I am not the sort of man who goes to prostitutes.
Well, I suppose that every man would say that. People would disbelieve it just because you felt you had to say it. It’s a self-defeating statement. If I had any sense I’d delete it and start again, but I'm thinking, "My wife's dead, my daughter's in New Zealand, I'm in bad health, and I'm past caring, and who's paying any attention? And in any case, it's true.";
I did know someone who admitted it, though. He was a Dutchman who'd done it with a prostitute during his national service. He was in Amsterdam and he was suffering from blue balls at a time when he was on leave and had a little money in his pocket.
He said she was a real stunner, and the sex was better than he had expected. However, the woman kept a bin by her bedside, the kind that is like a miniature dustbin, with a lid. You can still get them in novelty shops. Anyway, after he'd finished he eased off the condom, and she reached out and lifted the lid off for him out of good manners. It was packed to the brim with used condoms, like a great cake of pink and brown rubber.
I don’t think that most women understand the nature of a man’s sexual drive. They don’t realise that for a man it isn’t just something quite nice that’s occasionally optional, like flower arranging.
He was so horrified by that bin of limp milky condoms that he never went to a prostitute again. Mind you, I haven't seen him for 20 years, so he may well have succumbed by now. He liked to tell that story because he was an artist, and probably felt he had a Bohemian duty to be a little bit outrageous. I expect he was hoping I'd be shocked, because I am only a suburbanite.
I tried to go with a prostitute just once in my life, and it didn't work out as I had expected. It wasn’t a case of blue balls so much as a case of loneliness. It was an impulse, I suppose.
My wife was alive back then, but the trouble is that sooner or later, at best, your wife turns into your sister. At worst she becomes your enemy, and sets herself up as the principal obstacle to your happiness. Mine had obtained everything she wanted, so she couldn't see any reason to bother with me any more. All the delights with which she had drawn me in were progressively withdrawn, until there was nothing left for me but responsibilities and a life sentence.
I don't think that most women understand the nature of a man's sexual drive. They don't realise that for a man it isn't just something quite nice that's occasionally optional, like flower arranging. I tried talking to my wife about it several times, but she always reacted with impatience or blank incomprehension, as if I was an importunate alien freshly arrived from a parallel universe.
I never could decide whether she was being heartless or stupid, or just plain cynical. It didn't make any difference. You could just see her thinking to herself, "This isn't my problem." She was one of those insipid Englishwomen with skimmed milk in her veins, and she was perfectly content to be like that. When we married I had no idea that she would turn out to have all the passion and fire of a codfish, because she took the trouble to put on a good show until she thought it was safe not to have to bother any more.
Then she settled in perpetuity in front of the television, knitting overtight stripy jumpers. She became more and more ashen-faced and inert. She reminded me of a great loaf of white bread, plumped down on the sofa in its cellophane wrapping. Englishmen don't like to talk about their troubles, but I've had enough conversations with other men like me, usually at a bar somewhere, usually trying to delay their homecoming, and always reading between the lines, to know how many of us get clamped into that claustrophobic dreary celibacy that stifles the flame in- side them.
They get angry and lonely and melancholy, and that's when the impulses come upon them. I sometimes wonder whether the reason that puritanical religious types are so keen on marriage is their certain knowledge that it's the one way to make sure that people get the least possible amount of sex.
Excerpted from A Partisan's Daughter by Louis de Bernières Copyright © 2008 by Louis de Bernières. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.