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Reading Aloud

4th July

He rang this morning and I said, if he wanted a word with me he could come. “Nothing in particular”, he answered, “just a chat. The parting last week (1st July) was a bit abrupt. Or was it a complete brush-off?” I assured him that this would be a total misunderstanding. He was relieved and said he would call in after having done his shopping. Shortly afterwards he was on the phone again, apologizing for interrupting my work and saying that he would have to stay in until the telecom people had been.
I told him to come afterwards. He said he had no idea when that would be. Certain problems solve themselves…
I had interrupted my work and was ready for a cup of tea when he turned up, showing distinct withdrawal symptoms and craving for sympathy. I invited him to have a cup of tea with me which he gladly accepted. He seemed unsure of himself and at a loss what to say. Just a chat, he had said; but what was there to chat about? Fortunately my daughter was there, too, who having returned from a holiday on the continent, helped to find subjects of conversation. While I was making tea, anyway.

When we were on our own, in the living-room, he on a chair and I on the settee facing him, he began to unburden himself. Ever since he had last seen me, that morning when I had come early, he had been feeling “jaded”. I didn’t know this word, but the dictionary put me in the picture. So that was what he felt like.
He kept on explaining his symptoms. Listless, sad; his wife, of course – he hadn’t had time to think about this event since I had made my appearance – and then this uncomfortable feeling in the pit of his stomach, almost like – well – as if he was about to sit an examination, some kind of nervousness; he couldn’t explain what it was, but there it was. He could easily see, taking exams was no problem for me, he said.
So self-assured, so confident – where did I take it from? “Anyway,” he continued, “you look very attractive in your red tee-shirt.” He couldn’t see much of it, since I was wearing a long-sleeved white blouse on top of it, open, it is true. I said nothing.
“Red suits you”, he kept on. “But you know that, don’t you?” I still said nothing. He looked away and started complaining about his son and his family who being over for a visit didn’t seem to have much time for him. I reminded him that they were due to stay with him later on. “That is true,” he conceded.

He started chuckling suddenly. “Do you know what the telecom people did?” I had no idea. “Put in another plug or point or something for the telephone so that it can be moved from one room to another.” He didn’t understand what was happening technically and how this could be achieved: disconnect the phone, plug it in elsewhere and not lose the call. Did I understand how it worked? I certainly didn’t. It struck me as magic. Anyway, he had felt the need for this when his other daughter-in-law was staying with him a month ago. He seemed to be receiving plenty of telephone calls from one or two ladies, or ringing them up himself, and his daughter-in-law wouldn’t move away while he was on the telephone. It had annoyed him a bit, I wondered why because he had declared more than once that he couldn’t care less what others thought about him. However, I didn’t interrupt his account.
Then he said abruptly “I don’t need that thing now, do I”, smiling at me for a second or two and turning away again. He had to try and justify his new installation. Firstly, it hadn’t been expensive, only £20. Secondly, when his son was there he might like to do business calls from another room. Thirdly, in any case it might be useful. I couldn’t agree more.

Then I asked him to reach me a small parcel from behind the typewriter. It contained the presents I wanted to return to him. I must admit I had a bit of heart beating, never having done such a thing before, but managed alright in the end. They were only trifles he had given me, nothing of any importance, he said, but he would take a little offence. It was a bit much really. He looked hurt. What did his feelings have to do with little material things of no importance? He found this difficult to answer. Did he like me much less now?

He said he still liked me. I told him, what he had given me was for a little girl. I had grown out of it. He should give it to his granddaughter. He said I should have refused it in the first place. I pointed out I was delighted at the time and taken by surprize. Why should I not have had it – I liked it. Also I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to hurt his feelings. He bravely accepted the blow. I told him it would make me freer not to keep it. Better for him, too. He seemed to understand this and didn’t know what to say. I reminded him of what we had said at our last meeting. It would be better to go in for a relationship that worked its way uphill steadily rather than reach some sort of a climax quickly and come back down.
I had him in tears now. He took off his glasses and sobbed “you still have a little affection for me.” I reassured him that I had more than ever. Why should I go to all this trouble, if I didn’t. He looked at me blank. Then he got up saying that he would have to leave me to my work, now. I stood before him and smiled. He melted.
I was uncertain whether to kiss him or not, but decided that I had to revive him. I kept my eyes open and he looked at me in utter amazement. He was hesitant after that.
I put my hand onto his shoulder and said jokingly “go on.” But he didn’t move. “A kiss” , he whispered, I could hardly hear it. I gave him another one and he said “I must go now quickly.”