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Reading Aloud 2

Aldous and his wife

The chocolate didn’t come for a whole week. We started speculating what was the matter, having seen Aldous’ wife drive past our house several times. Maybe … she had forgotten ? Maybe she had given it to somebody else ? The children were a little bit disappointed and I relieved for not having to watch their teeth. The next weekend came round and we were due to go to a local concert. Everybody would be there : the Aldous, the Pauls, the Yans and a few more. I made up my mind not to go. For one thing I didn’t want to give Aldous’ wife a bad conscience by the sheer look of me, for another I had work to do. I told my husband I wasn’t feeling too bright, very tired in fact and unwilling to make an effort. He shook his head and took two of his children for company.

They came back beaming. Aldous and his wife and Paul’s wife sent their ‘love’ to me, I was delighted to hear it, and Aldous’ wife had exclaimed at the sight of my family: Oh dear, I’ve forgotten the darn chocolate again! She had promised they would both come and bring it next day, Sunday.

Next morning I was sitting at the desk translating when the telephone rang. Unwilling to interrupt my work, I ignored it. It rang for quite a long time, until eventually my husband went. I heard him say ‘she’s alright’ and concluded that someone was inquiring after me. It was a short call. My little daughter came in after a while with the news that Aldous and his wife would be round soon to bring the chocolate. I braced myself, concentrating hard on my work. My husband and son joined me in the same room, doing their Latin studies.

After a while, the well-known Diesel sound arrived. It could not be ignored. Just in case I hadn’t heard it, my husband said: Aldous and his wife are there. Go and open the door. I protested I was working. My husband said, so was he. I asked whose work was more important. He said I didn’t … earn any money. I answered I still might, one never knew. Aldous and his wife had come to the door in the meantime and rang the bell. My husband got up to let them in. There was a lot of noise, mainly from Aldous’ wife, but Aldous, too, has a strong voice. My husband brought them all to where I was. Aldous’ wife greeted me with a concerned ‘how are you, my dear’ and a kiss. Aldous stayed at a distance, just looking. I told them I was well as far as I knew. Why didn’t you come to the concert then, they asked. Because I had a pimple on my nose which I didn’t want to show, I answered. I don’t believe that, Aldous’ wife laughed. I can’t force you to, I countered.

Apparently I had missed a good concert. The children had already told me that one of the performers was very handsome, whereas the other had irregular features. A humorous face, Aldous chipped in, better company probably than his partner.

They then handed out their presents: a bar of chocolate each for the lucky children, price tags still in place. For looking after our dog, they said. Presents for the children and you had all the work, Aldous’ wife remarked to me, or some, anyway. She was quite right. We thought you would approve of this, Aldous said. I saw what he meant: the white chocolate looking sickly sweet, but then that’s what Aldous likes, contained a lot of nuts and raisins. The natural way, so to speak. I thanked him for considering my preferences.

Why were they not at church at this time of day, being staunch supporters of it ? I asked. Why are you not there, Aldous’ wife asked back. She was laughing, I don’t know why. If I remember rightly, Church is no laughing matter with them as a rule. I did remind her, I was not a supporter of it.

Aldous was more interested in a different subject: Zn. He was vaguely waving a book, as if wanting to give it to somebody, but uncertain who to. I took it from him in the end and it turned out to be our ‘advance Christmas present’. This was entered on the first page with calligraphic neatness, together with our names, their names and the usual ‘warm feeling’ of a kind, inevitable on such occasions. A free copy of his book after all ! For a Christmas present ! What a good idea ! And a month in advance. I suppose the sooner we read it, the better for us.
Inside the book there was a prospectus of ‘Health Products Ltd.’ advertizing a test, ‘zinca test’, I don’t know what the ‘a’ stands for, unless it is, in the interest of successful marketing, an attempt to keep up with the times by following popular linguistic trends, a test enabling people to find out whether or not they are Zn deficient. The prospective customer is informed that he owes this test to the ‘internationally renowned scientist Aldous’ and also that any low levels of Zn can be replenished by taking/buying more Zn tablets. I don’t know why Aldous supplied us with this prospectus, because he gives us the treatment free of charge. We did the test three or four years ago, which didn’t stop him from suggesting to do it again then and there.

He had brought two half-filled plastic bottles and requested a few drinking vessels from which we could sample the liquids. My husband told me later that he didn’t think for one moment that I would ever have obliged and got up to fetch the needed objects himself. Haven’t we done the test ? I asked Aldous, why do it again ? Aldous pulled a funny face or maybe a humorous one, without saying anything, whereas his wife said, smiling mysteriously: Mark two! I thought to myself, this was a further development of the test. Aldous poured out drink number one which tasted like water to me and I said so. Aldous poured out drink number two which tasted foul, just like the well-known Zn solution. It turned out that number one had been water and number two the solution in question. Judging by the description of the taste we all gave, Aldous concluded that one member of the family had enough Zn in her system. As for the others, raising his eyebrows considerably, they were … low! I said we had known for years, thanks to his efforts, that this was what the test meant. What was the point of repeating it ? The difference this time, we heard, was that the solution is on sale now at every decent chemist’s. Paul’s wife who is a chemist prepares it herself and sells it. Quite a good demand. Pity he couldn’t have it patented, Aldous said. Other people making money with his idea. I comforted him, he had the honour of having thought of it.

My husband asked about the importance of other trace elements, which reminded me that so many years ago Fe was the one in fashion, until it was found not totally harmless and certainly useless, for pregnant women, anyway. Aldous said, yes, they had studied this question and indeed the vast doses of Fe hadn’t made any difference, but people didn’t know better at the time. What about vast doses of Zn ? I asked, what will science find out about that in so many years’ time ? Aldous didn’t hear or didn’t take in my question or else found it absurd. Maybe also he closed his mind to it. I know he ‘tops up’ his wife every so often. I trust she’ll be alright.

Aldous started complaining about the medical profession who closed their minds to the findings of chemistry. This was not a new complaint of his. He went a little further this time by claiming that medicine was not a science ! My husband and I tried to protest, but couldn’t make ourselves heard. Aldous continued. Half the medical treatment consisted of the confidence the patient had in the medic, he said, and why not, if it works, fair enough. It was an asset to have bedside manners, quite right. However, let’s face it, he pursued, what’s really going on in our bodies ? Chemical processes ! His wife exclaimed a little ecstatically: What are we ? I hastened to show my comprehension of the subject, too, by saying : A conglomerate of chemicals ! I had written it down a long time ago, but didn’t tell them.

The children had been munching away their sickly chocolate all the time and I sent them to clean their teeth.

Aldous had lost his thread or was exhausted by all the talking. In any case, he was silent and his wife reminded him that they had to go home and walk the dogs. I asked them how their son was, the one they had had all the problems with. It set Aldous talking again. This son was in a mess, refusing to be helped, too, we heard. What a good life he could have had in such and such a home: beautiful house, lovely surroundings, lovely people, and he refused to cooperate! Didn’t like the food. Absconded from work, unnoticed at first. Did all his own things, legal or not, wouldn’t listen to reason and was eventually chucked out, his father said. Aldous’ wife exclaimed: He refuses to let other people sort out his problems! I was much amused to hear this, while my son sat gaping. I managed to put in : People normally want to sort out their own problems. But he can’t, was the reply, he could have been so happy in that home! I said, he obviously didn’t think so. He’s unhappy, Aldous said, he gets depressed, and no wonder in this chaotic room of his. He had tried Zn on him, without success. We could tell him how to be happy, Aldous’ wife said, but he doesn’t listen, it’s tragic, and she looked annoyed. I asked after their daughter, the one they had had difficulties with. Haven’t heard from her nor seen her for months, Aldous said with a stern face; thinking of the interest-free loan I gave them, so that they could buy a house! Supposed to pay it back in instalments, but no payment received for months! He looked annoyed, now. His wife raised one forefinger while explaining details: They’ve paid back barely half the loan, not a penny more! We were duly impressed. The children were listening hard.
Aldous might have felt, it sounded a bit mean, for he modified his attitude: Had she been a nice girl, she could have kept the whole lot! I concluded that not being a nice girl, she had obviously decided to keep half the money, which didn’t seem an unfair arrangement. However, I didn’t say this.

Aldous was silent again and his wife reminded him once more of the walk they had promised their dogs. They got up. Aldous’ wife was still thinking of the pimple on my nose, for she laughed and said, she didn’t believe that this was the reason why I hadn’t attended the concert last night. I’m cross with you for not coming to the concert, she said. Why should you ? I asked without eliciting an answer.

She then invited us to see them next weekend, but I told them we had something on already. Alright, she said, the weekend after then, for the big party. This would be the same type of party like the one we had missed because Steve wasn’t feeling well. I trust we’ll be feeling well this time. We haven’t made up our minds yet.

She kissed me bye-bye. Aldous was a bit stiff and serious, I don’t know why. In going out he thanked us for ‘having let him do the test on us’ which took me by surprize and obliged me to thank him for doing it on us. At the door he couldn’t avoid saying bye-bye, shaking hands with my husband first and then kissing me on the cheek, it’s last not least, I imagine.