I saw him for the first time since my return from the conference when visiting his wife. He came out of his consulting room as I was passing. I tried to get away with a friendly handshake, but he insisted several times “is there nothing for me ?”. I just stood still without thinking, feeling, moving; spellbound, I suppose. He bent over me and kissed me, saying “that’s better”.
I spent some time with Margo who informed me that in a small family circle she had mentioned my involvement with Nessie and that they had all had a good laugh. I felt terrible and wondered what Nessie had said. Nothing, I heard.
I told her that I had discussed my problem with Steve as soon as I had returned. She was impressed and considered me lucky for having a partner who was not jealous.
In November 198.. Nessie decided to take up my offer to teach him my language. It was agreed that we should meet in his house one evening a week. He had a basic knowledge already and a number of textbooks which he kept revizing. I admired him for mustering quite a lot of energy for these studies, having an extremely active life already : always in demand for talks on a wide choice of subjects; president of a number of associations; a vast correspondence; his house most of the time full of patients spilling over into bathrooms, kitchen and garden; eleven beehives and a large garden to look after; golf, tennis and skiing in his spare time, if he had any. I understand he normally started his day between four and five am. The first patients arrived at around six am. He had a little rest during the day. Once or twice when I arrived at 8.30 pm I found him asleep on a settee in his room or in the garden.
I enjoyed these lessons very much. It meant seeing him regularly once a week. I counted my time in Wednesdays then : Thursday was the worst day of the week; Friday was busy with various things; then the weekend came and normally passed quickly; on Monday it was nearly Wednesday again … I was longing to be near him; just near him, I felt, was enough; in his house, in this atmosphere, catch a glimpse and a smile from him from time to time, make myself useful, preferably working for him.
As it was, I had achieved almost as much as I could reasonably wish for : take an hour out of his busy life and have him to myself, seated next to him, have his arm round me and the occasional kiss (I had stopped counting them), have stories told about his famous and eccentric patients throughout the world; all this pleasantly intermingled with our language studies, interrupted from time to time by the telephone ringing from America, Israel or anywhere in Europe. Margo also looked in occasionally, always without knocking – it was her house, of course. I don’t think she ever caught him with his arm round me. Nessie called her possessive and always made a point of not staying too long with me, shouting for her at the end of a lesson and for some refreshments, as he called it, which we had all together. There used to be, at least during the first year, an opportunity for a lovely big hug and an equally wonderful kiss, before we joined Margo.
Money did not come into our relationship. Being near him was reward enough for me, and he payed me back generously in other ways later on, not charging us for medical advice and care we needed several times, introducing me to beekeeping and making me a present of two beehives.
When I left his house after a lesson, he took me to the door on his own, if I was lucky, or else his wife came as well. However, it was the only chance I had once a week, so, wife or not, I kissed him heartily good-bye. I do not know what she thought. Once she had to leave us to fetch something. He took the opportunity to kiss me heavily. It made me dizzy. I had to look which side of my car the steering wheel was.
On rare occasions Margo was out when I arrived. I do not remember it ever happening in the last two years, but a few times earlier on. He did not behave differently. Of course, he could never be sure when she would be back, and there were five entrance possibilities to the house … Once when we were having fruit on our own after the lesson, I took advantage of his wife’s absence and asked him if his invitation for me to sit on his knees was still valid. Poor man, he had to have me, willingly or not, I do not know, and a big long kiss as well. Eventually he voiced his concern about his wife coming back. I assured him I would never compromize him. Thinking about this remark of mine a little later, I wondered why he never made a reply. Was this word “compromize” really compatible with me, if he loved me ? Were we not on a different level ? And was I the only one responsible ? I had almost put it that way and he did not object.
We never seemed to have a chance really. Circumstances were against us. My partner in our house, his wife in theirs – nothing could be done unnoticed. Yet he had said to me in the course of some translation exercize concerning daily activities “we’ll go to bed some time”, squeezing my waist most promisingly. The words were almost enough for me; I revelled in those words, went to bed with them and enjoyed myself all on my own.
Not long after, we were in a tête-à-tête following a lesson, most relaxed, kissing and cuddling some of the time. Eventually I had to take leave and he said “what a pity you can’t stay the night”.
Half a year later I came back to this, asking would we ever go to bed. “Would you like to ?” he asked back. I answered in the affirmative. He did not say anything; only when I asked again : “I couldn’t say no”.
He seemed to be cautious about saying things; certainly he did not say things directly. Margo told me his astral sign was cancer. Crabs move sideways.
He was ready to be provoked into spontaneous action, like when I sat next to him at a meeting in his house and, feeling rather warm, took off my cardigan, arching my body in what must have been a provocative movement. He came too late to help me out of my sleeve, but touched my breast with his hand instead.
They were going to Australia in the winter. The idea was almost unbearable. The whole world between us ! I found an excuse to see him in his surgery the day before their departure and kissed and hugged him to my heart’s content. He did not seem to mind and promised to send wireless messages every day. As I left him, he asked “where is Margo”, worried that she might have seen me. As it happened, she had not. He sent me a postcard from down under which I never received. He knew to whom he had given it to be posted, he said gloomily. That was all I heard.
I had a little collection of letters from him about unimportant everyday things like language studies and beekeeping, all typed by the secretary. Sometimes he added with a biro “love” before signing it.
He never acknowledged receipt of the postcards I sent him from our holidays. One of them, in an envelope, was more like a love-letter, written in French and not signed – very uncompromizing. In addition I knew that Margo would be absent when my card was due to arrive. In a conversation later on he mentioned something I had written; I concluded that he had received it. Perhaps he was getting uncomfortable then. Yet, before we left on holiday he had assured me of his love, and I put my heart into this card.
I pointed out to him once that “I love you” in English seems to have little weight, in fact is almost non-committal. It is said much more easily than the corresponding phrases in German or French. He protested to me that he meant what he said.
He was giving a talk about love in his church once. I wrote down a few ideas I had in connection with this most burning subject; an opportunity for me to let him know what I felt, since he never discussed these things with me at all. He took the paper and I do not know whether he ever looked at it.
I found quotations about love everywhere, especially in Shakespeare, and duly let him know : Romeo and Juliet – “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep; the more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite.” “The more I give to thee, the more I have.” What does this sentence really hold ? A paradox in our world. But there might be a world on a different level where statements like that are relevant. He was not a person to discuss things of such a nature.
The weekly lesson did not always materialize. It happened that he cancelled it because of other commitments. I dreaded to answer the telephone on a Wednesday, fearing a cancellation. If it was, I had a good cry on our dog’s neck. Dear animal, he seemed as miserable as I myself.
Nessie was supposed to love animals. In fact an important part of his philosophy of life – if he had one – was based on this. The only animals I have ever heard him refer to with some degree of tenderness were his bees, a crowd of busy females. Any other personal
relationship did not seem to exist. I asked him, as a language exercize, to tell me something about animals. He was at a loss. I thought, surely there are animals somewhere in this long and moved life with its hundreds of stories and anecdotes. “We’re all animals” he said. I insisted “don’t you have an animal to talk about ?”. “You” he said.
He came to our house several times to look after the bees, and I was disappointed that he never attempted to stroke our beautiful, friendly dog. I would also have liked to introduce him to our cat, a cuddly, gentle, ginger tom. Once I was nursing the cat when he arrived. I thought here was my chance. But the cat knew better : he struggled free and ran away.
The one story about an animal I did hear from him at last must have been significant : A swan with feathers heavily polluted by oil was brought to him. He spent hours cleaning the bird, not realizing that he was taking off the natural grease at the same time, put the swan back into the water, and to his children’s and his own dismay the bird went down like a stone, doomed to die.
Time progressed, and I could not imagine life without Nessie any more. When he was taken seriously ill after a visit to Canada, I was driven to despair, praying and weeping in turns for days on end. I drew on all my knowledge of alternative medicine, therapies that had been successfully used in my country, but not here, and made a plan how I would treat him, if I had a chance. I realize now that I was so afraid of losing the one person from whom I might receive some vague, longed for satisfaction or fulfilment, whatever the word, I did not know of what nature this would be, that I was hanging on to him desperately. I forgot all my theoretical reasonings about the nature of love and was ready to be lost in the worst frustration of my life.
As it happened, I was saved. Nessie overcame his illness. I was allowed to be near him fairly often. There was a lot of time for language studies now, and no inconvenient patients around.
He took quite a long time to recover. I was longing to see the old fire again and waited and waited.
I was still waiting a year later, used to frequent cancellations of lessons by now.
There was one beautiful summer evening, though, flowers in the air, insects chirping, black velvet night, when he suggested we went for a swim in the pool in their garden. I had no swimming costume with me. A most tempting idea. However, I was unlucky, having my period at the time, and being old-fashioned, this prevented me from swimming. I told him I was indisposed. He did not say anything, perhaps took it as a hint from destiny, for when I came back to his suggestion once or twice afterwards, he would not hear of it any more.
He did take me to the theatre twice that summer. He and Margo used to take their friends out to the theatre. They had taken me previously. In that summer his Margo was away for two weeks, and a girl was living in, supposed to help with surgery and household. He invited both of us to the theatre; I liked to think the second girl was needed for covering purposes. It would have been impossible for him to be seen just with me. True enough, stopping at some traffic lights, there were his son and wife in the car next to us. There was even a short conversation. Nessie must have been glad for the second girl in the back of his car.
The booking had been done by the secretary who hastened to give Margo the news on her return. Nessie learnt his lesson. Next time Margo was away, he did the booking himself, telling me expressly that she did not know that I was coming along. We arrived at the theatre early and went for a walk along the river, he with a girl in either arm. His hand came right round my waist. I put mine on top of his and covered everything up with the shawl I was wearing. During the interval we went for drinks. It was hot in the crowd. Something made me talk about the liver being our warmest organ. He replied he had his hottest organs elsewhere at the moment.
I made him blush once when he was shouting into a deaf friend’s ear something to the effect that he would not know what to do without me, by answering equally loudly “he knows I love him”. Of course, the deaf friend, a few years older than Nessie, understood perfectly well and gave us a benevolent smile.
Nessie did and said most things, even and especially daring ones, openly, loudly, jokingly, in front of people. He could get away with them like that. Nobody would conceive the wrong idea, and if there was any special reference to anybody, that person would know. It was too risky to do more than a little in secret. “I would never forgive myself, if I hurt Margo”, he said to me.
I wanted badly to do something for him and at last had the idea of knitting a pullover. His wife approved – apparently he needed one. I knitted all my frustrations into that pullover and had considerable pleasure from seeing him wear it; his warmest, he claimed, and a touch prickly because out of Yorkshire wool in its most natural state.
Our relationship seemed to stagnate. Nothing happened one way or other; in fact things were drawing to an end in spite of me. Language lessons continued. I noticed he kissed me less frequently. No doubt he was slowly getting tired, perhaps even physically tired, having realized that the situation was impossible and would not bear fruit of any kind.
I was hanging on in hope – I was so much younger. I was like suspended in a state of permanent hope. I knew what I wanted and went for it without looking left or right. I was quite prepared to be patient. If I could not give him his birthday present this year, I would do it next year. He said it would be wonderful to have it. However, time was rather playing against us. I did not like to think of his age sometimes. Neither did he.
The next year came round – almost three years since I met him. He was firmly established in my life, and when I was taken quite seriously ill with an awful septic knee, he was the only one whose medical care I would have accepted. He looked after me kindly and with more than due care. I had total trust in him and recovered perfectly.
Language lessons resumed at irregular intervals. The fourth year began and even my passion began to wear off. Not without a price. He had withdrawn quietly – not a word was ever said. It was no doubt easiest for him to let things sort themselves out – gradually less, petering out, dying away, so that in the end we would be back to a most normal relationship, on friendly terms. He had had his fun; so had I. It was unreasonable to expect more.
He was right, and yet, I could feel bitterness. Had everything been in vain ? Had it all been for nothing, this longing, striving, struggling, my hope for something wonderful ? The whole of my body, all feelings I was capable of, had been engaged. Of course, nobody had asked me to do this. They were problems of my own making …