Good behaviour

How could I think of a word worthy of his attention? […] As I leaned beside him, the ache of pride and shyness drove me into the farthest depths of silence.
‘Don’t try,’ Hubert said that first night before dinner. I felt his constraint and anxiety. ‘Just be your natural self,’ he advised. So I was not any more the happy joke he and Papa had invented. Desperation filled me. Right, I thought, I can’t talk. But I can eat. I can be the fat woman in the fairground; the man who chews up iron; the pigheaded woman; anything to escape from hopeless me. So, at that first dinner before the first ball, I wolfed down sensational quantities of food. Almost  a side of smoked salmon, and I ate a whole lemon and its peel as well; most of a duck; four meringues and four pêches melbas; mushrooms and marrow on toast; even cheese. ‘What else can we find for her?’ Richard asked Hubert. ‘She really is a great doer.’ They cheered me quietly. I was a joke again. I was a person. I was something for them to talk about.

From Good Behaviour by Molly Keane (1981).

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