think colons and semi-colons are an antiquated waste of time. Others are already starting on commas and dashes…

They went upstairs in silence. He went straight to the bathroom and locked the door. The mosquitoes gathered around the lamp and the great jar of water. As he undressed he caught glimpses of himself in the small mirror. Thirty years had not been kind. He felt his thickness and his middle age. He thought, I hope to God she’s dead. Please God he said, let her be dead. When I go back in there the insults will start again.

But when he returned Mrs. Carter was standing by the mirror. She had partly undressed. Her thin bare legs reminded him of a heron waiting for fish. She came and put her arms round him. A slave bangle joggled against his shoulder. She said, “I’d forgotten how nice you looked.”

“I’m sorry. One changes.”

“I didn’t mean that. I like you as you are.”

She was dry and hot and implacable in her desire. “Go on,” she said, “go on,” and then she screamed like an angry and hurt bird. Afterwards she said, “It’s years since that happened,” and continued to talk for what seemed a long half hour excitedly at his side. Carter lay in the dark silent with a feeling of loneliness and guilt. It seemed to him that he had betrayed that night the only woman he loved.

The second version is readable. It gets the information across. But I went and neutered the rhythm. So I says to her, “Nobody ever was could use a colon as good as Graham Greene.” And she just looked at me funny: “Graham: who?”

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