She paused, her head held a little to one side. “I don’t suppose you’ve ever thought of sex as a gift, have you? Something you can give to make others happy. No, I thought not. For you it’s a bargaining tool. A means to an end.”
Alex was feeling increasingly uneasy and looked around for Helen. “I’m really not sure I know what you mean.”
“Well, let’s say you met someone who did not meet your normal standards, physically or financially, but who needed the comfort of a physical relationship. Could you give them the ultimate gift? I don’t think you could.” Mary paused for a moment, and Alex could feel her eyes absorbing her reactions. “I think you are the sort of person who can only relate to those who already have everything. People who can give to you, not you to them. I don’t think you could ever give to someone who really and truly had nothing to give you but simply had an immense need for human contact and comfort.”
“I honestly don’t know what this is all about. I mean, I’m happily married with children. What a strange conversation!”
Mary then turned and walked away, leaving Alex feeling that she was the one who had been judged and found wanting.
“Are you alright?” Helen asked as she returned.
“That woman’s unbelievable!” gasped Alex. “Do you really like her?”
Helen glanced across at Mary, laughing with an attentive audience, “Oh but she’s so interesting when you get to know her. She can seem a little strange at first, I know, but she is really very kind and so different to everyone else.”
Alex snorted. “You can say that again! She’s…. well she’s very rude actually!”
“Oh I’m sure she didn’t mean to be, Alex,” Helen said in that irritatingly girlish way she had, shaking her fringe from her eyes. “I find her so encouraging and helpful. She says outrageous things just to make you think about yourself and ask questions.”
“Well that’s alright then,” Alex said more quietly. “I hope her advice helps you sell loads more pictures. Look, I ought to be going. I promised Charles I’d be back for dinner tonight. I’ve hardly seen him all week.”
She started to walk away and then turned back. “Put one of your little red stickers on the jug of flowers, will you? I’ll pick it up from you next week some time.”
As she left, she glanced back through the plate glass window. That damned woman was watching her go and was still smiling serenely.
to be continued March 28