Aldous’ wife telephoned me. “Listen, dear,” she said, “I’m having a W.I. meeting and Mrs. Soandso has just arrived. She came past Mrs Rivers’ house and saw a dubious looking character with a few scruffy children go into there. I tried to ring Mrs Rivers, but couldn’t get through. I wonder what’s going on. I thought I’d give you a warning…” Mrs Rivers lives near us and what Aldous’ wife meant was that I should go and have a look. I told her I would. She said: “Let me know anyway…” I answered I won’t bother, only if something’s wrong. “Alright, dear,” she said, “and see you Saturday at the party.” I sent my eldest daughter to see how Mrs Rivers was. She seemed to take a long time coming back and I was getting uneasy, interrupted my baking and put on shoes to go there myself. Before I could set off, my daughter came back reporting that there hadn’t been a soul around, in- or outside the house. Later that afternoon I telephoned Mrs Rivers. She had indeed been out and was upset about the news I gave her. I almost wished I hadn’t said anything, but, no, she was grateful for the information, she said, and rang off, noticeably disconcerted. A few days after I bumped into her. She had calmed down and the police were keeping an eye on her house. She had asked them to. It seemed as though there were people going round trying to pick up things from unlocked premises, garages mainly. Mrs Rivers knew the Vicar had lost food out of the deep freezer in his garage which he never used to lock. Miss Felix with whom she had had lunch was another victim – garden tools this time. And one or two more people. She concluded it was best to lock up everything which she did anyway. The lady who had seen the dubious character in her grounds was Mr and Mrs Orms’ neighbour, by the way, acting president of the local W.I., a very busy person with the excellent ability of taking in at a glance what’s going on in other people’s houses, not holding back her opinion, making useful comments, putting people right on various issues and improving wherever possible.
On the Saturday of that week there was a party at Aldous’ house. Neither Steve nor I felt like going and Steve volunteered to fall ill, mainly because he didn’t want the job of ringing up and apologizing for me being ill. Aldous answered the phone when I rang up to give the news that we couldn’t attend. “How sad,” he said, “and why doesn’t he try Aspirin? It always does the trick with me.” Somebody else had fallen ill, I heard. When I told Steve, he started speculating about that person’s illness…Unfortunately that gentleman was still in bed three days later. Aldous’ wife rang up a few days after to find out how Steve was. “As right as rain,” I felt inclined to say, but refrained. She then told me someone was going to see George’s wife in hospital later on. She also confessed she was feeling very naughty about this, because.…she didn’t feel like going! “What an effort. Driving all these miles, not knowing what to say when you’re there. And the petrol.” Didn’t I feel a bit like that, she wondered. I told her I had decided to give it up altogether. “You never,” she said. I told her that through the help of a charitable organization I had found somebody to replace me. “You didn’t!” she exclaimed. I explained that the effort invested was not worth the result achieved. She gave a sigh of relief, because she couldn’t agree more about the effort. She declared herself totally sympathetic with me and that certainly we had done our share, and she was going to do the same thing. She seems to follow me – first into the job and then out of it. As for a replacement, what a jolly good idea! She would do the same. She knows a few members of the organization in question through the W.I. and would contact them. “By the way,” she said, “can I drop in some time to bring you a poster about this debate Aldous is taking part in. Maybe you can put it up on your gatepost.” They obviously thought that leaving slips of paper on the chairs in a concert hall –“Little Glyndebourne” – wasn’t enough. I felt like saying she could keep her poster to herself – we don’t have a gatepost anyway – but didn’t dare. She then added she hoped that Steve and I would be present at the debate. I put it the English way and said “we might well be”.
She came in the afternoon with the very latest news. “Do you know how much our neighbours sold their house for?” And she threw all sorts of figures concerning prices past, present, future about me. Bought for so much, invested so much, sold for soooo much! Isn’t it incredible! She said in fact it was wicked!. I said “good for your neighbours”. She said, yes, she would like to do that. Sell their place – larger than their neighbours’, of course – for a lot of money and then live a life of luxury. She had found her dream house, near her sister’s, near where she was born, and would be happy to go back there. But Aldous wouldn’t. A real city-person, she said, who wouldn’t go away from here. Of course, she smiled, they wouldn’t want to leave all their friends. I said it would be a big change. To come back to their neighbours, she informed me that money was no object for them. He’d been made the top man of such and such a company, in a foreign country. The expense of moving him and his belongings there! And his son who is having difficulties with his A-levels here will be able to read architecture there straight away! “And do you know where they stayed when they first came here?” She gave the name of a well-known ten-star or so hotel in the vicinity. She shook her head and I could see that her mind boggled – she told me why, because I had no idea. “We were taken out for a meal there once,” she said, “only four of us and it came to £100 without drinks!” “I love you, dear,” she laughed, “but I wouldn’t invite you to a cup of coffee there. I would come out broke.” I asked had she met her new neighbours yet. She denied and said she didn’t expect anything from them. Too young. A coloured musician with his family who probably wouldn’t be interested in people of her and Aldous’ age. I said, you never know, and she confided that Aldous had told her to keep an open mind. Their present neighbours, the ones who were leaving, were alright. I was surprized to hear it. Not that they had a lot in common, she said, but they were a similar age. They had had drinks together and that was about it. She couldn’t come to terms with the lady. The gentleman, on the other hand, was “delightful”, I understood. No problem with the dogs apparently. “It’s a female, their dog,” she said, and with a smile of some sort “a foregone conclusion”. Aldous’ dog is a male and I gather they “kiss” every day.
Our next topic of conversation was George’s wife. “I’ll tell you all about her,” she said, looking important and bearing in mind our chat by telephone earlier on. She had been to see her and, of course, was questioned about me immediately which was a slightly tricky situation after the disclosure I had made to her in the morning. However, she had managed alright. George’s wife, I heard, was worried about me, not having seen me for a few weeks; she could only hope I was alright and missed me “terribly”. Aldous’ wife had been able to tell her that I had been feeling tired lately – “you do look tired, dear,” she said, interrupting her account – and that Steve hadn’t been well on Saturday. I approved. “But how are you going on?” she then asked, “aren’t you going any more at all?” I said I wouldn’t. She looked incredulous. “What are you going to tell them?” If George wants to know, I’ll give my reasons, I said to her. “You’ll tell him what you told me?” I nodded. What’s wrong with that? No feelings involved of any kind. She said: “We’re probably flattering ourselves by thinking we do them good.” And then: “I won’t let them down. But maybe I can cut my visits down to fortnightly ones. That would be a help, wouldn’t it?” I couldn’t agree more. She left me soon after, urging me to look after myself, to have a rest and try and recover in general. She got into her car without kissing me bye-bye; but maybe I wasn’t too forthcoming in that respect. Last time I saw Yan he said to me: “You look well.” And he didn’t understand why Aldous and his wife had remarked to him I didn’t…
Coming back from the dentist on this day, in the morning, I went to the post office to collect Mrs Rivers’ pension. I saw my friend, the Greengrocer, and his wife and bumped into the lady who had taken over the shopping for Mr and Mrs Orms. I asked her, had everything worked out satisfactorily. She said, yes, she hadn’t had to do any shopping after all, but they wanted her this week.
The Greengrocer’s wife had been monitoring our conversation and said: “I think their neighbour is trying to get them to do more shopping here. They already get quite a lot from us.” I thought to myself “good for you” and remarked about meat and toiletries which they don’t do. I didn’t tell her that cat food and a few other items were more expensive here than elsewhere. She must know that anyway. The Greengrocer’s wife said: “Yes, of course, we don’t do everything.” And that was the end of our conversation.
George was on the phone to me, wondering first of all how Steve was. Aldous’ wife had told him, so he said, that he wasn’t well. I was able to reassure him on this matter. Secondly he told me that they missed me very much, his wife missing me even “terribly”.
I didn’t see why she should, because asked once whether she found it boring always seeing the same people like myself, she had answered: “No more so than seeing all the other patients.” I said, would you like to come down for a cup of tea? He hesitated and informed me he had his wife at home. Of course it was Wednesday – I had forgotten. Could I come up and have a cup of tea with them? I told him I couldn’t, having lots of things on my hands. “What shall I tell my wife then,” he asked, “when will you see her?” I was at a loss what to say and he helped me by suggesting: “You’ll see her when you can?” I jumped at that and said that was exactly what I felt. We rang off.
Aldous and his wife dropped in two days later as they were walking their dog past our house. Aldous came in on his own to pay us for some concert tickets, his wife staying outside with their dog who doesn’t like ours. “How is Steve?” Aldous asked first of all. I think the news of Steve being unwell must be around the village and told him so. He shrugged his shoulders. I then enquired about his own well-being. His wife had told me a tale of asthma, inoculations and frequent visits to the chemist’s. He looked surprized. Nothing to worry about, he said, a kind of wheeziness early in the morning which stopped him from sleeping through. However, he had improved recently and managed without drugs, now. He wished, though, Steve would try Aspirin for his headaches. Aren’t people obstinate! Just like George! Imagine he, Aldous, might be able to help his wife. There was a friend with new resources in their immediate surroundings! There could be hope for her!
Aldous’ wife whom we had joined outside interrupted him and informed me that two people in the North were being treated according to Aldous’ ideas. Aldous just couldn’t work out why George didn’t want his help. “But there you are. You can’t force people.” He looked frustrated. They had at long last had a letter from a friend who had spent a lot of time with them, they told me next. The friend was well, I heard; happy also with his wife and family, now – Aldous’ wife looked pleased about that. She had told me months ago that they had been on the brink of divorce. He was full of new projects. Fancy him going to China to study acupuncture! Always things going on in his life. An interesting person. Aldous’ wife had called him “naughty” for never writing to them. After all they had been together quite a lot – he a stranger in this country, too. And all the musical evenings. He told them in his letter what pleasant memories he had of them. According to Aldous and his wife he was always hovering on the brink of financial breakdown which made me wonder who was paying for his stay in China. Would he get a grant or something? Aldous laughed a little pained: “That’s why he wrote the letter, really. He will get a grant, but needs…references!” I expressed my hope that Aldous would write a nice reference for him and asked, didn’t he know that people only come when they want something. He said: “Yes, that is so. Poor Kate! She’s never had a single line from him”. I said: “He doesn’t want anything from her!” He said: “Indeed not.”
Aldous’ wife remarked: “He was willing to be driven around by her when he was over here…” To inform the reader, the lady in question is about sixty and quite attractive; lively, anyway, and always well-dressed. And Aldous: “Poor Kate! She feels he was the only lover she wanted and won’t consider any other man, now. She could do with a man. She needs a man to stop her from doing daft things!” Aldous was serious, if not concerned, rolled his eyes a bit like Othello and emphasized the important words, while I was listening quietly. Then he addressed me: “A sexist remark, I suppose, but you, in your new-found reticence, won’t argue that!” I couldn’t help smiling – he wasn’t frustrated again, was he? I said “doesn’t a change make life more interesting? Always the same thing – that’s boring!” He said: “Well, when you see me turn up as a red-haired punk, you will know that I’ve taken your remark to heart.” “Which remark?” I asked. “The change,” his wife pointed out. I was surprized, not being aware of having invited Aldous to change into a “red-haired punk”. As they left they said we had to make travel arrangements for the next concert. Was it their turn to take us? I said Steve wouldn’t mind using our car and didn’t tell them I preferred him for a driver. “See you before then, anyway..” “Bye-bye.”