‘It’s as if several layers of skin have been removed,’ I said. ‘That sounds like shingles,’ he said. ‘That’s not how I meant it,’ I said, ‘I was speaking metaphorically.’ ‘I don’t understand,’ he said, ‘can’t you put it another way?’ ‘Another way?’ I said. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I want to be able to understand.’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘that’s very considerate, but unnecessary – it won’t endure.’ ‘Nevertheless,’ he said. ‘Besides, it might come back.’ ‘I’m sure it will,’ I said. ‘Well then, don’t you think you should get a handle on it?’ he said. ‘Some things can’t be handled,’ I said. ‘Anything can be dealt with,’ he said, ‘you just have to figure out what it is you’re dealing with.’ ‘Alright then,’ I said, ‘but it’s very difficult to describe, and not that useful an exercise really.’ ‘It’s not useful to talk about it?’ he said. ‘No, not really – I’ll overthink it if I try to put it into words. I’ll end up saying things that relate to an idea, rather than to the experience itself – I’ll end up talking rubbish.’ ‘I see,’ he said. ‘And why’s that?’ he said. ‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘Some things are resistant to words maybe and when you start trying to apply them you end up with something else, another thing – a theory, I suppose.’ ‘A theory?’ he said. ‘Yes. Or a poem perhaps. Some kind of made-up thing anyway,’ I said. ‘You like poetry?’ he said. ‘Oh god,’ I said. ‘Alright, alright – one word then,’ he said. ‘One word?’ I said. ‘Yes, one ordinary word that you don’t need to think about.’ ‘Alright,’ I said, ‘that’s easy enough.’ ‘Good,’ he said. ‘Good, darling.’ ‘Raw,’ I said. ‘Raw?’ he said. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘now you have it.’ ‘I’m not sure I do though,’ he said. ‘Well I don’t know then,’ I said, ‘let’s just leave it.’

‘But I should be able to help you,’ he said, ‘isn’t that what you’d like, darling?’ ‘You talk as if it’s a difficulty I’m having,’ I said. ‘Isn’t it then?’ he said. ‘Not really,’ I said. ‘And you haven’t seen a doctor?’ he said. ‘Oh no,’ I said. ‘Has it ever crossed your mind?’ he said. ‘Has what crossed my mind?’ I said. ‘To see a doctor?’ he said. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘it crossed my mind. A long time ago, it crossed my mind. Then, with some effort, my attitude towards it changed and it no longer seems relevant to see a doctor.’ ‘I see,’ he said, ‘so it isn’t a problem?’ ‘Not really,’ I said. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I must say, I’m not sure I understand – it all sounds very difficult to me.’ ‘Well, it is a little difficult,’ I said, ‘but it’s not entirely unpleasant, put it that way.’ ‘It isn’t?’ he said. ‘Oh no,’ I said, ‘no, not at all.’ ‘In fact,’ I said, ‘there is something rather –’ ‘Rather what?’ he said. ‘Otherworldly,’ I said, ‘there’s something sort of otherworldly about it.’ ‘Otherworldly?’ he said. ‘You see,’ I said, ‘I’m talking rubbish.’

‘Well actually,’ he said, ‘you have been somewhat remote since Tuesday.’ ‘Since Tuesday?’ I said. ‘Really?’ ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘as a matter of fact I thought it had something to do with what we’d talked about by that bench in the afternoon.’ ‘That’s funny,’ I said. ‘It is?’ he said. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Because it’s completely wrong?’ he said. ‘I’m not laughing at you,’ I said, ‘but yes, it is completely wrong.’ ‘It’s not a love thing then?’ he said. ‘You always ask that,’ I said. ‘Do I?’ he said. ‘And can you blame me?’ ‘Let’s just leave it now,’ I said. ‘You’re completely free,’ he said, ‘I won’t suppress you, if that’s what you’re worried about – I’m not that sort.’ ‘Alright,’ I said. ‘That’s fine. But give up trying to understand one thing and another.’ ‘Darling,’ he said, ‘I’m trying to learn.’ ‘Learn what?’ I said. ‘All these questions drive me round the twist – it’s oppressive, actually.’ ‘Really?’ he said. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘yes it is – in fact now that I think about it probably the reason you want to understand me so much is not because you want to help – you want to know how to handle me.’ ‘Help?’ he said. ‘Handle? Maybe there isn’t a lot of difference, love.’ ‘Of course there is,’ I said, ‘the difference being, who benefits? – me? Or you?’ ‘We’d both benefit from getting on a little better,’ he said, ‘don’t you think?’ ‘I suppose so,’ I said. ‘Of course. It’s just – you can’t push it. You can’t push these things. It takes time.’ ‘You’re right, love,’ he said, ‘you nearly always are. I go overboard with everything – I’ve always been that way.’ ‘That’s alright,’ I said. ‘It’s sweet of you really to make the effort. I’m just a little tired and I can’t talk as much as you do.’ ‘Do I talk too much, love?’ he said. ‘I don’t know. I don’t know – don’t worry about it darling,’ I said, ‘I’m going to go upstairs now, alright?’

‘Aren’t you going to ask me to come with you?’ he said. ‘I thought you had to go?’ I said. ‘I thought you wanted to write,’ he said. ‘Well, I might do, later,’ I said. ‘That’s fine,’ he said, ‘everything is just fine, darling.’ ‘I’m going upstairs then,’ I said, ‘I feel very tired.’ ‘That’s right,’ he said, ‘you go up and lie down and have a nice rest now.’ ‘Stay down here for a little while,’ I said. ‘Down here?’ he said. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘if you don’t mind.’ ‘I don’t mind at all, love,’ he said. ‘Is there something I can do for you? Should I light the fire?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘no thank you. Don’t do anything. I’m going to call to you in a while,’ I said, ‘so you must just stay down here.’ ‘I see,’ he said. ‘Should I sit down then?’ ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘that would be best.’ ‘I’ll sit down here, and you’ll call me, is that right?’ he said. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘after a while I’ll call out to you – but you mustn’t respond immediately. Let me say your name two or three times – you’ll know when’s right.’ ‘Alright then,’ he said, ‘if that’s what you’d like. And do I come up then, or what happens darling?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘don’t come right away. When I’ve said your name, I don’t know, four or five times, you simply reply, “Yes?”’ ‘“Yes?”’ he said, ‘that’s all?’ ‘That’s right, “Yes,”’ I said, ‘and then I’ll say, “Can you come here, love?”’ ‘And then I come?’ he said. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘then you come.’ ‘Good,’ he said. ‘That’s good darling.’ ‘I’m going up now,’ I said. ‘OK, love,’ he said, ‘you go and rest and I’ll wait down here then.’ ‘Thank you darling – try not to think of it as waiting though, love,’ I said. ‘Oh, it’ll be a pleasure,’ he said. ‘Alright then,’ I said. ‘Do you need anything before I go up?’ ‘No, no,’ he said. ‘Do you think it’ll be a long time?’ ‘A long time?’ I said. ‘Before you’ll call out for me?’ he said. ‘I don’t know, darling,’ I said, ‘I really don’t know.’ ‘Alright, I’ll just wait here then, love,’ he said, ‘and hope to God you don’t forget about me.’

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