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Reading Aloud

Mr Orms and his wife

He lives in the cottage his parents had lived in, his place of birth. He has lived in this area all his life – three score and ten, now, plus a few years of “borrowed time” according to Aunt Maisie, his cousin.

He remembers our cottage when it was half its present size with a large family living in it. There was a joke about them in the village, he told me: people wondered how it was possible for everybody to sleep in the tiny place and came to the conclusion that all the children must have gone into their parent’s bed to be removed from there a few hours later and stood up against the wall once they were asleep, thus making room for the adults.

He played the organ in the village church for sixty years. He composed music for the service. He was the choirmaster when the choir was founded shortly after our arrival in the village. The Vicar arranged a celebration to honour him for his long years of service, and the local titled lady, Lady Brender, officiated in the presentation ceremony. He had done work for her, too, in his time: repaired her clocks for her (he was a carpenter by trade). He collects clocks himself, beautiful and really valuable ones, two to three hundred years old. Soon after the celebration he retired. It was an important change in his life, if I believe his wife. He had been forced to retire as an organist, his eyesight not being too good. He had felt he wasn’t up to it anymore. The new organist came. He wasn’t pleased with the way his music was being treated. Very wrong, the new man’s approach, Mr Orms thought and didn’t hide his feelings.

He stayed at home depressed. Something missing in his life. Complaining about pain, too. He didn’t budge from his chair, except to walk his dog. He had all the music he wanted in his house and an organ. He rarely played it. I heard from his wife he was a red-head originally – all silver, now. Fiery kind o’thing. Perhaps that accounts for certain ways. He is quite capable of flying up against people. He makes his displeasure known!

I took them shopping once a week. They welcomed it, because they were taken into the village and bumped into people they hadn’t seen for a long time. Mrs Orms took the opportunity once or twice when he wasn’t around to complain bitterly about his selfishness. She wasn’t very strong and he didn’t stop making demands on her. He was ruined, she said. She had to do everything for him. He relied on her totally. He didn’t like to decide on anything before having asked her. She had to tell him what to do.
Then one day when I was shopping with him, I had to take him into hospital very suddenly – the pain was unbearable. The doctor admitted him as an emergency case. Nothing was found during the week he stayed there, and he was discharged still feeling pain. People in his surroundings thought he was “putting it on”. All psychological. Certain things from his past asserting themselves, who knows. Missing his job at church as well – he’s never come to terms with that – it all adds up.

Then Mrs Orms was taken ill into hospital. When I saw him during her absence he complained that she never let him do as he wanted. Always told him what to do. Treating him like a child in fact. I told him he would have to use his own initiative when she was back. He seemed to think I didn’t know his wife. She came back and he was still in pain, so he said, grumbling away at their doctor. The Vicar and his wife visited them, dispensing the comfort of the Church. The Vicar’s wife, an excellent needle woman herself, was much impressed by Mrs Orms’ knitting and bought one or two things from her. She could assess the value of the work. Mrs Orms had knitted for the church bazar and for the W.I. On one of these occasions, a large stole she had done disappeared altogether. No idea who had it and how much it had fetched. Mrs Orms was most annoyed and wasn’t going to allow that to happen again. It was just as well the Vicar’s wife had bought the cardigan before it went into the general sale. Mrs Orms donated the money she received to the Church, she told me.

Mr Orms was more depressed than ever and Aldous, whom I informed about this, thought it was high time to give him a good dose of “you know what’s good against depression”. I could bring it to him, he suggested. Why wouldn’t he do it, I wondered. They had been on friendly enough terms with the Orms to the point of inviting them to their house once. Aldous’ wife hadn’t visited them for a long time, it is true, and whenever I spoke of them she claimed to have a bad conscience. Aldous sighed and said he would send his wife. She came back full of good intentions about seeing them every week from now on, poor souls; neglected for too long, etc. etc. She only went once.

Some time after, his disease was diagnosed. Everybody knows what it is except him. His wife reckons he wouldn’t be able to bear it. “He’ s like a baby,” she said, “no good telling him. He would go to pieces.” And she complained a little about the demands he makes on her even in hospital. They’re both there, now, in the same ward, she with a bad back and he recovering from an operation, a minor operation which will make no difference to his state at all, pain relieving with a bit of luck.

People have started rallying round them: a son who had never taken much interest in them, the neighbours who have been very good indeed – “thriving on it”, somebody said, one or two kind ladies from the village, even the Churchwarden, a retired man with time on his hands, accusing himself of having neglected them. Nothing we can do for them, obviously. Aunt Maisie asks after them regularly. He’s always been a bit of an odd character, she told me; she knew him as a little boy. Spoilt by his mother. Hard on his son. Spoilt by this wife. What can you do?

They came out of hospital, because no more could be done for them. I gather they could always return there, if they find they’re unable to cope. So far they seem to manage thanks to friends, neighbours and the Vicar. “A liability” the Vicar’s wife called them, perfectly unable to fend for themselves. No modern sanitary facilities in their house, no telephone. “But surrounded by expensive clocks,” she said. “Mind you, he sold some of them lately and asked my husband to keep the money in a safe place. He invested it for them; so they’re alright there. Do you know, their son came to find out what his father had done with the money! I don’t trust this son. Awful character. After money all the time.”

They’re going to spend some money on improving their house. No drains anywhere. They have building permission for a bathroom and are waiting for grants to help with finance. Mrs Orms complained bitterly, because everything seems to take so long. Last week she was soaked twice when she had to go to their outdoors toilet. Wasn’t it up to the Vicar to push things for them? However, he hadn’t even called in for quite a while. They felt deserted, she said, at people’s mercy and not knowing what was happening to them. “Of course, they should have had these things installed many years ago,” the Vicar’s wife pointed out when I contacted them in this matter. And the Vicar sighed: “I shall have to go and see them. It’s a wearing business.” I agreed with him and was informed there were ten more like them!

Mr Orms seemed in his usual spirits when I last saw him. Still the same, his wife assured me, staying in bed until his breakfast is ready and objecting to “meals on wheels” because they’re not as nice as home-cooked ones. At least he plays his organ from time to time. “Everybody seems to be keen on me playing it,” he said and shrugged his shoulders. Why do people like him to play it? “Maybe music does something for us,” I suggested. “I suppose so,” he said. He was very sick at the weekend, his wife told me. She had to call the doctor. How did she do that, I wondered. She can hardly walk. He can, of course, but was not to know about the doctor. Her neighbour was cutting his hedge fortunately and she managed to make her way to him. They’ve got by without a telephone so far. Why should we have one, now? Think of the expense! I looked at their calor gas heater. Incredible, she said, having to use a heater in the summer. No doubt the bottle would soon run out, too. Did they have a spare one in store, I inquired. No, she said resolutely, this one will be good for a while yet. Why can’t their son get them one, so that they have it in just in case, I insisted. She doesn’t like to see this son, I know that, she called him upsetting once. She said he was bound to call in sooner or later and she would give him the job. I hope she will, for my sake… The Churchwarden, I hear, hadn’t been to see them anymore, I told her I felt like treading onto some of these good Christian people’s toes. She agreed wholeheartedly.

The Vicar’s wife was on the phone to me in the evening. They had been to see Mr & Mrs Orms in the afternoon and “sorted things out for them”. I told her it was good of them. She said she wasn’t feeling very well, suffering from a bad back. I wished her a good night.

Next morning I had New Friend on the phone. “Just to inform you,” he said, “I had an unexpected visitor last night.” The Vicar. New Friend thought he knew why he had come: to discuss the Orms with him. He had said so to the Vicar and was given full information about everything. Why had the Vicar chosen to visit New Friend of all people, I wondered. “Didn’t you tell him I was prepared to help, but not on my own?” New Friend asked. I certainly hadn’t. “Is it coincidence then?” he wondered. I told him I didn’t believe in that.

I saw Mr and Mrs Orms again to tell them that somebody else was doing their shopping in the future. An elderly couple had been found, living a stone throw away from them – they even knew them – who were willing to shop for them every week. I was delighted and Mr and Mrs Orms accepted the change willingly, all the more so since I promised to visit them from time to time to have a chat with them and to see how they were. Mrs Orms wasn’t too well again. Mr Orms was having his organ tuned when I arrived and surprized his wife by all the things he could suddenly do. Lifting chairs, handling the stove, discussing the organ with the tuner for hours apparently – having forgotten his trouble altogether. He hadn’t been so good at lunchtime, refused to eat his “meals on wheels” – she had had hers and called it nice – and insisted on having something prepared in his own kitchen for him. She had been obliged to cancel “meals on wheels”, she said, and would now have to worry about lunch every day. She told me the Vicar had been since I last saw them, making a lot of bones about all the things he was going to do for them. However, she hadn’t heard any more and wasn’t too hopeful. She didn’t sound half as enthusiastic as the Vicar’s wife who had already informed me about their visit to the Orms.

Mrs Orms had started knitting a jumper for one of Mrs Rivers’ grandsons – Mrs Rivers having provided the wool – when they were suddenly overcome by all their health problems. Was Mrs Orms able to get on with the knitting, Mrs Rivers had inquired and I promised to keep an eye on it. After a few weeks Mrs Rivers asked again, “selfishly”, she said, putting on an air of embarrassment: “How about the knitting?” I told her the knitting was next to Mrs Orms’ chair and I should think she was getting on with it. It turned out that for some reason Mrs Orms didn’t feel like getting on with it, and a friend, also a very good knitter, had taken it from her, she told me, to finish it. I asked her what she was going to charge for it. She didn’t know and I suggested what I considered a minimum figure. She thought it was a lot, bearing in mind that Mrs Rivers had supplied the wool. I told her the opposite was true and she more or less left it to me. I shall have to hand over the jumper anyway. Mrs Rivers will be pleased. She thinks the new jersey will come in handy for the glacier skiing her grandson is proposing to do.

I left the Orms promising to have a cup of tea next time I come.