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Reading Aloud 2

New Friend

I hadn’t seen him for a long time, over a month, considering that we only live a few minutes apart. I had no reason to see him, of course, my impression being that he was fit and well and busy. He had no reason to see me, either, I imagine. I wondered for how long he would be able to stick it. After all, we were due to see ‘Don Giovanni’ in another month’s time. He had invited me for that two or three months ago.

One morning as I returned from the dentist, I found a letter which had been delivered by hand. I recognized the writing and was curious what he would have to say. It turned out to be a tale of lament and woe written on a scruffy piece of paper. He wrote he had refrained from making a ‘fair copy’, because, he said, ‘this muddle is the true me’. I was highly amused and went about sorting him out :

1° He accused me of having withdrawn my affection from him.

2° He told me I had ‘almost brutally’ returned a ‘modest and harmless token of his
affection’, referring to the previously mentioned silver chain and heart. He must have
had second thoughts about ‘affection’ on its own, for he had added in a scribble ‘and
gratitude’.

3° He stated we had seen ‘practically nothing of each other’.

4° He said he couldn’t guarantee to keep his relationship with me ‘strictly free from all
emotional overtones’, such had been, so he wrote, my stipulation. For this reason he
had kept away from me ‘with unaccustomed exertion of will-power’.
I laughed aloud reading this and thought I would have to congratulate him on his
efforts.

5° He expressed hope of ‘gradually mastering his feelings’ and made a harsh remark
about people who had told him, a widower, ‘ad nauseam’ that Time was a great healer.
He didn’t seem to like this saying very much, especially not with respect to his
‘emotions’ concerning me. However, passing on to the next and culminating point of his
letter…

6° … he had ‘reluctantly decided’ to cancel his evening at the opera with me. The exact
reason he gave was the following :
‘… I could not sit next to you … without certain feelings and emotions welling up inside
me and no doubt over-spilling’.
The eloquence of the imagery used in this sentence sent me into fits of laughter and I
decided I wanted to see him.

He pretended to be reluctant when I telephoned to invite him for a cup of tea. He was only accusing himself, not me at all, he protested. I was glad he saw things the right way and said ‘excellent’. Eventually, cutting a long story short, I asked, did he want to see me or not ? He seized the opportunity, thus forcing me to give up any idea of listening to music, and agreed to be there after lunch.

He came and to put him at ease I kissed him lightly. Then I gave him my latest little essay to read while I was making tea in the kitchen. I also had an apple-pie left over from the previous day which he seemed to enjoy with a good appetite, probably not having had any lunch.

Why had I asked him to read this particular piece of writing, he wondered first of all. It was about my recent conversation with Johnie and his wife. No doubt I assumed, so he said, that he was hurt. He certainly wasn’t, he said, but was interested by my idea of ‘being hurt’. I answered, this was not the case really. There was something else. He singled out the term ‘sexual attraction’, calling it ‘quite good, clear and suitable’. I should have known he would go for that and not the question on the next page. We talked about sex quite a lot. I don’t know why he insisted on calling it ‘emotions’. Where does he keep his emotions, anyway? He thought, he said, one’s heart was the place for that… I referred to the ‘over-spilling’ part of his letter. The penny dropped pretty quickly and he pretended to be shocked, about my imagination, I expect, but pleased really, with himself no doubt, because he sat down again, a broad grin on his face. I evoked the idea of him being married to me. What would he think to that ? ‘Dreadful thought!’ he said spontaneously, arms crossed over his chest and looking disgusted.

I didn’t take this as a personal insult and pursued the idea of the grapes that hang too high for the fox. How alluring, how mouth-watering! There may have been, however, a very slight chance that the fox’s final conclusion concerning their quality was pretty near the mark. Of course, he will never find out, not by trying them, anyway. New Friend didn’t like that prospect …

I told him next what sort of books children between eleven and fourteen years of age prefer to read. I had drawn my information from a newspaper article which suggested that ‘sex’ was the one subject of interest. Having read one of these books myself, I was able to go into detail. New Friend was totally surprized, profoundly shocked and utterly disgusted. He thought I had a tough job on my hands with two teenage daughters. How will you manage? he asked, I expect you will. You normally seem to. I thought to myself ‘by setting an example’. However, this idea was far from his mind …

He went a bit over the top when he said bye-bye. I realized I wouldn’t have to kiss him anymore. I don’t want him to ‘over-spill’ for my sake.