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Reading Aloud

George’s wife

I visited George’s wife in hospital today. I hadn’t seen George since I cancelled lunch with him and wondered how he was. “Fine,” she said. And after a while: “…but lonely.”

I knew she had let other people know about this predicament of his. She thought he was alright during the daytime, doing as much riding as he could. Not at the moment, alas, because he had a lot of work. His job. The worst was, I gathered, coming back from hospital and facing the evening at home, alone. He had told me himself that this was what he dreaded. “He is used to having people around him,” she went on. “We always had the house full of people, and now it’s quiet.” He hates being on his own in a quiet house. He doesn’t like it on his own in general. He didn’t enjoy walking round Paris museums. He would have liked somebody to “share his experience with”, he had said. “Of course you need company,” he insisted, “it’s human.” And he takes his wife out of hospital twice a week, although it’s a great strain for him, he complained about it bitterly more than once.

I asked his wife what she thought could be done for him. She said people should invite him to their houses. I pointed out one could do it occasionally, not as a habit. He would have to return home in the end in any case; no getting away from that.

“Yes,” she said, “but not facing a whole long evening.” I told her that I felt tired in the evening, after a day’s work; my husband came home from work late; I had to provide a meal for him, and by the time everything was cleared up and put away it was 8.30 p.m. She smiled sweetly saying that this was exactly the time George came home from hospital… I said I didn’t feel like entertaining when I was tired.

Quite a long time ago I had spent an evening with him. He had after all decided to tell his wife about it. He showed me a film I had wanted to see and was wearing a tie for the occasion. We sat in two armchairs side by side. He held my hand and kissed it from time to time. Then he noticed I had become involved with the film and left me to it. Eventually my husband came to collect me. He had some of the grapes we had left and tried to watch T.V. – we don’t have it – while George was talking to him.

I have whiled away time for him on a great number of occasions. I had numerous lunches in his house… His wife is by no means supposed to know about this. He talked about his problems most of the time. His schizophrenic life spent half in hospital, half out of it. The fact that his wife wanted him in hospital all the time.
That he couldn’t possibly accept this. Life passing without him doing anything worthwhile, a maddening idea. She had changed into a different person, a very egocentric one, under the impact of the disease, and while he was perfectly willing to look after her, he didn’t want to miss real life. He didn’t want to be ordered about by a sick person all the time, and yet he was bound to her. She had accepted his horse in the end, even giving him riding-tack for his birthday. However… Poor man!

His wife said he wouldn’t leave her now in the evening. “I want to stay here,” he had said to her, “I don’t want to go home.” “Good for you,” I laughed. She smiled.