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Reading Aloud

New Friend 1st July

I had an early start this morning. At 6.30 am I left the house to go for a walk, so I told my husband, and went to see New Friend. I had things to sort out with him.

He received me in his dressing gown. I had warned him by telephone and he had already made tea. I kissed him good morning briefly and we settled down at our usual place, the settee. He took my hand and we began our discussion. No, he wasn’t surprized at what I had to tell him. He had in fact anticipated it, little signs that I had given apparently and which he had interpreted, he could see that, in the right way. Men are different from women, aren’t they. He had always accused me of not understanding men. They react differently to women. Women, I gathered from him, were happy with things that weren’t enough for a man. However, no need for me to worry about him.

At his age nature sets limits. It might not be good for him… He had never had any illusions about my motives for kissing him in the first place. It was a kiss given out of charity, a charitable kiss. He had accepted what I had given him, enjoyed it – it had lifted him out of his depression and made him feel young – and now it was finished. All good things come to an end. Why not have an intellectual relationship from now on. In any case it would make practical life easier: no need to hide from anybody, beautifully clear conscience all the time. Nothing wrong with him holding my hand, is there? Arab men walk about holding hands – a gesture denoting affection, togetherness. Rather nice. He had told me that before.

I had to avoid his caresses. Perhaps he sensed it was his last chance. Then I gave him my reasons. He agreed that certain things are over-valued on close inspection. A man apparently forgets them even more quickly than a woman – his wife had always accused him of that. Oh yes, the novelty accounts a lot for the thrill.
Repetition tends to be disillusioning, quite true. What sort of a fellow was Don Giovanni? As to the egoistic nature of all our acts, he couldn’t quite accept what he called my “pessimistic” view. Anyway, in the end he agreed that the thing wasn’t worth having. What was it but working up a climax and then coming down again, he said. Who likes to come down, I added. I suggested to use a different way, one that goes up all the time – quite a climb probably – but staying up, not coming down again. He was thoughtful and admitted one could look at it that way. I got up to take my leave. “Allow me to be a little jealous of your husband,” he said. He followed me to the door. I could see regret in his face. I waved bye-bye, and he stood there, forlorn. I whistled to him from the road, and he whistled back.

I had a lot of fun with him, it is true. My husband had been away on holiday and I alone at home with our youngest daughter. I knew he hadn’t been eating properly and decided to have him for a meal every day. The weather was fine and we could eat in the garden. There was a high chair and a low one. He didn’t know whether to look up to or down on me. He opted for the high chair in the end. He is an easy talker and always finds subjects of conversation. He had “weighed me up” pretty soon, he thought, although there was a great deal of enigma left. He could see I made demands on my partner in marriage and felt sorry for my husband. He was glad to be only a “part time what-do-you-call-it”.

It amused me at the time. Certain overtures kept creeping into our conversations. At one point he admitted that all this business about – I forget which term he used – was really a load of bravado on his part. I congratulated him on this remarkable piece of self-recognition.

He told me his sister had rung up to find out how he was in his new position of a widower. She wanted to invite him to her house, take him to concerts, etc.
“I’m fine really,” he said to me, “I’m having a lovely time. But I can’t tell her that. I’ve to keep up a bit of a show.

I, too, must watch my reputation and told people that I looked after him a bit, gave him a meal occasionally, took him to a concert or for a walk. Mrs Rivers who is nearly blind had been informed by a friend that I kept him company at the concert she attended. She thought it was very good of me. How good of him, too. Not refusing to be cheered up. Somebody said what would the village do without me.
Nobody is surprized to see me look after people – my image. My husband himself had told New Friend during my absence that I do this all the time, go round the village and help the old and infirm. New Friend didn’t like particularly being categorized like that. He didn’t particularly enjoy being involved with my reputation as described above, clenched his fists inwardly and said “So you’re stuck with a decrepit and incapable old something”. I laughed into his face, saying that he’d have to bear that and anyway I knew better. He was happy with that.

Taking him for walks could be a bit embarrassing, because people asked how he was, asked in a subdued, compassionate, I suppose, way. After all, he had only recently been through a traumatic experience and was not supposed to laugh.
He normally kept his stiff upper lip on such occasions, not knowing what to say really. People were perfectly sympathetic and relieved when he managed a “not too bad, thank you.”

It was village festival in Checkburgh where he had been a teacher before retiring, well-known and well-liked. He hadn’t been back for a long time. I took him there and we went to see our friend, the Farmer, whose milk parlour was open to visitors. The Farmer was pleased to see New Friend who had taught his children. New Friend noticed he had put on weight which the Farmer was unable to explain. He didn’t eat very much and was still doing the same amount of physical work, he said. “It doesn’t matter,” New Friend reassured him, “as long as you feel alright.” The Farmer was very tanned, he looked as though he’d been on holiday in Spain or Greece. Or done a lot of golfing. However, I remembered it must be his job. His wife wasn’t there, much to New Friend’s regret. A very nice girl, he called her, who, with her husband, had been a great supporter of the school. “They used to come to my office, all the young women from the village, and discuss their problems with me,” he mused. Times gone by.

He had several lady-admirers, I gathered. One in particular seemed to be quite hooked on him. He told me he found it tempting and flattering – she was much younger than him – but on the other hand: how ridiculous at his age! Apparently he had assured her that she would grow out of it. “She didn’t like to hear that,” he said with a grin.

He admitted being somewhat hooked on me. Did he think he would grow out of it? He thought he probably would in the long run.