that “treatment” he’s always on about, and that was why it didn’t mean the same thing for him as for Ann and me. I said I was sorry, too, and he said he’d go down and talk to the old man for me if I wanted him to. I said I did, ’cos I just feel so embarrassed about the whole thing. I really thought I was doing a nice thing, but it turned out so bad.

He came back about an hour later and told me that the old man had said to say that he was really sorry, and that he’d leave just as soon as he could get up again (he was still a bit sick, he said) and that he hoped that I wouldn’t stop visiting him. I got Bruno to come with me at first, ’cos I wanted to check the old man was okay but I was kind of embarrassed to see him alone, but he was so sweet that I asked him to go away after a bit.

This is some of what the old man said to me:

“‘All life’s grandeur / is something with a girl in summer’ [that bit was from a poem, he said, but not one of his]. I loved a girl once, and even married her, but she changed over the years, and became cold, while I grew ever more in love with her, until finally she told me to go away.”

I asked him if that was when he decided to leave Earth, but he said that it had been long before. I also asked her if she was beautiful, and he said yes, but not as pretty as me.

“So you see, last night, when you so sweetly offered yourself to me, I remembered all those old sorrows, and felt quite overcome by them. I also knew that you were doing it out of pure politeness, and no real feeling for me, so I felt upset. I’m very sorry to have upset you in my turn, though. You see, I haven’t met any people I liked so much for years as you and your charming friend, and – of course – Lieutenant Bruno. But I’m an old man now and could never hope to be a lover again.”

“Would you like me to be your lover? Really?”

“Of course, my dear. But you see, I can’t … do anything.”

“That’s okay. I could just sleep beside you in bed at night and keep you warm.”

“Like Abishag.”

“Sorry? Who shag?”

“Abishag was a young girl who was chosen by the tribes of Israel to lie by the aged King David in his declining years, for precisely that purpose. But you’re not really serious, my dear?”

“I am. I like you, and it’s kind of crowded up there at the moment. I’d rather sleep with you down here.”

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