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Reading Aloud

At Mrs Rivers’

She opened the door with her usual welcoming smile. “Pleased to see you,” she said, and “will you have a cup of tea?” Then we settled down to our weekly chat. She loves company. She attracts an amazing number of people, sometimes several at a time. When she was in hospital her ward was like a beehive, people coming and going and she holding court from the height of her bed. In a see-through nightdress, I hear it shocked one of her visitors.

She needs company. She lives and thrives on it. She forgets her ailments when she has company. She briefly mentions what’s wrong with her, always with a laugh. She never asks for sympathy. I saw her through all her dental troubles. Now she has dentures and no more problems.

Her visitors provide her with a subject matter for conversation. She must have paraded most of her friends and family to me. I don’t know what she says about me to others.

She is used to a certain circle. Her parents-in-law were Sir and Lady. “Poor old Lady Kate”, she says, referring to her husband’s mother. I forget what had happened to her. She knows all the titled people within a certain radius. Lady Frances Mould for example who at the age of seventy-eight – a mere chicken, Mrs Rivers says who is eighty-six herself – decided to give up driving because she doesn’t always “feel the ground under her feet”. Sold her car to a ninety-two-year old lady, would you believe it, Mrs. Rivers exclaimed. Lady Frances won’t be able to provide transport for Mrs Rivers anymore, that’s for sure. She will move around by taxi – money no object, I heard – and may not see Mrs Rivers much in the future. A peculiar person, Mrs Rivers said, who will consult a doctor at the slightest provocation. She used to take Mrs Rivers, who is a doctor, to one side and ask her opinion on a number of odd subjects concerning her health.

Mrs Rivers adjusts easily to people of different circles. There is Sibyl who does clerical work for her and has at last been admitted to an almshouse. Mrs Rivers was very pleased when she heard that. She thought the good old soul deserved that after a long and difficult life. Sibyl had even managed a holiday, for the first time ever, I think she said, and she was delighted.

She then gave me news about her son and his family who were going on holiday. I was relieved to hear that other families, too, split up for that purpose, her son going sailing in this country and his wife swimming and sunbathing in Greece, hoping to improve her back.

Her brother was very ill, I heard next. She had had a telephone call from her sister-in-law, this hard-hearted and selfish creature. They were married late in life, first time for him, second time for her. He couldn’t do enough for her, I gathered, and she was all set to enjoy herself, expecting him to drive her even when he wasn’t feeling well, insisting on moving from the country into town, because there was more entertainment for her, going out on her own, if necessary. Anyway, Mrs Rivers felt she shouldn’t talk about her and left it at that.

She then asked me how the Orms were getting on. I gave her the latest news. She said “o dear”. I told her it was almost getting too much for me. She said she wasn’t surprized with all the things I was doing. The Vicar and the Doctor should work out a more permanent solution. Surely it was the Vicar’s job to do these things.

What about the Georges as well. Didn’t I do too much there? I said I was going to cut down on time spent with them. The trouble was, I said, that people take one for granted and ask for more all the time. What about their family? I pointed out that they had done a lot. Of course, Mrs Rivers said, George’s wife has been spoilt by all this attention he has given her for years. I told her about the impending wedding of their daughter and that George’s wife was most worried about what she would wear on the occasion. Her speech is so bad now, that you can hardly hear her, but she wanted to discuss the menu with the caterers. When I went one evening to switch on the T.V. for her – George was in Paris – she expected me to come in time to give her her evening meal. Relief for the hospital staff. I suppose she likes to do what she can…Mrs Rivers thought this was exaggerating and was pleased to hear that I had declined the request. She was hoping she wasn’t too much of a burden for me. I assured her I quite enjoyed my cup of tea and a chat with her. “See you next week.” “Bye-bye.”