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Reading Aloud

George

He claims I helped him a lot when he was feeling desperate. It was in my power, he told me, to ruin or to rescue him. So I did what I could for him. As a consequence he called me a repairer of spirits, a plumber attending to spirits, or Beautiful Monday, because that was the day I normally went to see him.

At the time he was revelling in his own worries. He didn’t want to come out of them. He felt like trapped in a circle. He indulged himself in the fact that he was a prisoner of certain unfortunate circumstances. Of course, a prisoner of circumstances… “I want to break the circle, “ was one of his favourite sayings. He felt mighty sorry for himself.

He loved the therapy I tried on him. He couldn’t get enough of it. Then I called on him to break the circle. He refused. Instead he said: “You’ll have to do a lot of work on me.” He liked me to do work on him as long as it was the kind he appreciated.

He went to see somebody who deals in spirits professionally and came back having wasted his money.

He didn’t mind calling somebody “a nice lad” – apparently a brilliant scholar at Oxford University – who had misjudged and underrated me totally. “It was only words, ‘nice lad’ “, he said shrugging off my query. “Empty words,” I added. I know somebody else who when taken at his word says he was only joking…

He likes to see me once a week and give me lunch. “I bet you only come for the lunches,” he said on one occasion. He normally stands in his living room waiting for me when I get there, and receives me with a solemn face. He missed me when I was away on holiday and gave me to understand just how much… “Let me show you,” he said and didn’t notice my reluctance. Why sit on the bed when there was his nice new kitchen furniture? However, I did not like to hurt his feelings… “Did you miss me?” he asked. I said I had often thought about him. “That’s not the same,” he remarked. I pointed out that I was in a different position. He had to accept that. “Anyway,” he continued, “you have a place in my heart.” I assured him he had one in mine. “I hope so,” he said. I told him I normally mean what I say.

He is hooked on me. I shall have to shake him off. It’s a weight, a burden, something unpleasant, somebody pulling, tearing away on one…

He said we should have met many years ago. I’m not sure I would have liked that. He said he would like to spend a holiday with me, devote himself to me entirely during a holiday. I think I prefer my husband.

He had a holiday recently with his wife. In spite of her state she had insisted on having a change and on going away. Only a three-hour drive to the West Country. She would be watching Wimbledon there, whilst he could go riding. He had found a nurse to take with them. She would look after his wife’s needs. It turned out that she wasn’t really fit for the journey there and certainly not fit for the journey back – she had to be transported in an ambulance. Asked after their return whether they had enjoyed themselves, he said yes, it had been a change for his wife. She said with a stern face she had been ill all the time, but it was nice for her husband who had been able to do a lot of riding. He has already booked a holiday for next year in the same place.

His daughter is going to be married soon. She’s not the youngest any more and everybody seems very pleased. The whole day will be spent at his house, he explained. About sixty guests who will attend a full-scale religious ceremony performed in his living room. Afterwards a celebration and all the food you want in the marquee he was going to put up in his garden. It sounded interesting. “Mind you,” he said, “I’m not into all this religion as you know. But I shall have to wear one of these funny little caps. It bothers me a bit.” Anyway, not to worry really. He would like to invite me, I gathered, but his daughter had so many friends – they were forced to limit numbers.
I quite saw his point. At our next meeting he told me there was a surprise for me. I wondered was it a good or a bad one. “A good one,” he said, “you’ll be invited to the wedding. And your husband, of course, plus a few more people from the village.” Then he added: “My way of paying you back a little…” I understand he will be completely broke after the event.

He asked me could I do him a favour. How can I say “no”? “Not a big one,” he said, “just drive to the hospital in Jeena, six or seven miles away, and turn on my wife’s T.V. set for her.” He would be on a wedding in Paris on that day. In fact he had already bought the air ticket and was looking for somebody to do the job for him. I was not delighted, but said I could do it. He rang me later saying that he might be able to spare me the journey, if his son committed himself to helping his mother, in which case he would let me know. I didn’t hear anymore. Somebody told me that people tend to take advantage of one.

What would I have to wear for the wedding I wondered. “A nice dress,” he said, “and you’ll have to do your hair”. He had just dishevelled my hair properly with both hands, something I detest, “I don’t mind,” he laughed, “but other people will be looking and wondering who this person is.”

I normally visit him and his wife on a Saturday afternoon. Once, quite unexpectedly, they were not in. They had been staying with friends in Oxford, I heard later, and had forgotten to let me know.

I offered to transport chairs for their wedding guests in our van. They seized the offer eagerly. It would be by far the cheapest way.

He very much liked the therapy I gave him in the early days of our relationship. He wouldn’t expect it to go on forever, of course, although he gave me looks much later meaning “let me have it again”. However, as he put it himself “he didn’t like to push me.” “Good for you,” I said. In later years, he mused, when we were both old and grey, we would meet at village coffee mornings, maybe, and with a laughing eye exchange meaningful glances, things we did when we were younger, a laugh…
I shrugged my shoulders — a laugh indeed. No doubt he doesn’t need me at all.
I certainly don’t need him. Why do I keep on seeing him?

It was Saturday. I went to see them. He greeted me with his usual effervescence, which for the first time I cut short. He looked surprized, but I engaged him in a conversation immediately and moved into the room where his wife was. He went into the kitchen to make tea while his wife told me that he had had a not very pleasant day in Paris. I was informed that he didn’t like the Parisians. I didn’t quite see what he could have found out about these people in one day spent as a tourist. Well, a dreadful shop owner came out of her shop to tell off a poor American lady who had endangered a window by pushing a pram too near it. A torrent of words, French of course, and the lady not understanding a thing. Disgusting. How rude! Asked for further evidence against the Parisians, she told me that years ago when they were both in Paris, it happened that in a bank the man behind the counter refused to lend them a biro to fill a cheque in with. I was sorry about their bad experience and told them that personally I had good friends there.

George was still in the kitchen. I asked his wife what the wedding had been like. “Which wedding,” she asked back utterly surprized. Oh dear, I was embarrassed. She hadn’t been informed. I asked her, was George in trouble now. She gave a sweet smile as she was saying “no” and resolutely pressed her buzzer, thus producing a persistent noise in the kitchen. George appeared, the “genius of the buzzer” as he describes himself, and was called to task. What about the wedding? He hadn’t told her anything about it. He seemed bewildered, swore that he must have told her and protested he had not been at any wedding, because he had returned home on the day it was taking place. He had only spent the day prior to their son’s friend’s wedding in Paris. George’s wife was satisfied, especially since he gave a detailed account of what he had been doing. He had told me a different story a few days ago. Perhaps he had wanted to show off. Attending a French wedding – all the people involved were English, I heard later – is supposed to be something extra special. He did look tired, if not exhausted. His wife told me he had been sleeping most of the time since his return. I have no idea what he had been up to…

Anyway, Paris is a beautiful city of course, he said. But the prices! Nothing that he could have afforded. A meal at £25 which he would have expected to pay in a fashionable restaurant. But what he got for that! And the hotel room on the Bd. St. Germain. Every room was called after a painter. Rousseau Room his. £50 per night.
No, he thought everything was too expensive in Paris and he was glad to be back.
Yes, he was glad to have gone. An experience. Makes one appreciate all the good things at home…

When I left them I gave him a quick kiss. He whispered to me “See you Monday”, but I told him something had cropped up to prevent me. I didn’t have to explain more, because we were in his wife’s hearing. He shook his fist, I don’t know who at and I went in a hurry. He tried to follow me to the car, but realized that I wanted to be gone.
He left off. I waved to him as I was driving away and he returned to the house, head down. Back home I decided it was time to turn over a new leaf.

A year ago, when he had read my first book, he reckoned he had “got off lightly”. He commented on Aldous, though. “Doesn’t he look like a fool,“ he had said to me, “and of course he is”…