A friend I have known for many years laughed when I suggested that he was the Epictetan electrician. I knew he had read a few of the stoics, liked reading philosophy generally, and knew he would at the very least get the joke. He got it enough to laugh, he said, but still thought it needed some explaining.
Dave had worked as an electrician since leaving school. He got his Highers but never thought of going to university; nobody else in his family had done so, and even if a couple of teachers had suggested that it would be a waste if he didn't go, others closer to him thought it would be a waste of money if he did. So he trained as an electrician, and by the age of twenty-one he was fully qualified and well-paid: he would work for a small company here in Edinburgh during the day, and was often asked to do jobs for friends, families and acquaintances of an evening. By twenty-five he had bought his own flat, and by thirty-five had paid it off. During this time he had also left the small firm and started his own business - an elevated term he insisted for working on his own. Why live alone and work for others he once said to me, and of course many would reply that he needn't have lived alone either, yet there was an aspect of Dave's character that needed solitude in various manifestations. Perhaps this indicated a psychological problem, but I would be more inclined to see in it a psychological need: a desire to create the necessary space to think through the behaviour of those around him. I can think of no one more lucid on the actions of others than Dave, and have always thought of him in the context of Epictetus's remark "men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them."
We often appear to credit a person's capacity to perceive things based on their supposed level of intelligence, as though the intellect is this abstract entity that we possess or we don't. I would be inclined to think it rests on someone's capacity for solitude, to generate a space for themselves aside from the world of others. From this perspective, Dave is perhaps the most observant person I know, and someone capable of a privileged perception that many a writer couldn't but envy.
He has, after all, had access to many people's homes over many years, and over those years he has told me numerous stories about people's lives, or rather made observations about those lives that I have sometimes turned into stories I've never had the desire to publish. A few months ago he told me one I found especially stoical, and that was when I told him he was the Epictetan electrician, a nod to my own area of expertise, I suppose, as a lecturer in philosophy and semiotics.
He had been working recently on a house in Duddingston Village across the road and along from the church and the graveyard. It had belonged to a couple who had been in their nineties when they passed away, and the house looked as if very little had been done to it since they moved into the dwelling in the early fifties. They had no children and the house now belonged to a distant relative who looked like he had no concern for the couple who had recently died (within months of each other) and couldn't believe how lucky he had been to inherit a property that was probably worth a couple of million pounds. Dave first met him at a meeting with four others who were working on the property, and the new owner spoke to them as if they were generals or slaves; the tone he adopted in the former instance not reflective of the increased status in seeing them as generals, instead that his own superiority became more pronounced as he saw the work like a military operation. Of course, for many years Dave had been working on the houses of people who knew very little but owned quite a lot, and that insufferable combination of ignorance and power he took to be part of the job, another of its hassles: as when builders brick up a wall you haven't finished wiring, or enduring the cold temperatures you work in as you are the person responsible for putting in the radiators.
However, this man seemed to bother him more than most. He was in his early forties and thus the same as age as Dave, and from what Dave gleaned he had owned a small shop in the city centre selling T-shirts and offering an exorbitant rate for personalising them. Dave knew this because several years before he had bought a couple of T-shirts for his nephew who wanted a particular design, and parted with the money thinking that there are cowboy trades that don't usually fall under the definition. When the house owner said that he owned this shop, along with other businesses, Dave was given another reason to dislike him.
Yet the main reason was perhaps an unfair one. Around five years earlier Dave was doing work on a university building near Holyrood. He was called in late to do some wiring, and the building was already almost fully functional. The staff were there, the term was a few weeks away from starting, and there was a secretary in the office whom he would always feel happy about when he saw that she was working. He never talked to her - there were maybe a hundred people employed there, but for a while afterwards he thought about this young woman often: where she was from, whether she was working there temporarily and, of course, whether she had a boyfriend. At the time Dave was with a woman, someone he thought wished to be with him out of convenience even if he had to admit this was perhaps what he wished to believe so it would make it easier for him to break off with her. They had been together for more than two years and he couldn't find a reason to split up even if he couldn't possibly countenance being with her well into the future, since he liked so much living alone. He asked me as we talked if I remembered how it ended, and I recalled that she met someone else and that he felt relieved. That was only half the story he admitted. She did find someone, but not before he had told her that he thought he had fallen in love and needed to find out whether he should pursue this new entanglement. In good faith, he thought he should end the relationship he was in. Yet when he was next working in the university building (a few days later after a brief gap doing another job), she seemed no longer to be employed there. Over the next two weeks he was working on the building constantly, and he would pass the receptionist area frequently hoping that she had returned. She hadn't. During this period he would still see his girlfriend (they would usually meet up two or three times a week, eat, watch the film and stay over at each other's place), but less than a month after he had first told her that he was attracted to someone else, and he suggested they break up while she insisted she wanted to stay, she told him that she was leaving him. An ex-boyfriend had recently returned to the city, and he had always wanted to marry her, she said, and now she thought she would agree. She did not ask at all about the other woman, and suspected she believed that this person had rejected him, and this was why he had still been sleeping with her. He didn't tell her otherwise, and she left perhaps out of frustration, revenge, or the realisation that she loved this other man she had refused to marry twice before. He said this with an air of distracted, momentary melancholy, and was thinking of it now in passing while telling another story, finding in it a villain in the piece that was him, but the story he wanted to tell suggested a villain elsewhere. Thus he returned to the events of recent months, saying that, after a week working on the job, he was wiring up the attic room when he looked out of the window and down on to the street. It was a warm, July afternoon and getting out of vintage red Mercedes Benz hatchback was the secretary. He hadn't seen her since the job at the university, and he supposed she must now be in her early thirties. As she walked towards the house he assumed that this was now Mr Whiteley's wife, though up close he noticed only an engagement ring. He heard the door open two floors below, and could not have wished for anything more than to find himself alone in a house with this woman he had thought about many times, and that a couple of girlfriends in the intervening period had failed to eradicate from his mind. He couldn't have wished less to have found out that she was engaged to a man he had instantly disliked.
He came down the stairs and found her moving around the kitchen. She had the kettle in one hand and introduced herself as Joanna, asking if he would like a cup of tea. She could not have known that so casual an offer was absorbed by him as a tantalising request, but perhaps the look on his face might have led to an unformed realisation as she looked down and didn't look at him again until the hot water was poured into the cups and she handed him his. She asked him nothing about himself, only about the job. How long would it take to finish the wiring? Would there be any additional work thereafter? He asked her why they had chosen Duddingston and though he believed the question was innocuous enough, she seemed to answer it tentatively, warily. She said that it was a nice idea to live in the city and yet live in a village. They had looked at Dean Village and Cramond too, but she especially liked this house. He noticed she said she rather than they, and he hoped that he would have the chance to see Joanna (he hadn't before known her name) with her husband, and he would see a woman attached to the money yet not in love with the man.
She left after twenty minutes saying she was off to pick up some items from a local superstore but suspected he would be gone by the time she returned. It was four thirty when she arrived and he would usually leave by six. He was of course tempted to stay longer and await her return, yet believed her remark was not only a statement but also an imperative: she would expect him to be gone by the time she got back. As he went back up to the attic and continued wiring the room, he caught a brief shock off the end of a wire and felt in it a metaphor for his own interest. He also wondered if he would really wish to see her coldly attached to the money rather than the man, as he mused over what for him the ideal attitude to her husband might be. He fantasised a tale that would assuage his feelings and retain in his mind a sense that she was a good person. He imagined that she was marrying for money but for higher reasons: that she had family in Russia who relied on her and could not survive without her help. The money she was earning happened to be inadequate, especially when her mother became very ill, and Mr Whiteley took advantage of her difficult plight, proposed marriage as a desirous intention on his part and an act of good will towards her family, and there they were married. How did they meet? He supposed that she must have left the university and started working as Whiteley's secretary. He quickly became besotted and she was for a long time resistant, but the familial pressures were pronounced. When a proposal was offered, she took it.
Did this match with the reality of the woman's presence not long before? He would have to admit that she didn't seem impervious to the pleasures that money could buy even if he wanted to believe that the marriage was based on the necessities it provided relatives elsewhere. She had been dressed in a suit that he suspected retailed at no less than a thousand pounds, and accompanying it was a handbag that led him to assume the suit was by the same designer. The suit fitted her beautifully, with the thinnest of black stripes running through it and the attire accentuating a svelte movement through space he had always assumed but realised that he had never before witnessed. He had only ever seen her sitting down, working at the reception area at the university, and yet he had obviously imagined her walk in a manner that was consistent with the fact, because there was no surprise at all in her movements when he saw them. He found it astonishing when he thought about it that he had mused many times over this woman whom he had only ever seen in a seated position, and then years later the thought was matched by evidence that had thus far remained incomplete.
He continued working on the house intermittently over the next couple of weeks and I knew he would frequently have three or four jobs he would work on simultaneously, moving between them according to the time available to him, the parts that had arrived or were being waited upon, and the demands of the clients who were often living in the houses that he was wiring up. Mr Whiteley had said he was in no hurry to move in; Dave said he would prioritise other work, a practical detail that over the next few weeks became an emotional excuse. He allowed the job to drag on as he dawdled over the work and hoped while doing it that Joanna would make an appearance. Never before he insisted had he taken longer on a house than necessary, as he would pride himself on a job not only well done but finished on time too. But here he was fiddling around, looking out the window and awaiting her possible appearance, yet the next time he saw her was around a week later, just as he was about to take into the house the heavy bricks for the storage heaters. She and Whiteley arrived within a minute of each other, driving different cars, and Dave had already taken in a couple of the forty or fifty bricks required for the half a dozen storage heaters he was fitting. They looked light but weighed at least 7.5 kilos each, and Dave would rarely carry more than two or three at a time. Bending carefully to pick up three to take them into the house, he could hear behind him Whiteley saying something to his wife that sounded like he was scoffing at Dave's strength. He wanted to say that he would like to see Whiteley carry more. He wasn't quite sure what he heard and for many years he had sensed slights on the part of clients that he couldn't easily confirm, and this seemed to be another one. Over the next half-hour, he took in the rest of the bricks while Whiteley and Joanna took a tea in the garden. The weather was warm and as they sat taking in the sun, he would have liked to take a break, but no offer of tea was forthcoming. However, he thought he saw on Joanna's face what he believed was a look of curiosity - as if while heaving the bricks from one place to the other she began to recall this man from her past and was searching for a context. Whiteley was talking but Joanna seemed only to be half-listening, and in her inattentiveness, he could see a jealousy cross Whiteley's face that he thought would soon manifest itself in a hint of competition. He was not wrong.
He suspected Whiteley hadn't offered to help because assisting a workman would have undermined the status he had devoted some years of his life to achieving, and that the house would confirm, and yet Dave could see that he wanted in some way to prove himself against this electrician around his own age who seemed to be making heavy weather on a fine day of taking a few small bricks into the house. Joanna, on the other hand, appeared to sense their weight, the heft of each lift, and when he had taken in the last of them she said that must have been exhausting work. After the first couple of trips Dave had removed his lumberjack shirt and was wearing a grey T-shirt that became increasingly sweat-stained as the job went on, but he knew that he had a body that was fit and toned, and suspected Whiteley did not as the man sat there in a shirt and tie, the waistband showing a tumble of gut above it. Dave had left all the bricks in four piles near the entrance of the kitchen door and said to the Whiteleys that he would take the ones needed for the upstairs radiators when he was fitting them. Whiteley suggested that if he had a moment he would take them upstairs himself. He suspected that Whiteley wanted to find a way of proving his strength without exposing himself, worried perhaps that his strength would be such that he might embarrass himself in front of Dave. Dave said this to me without arrogance but managed to hint at the arrogance he saw in what I chidingly called his love rival.
Dave had been telling me the details of this story one late afternoon as we met up at my house in Portobello, not far from his flat which faced out on to the sea front. It had become the habit since he had bought a flat out here (he had sold on the one he had paid up by the age of thirty-five) that he would come for a tea or a beer after he would finish work, but he hadn't been around over the previous few weeks. I knew he had a lot of work on. He enjoyed seeing Milla and my daughter, Mina, a now four-year-old who had turned him into her favourite uncle as he would spend twenty minutes or so pushing the swing while she would squeal with delight the more forcefully he pushed it. I would sometimes ask if he was sure he didn't want one of his own, and he smiled and said that he loved to hear her loud cries at five thirty in the evening after a day's work, but wouldn't be so keen to hear it early in the morning before going off to wire up a house.
I asked him as I opened a couple of beers that we would drink from the neck if that was the story thus far. He said there was a little more. It was then I proposed he was the Epictetan electrician, someone for whom the minutiae could be given meaning. He had been over at the house the previous day and noticed that one of the bricks had been left on the upstairs landing, and surmised that Whiteley had decided to prove his manhood and revealed his physical weakness. These were heavy bricks that were deceptive in their density, the opposite of those polystyrene pillars figures could crush in an old Hollywood epic as he imagined Whiteley straining and sweating while he took it up a flight of stairs, decided afterwards that this was no work for a man of his status, leaving the others where they were.
His hypothesis was proved more or less correct a couple of hours later. By then he had taken up all the bricks needed for the upstairs heaters, and not long afterwards Joanna's car pulled up. As he looked out the window she was hauling boxes out from the boot. He opened the window and called out asking if she needed any help. She shouted up and said that she should be okay: they looked heavy but were light; the opposite of the bricks she said. He knew in that moment he had her complicity: she could have ignored his loud request, and certainly needn't have invoked the bricks, but there she was recalling and yelling. Not quite a whisper in his ear and distant memory jogged, but it pleased him nevertheless.
He left her busying herself in the kitchen for a few minutes before coming down hoping that she would offer him a cup of tea. She looked a little flustered he believed, as he entered the room and it took her a moment to offer him a cuppa while she tore open some boxes with an air of preoccupation that seemed to possess a ferocity the action itself didn't seem to justify. He said he would love a cup of tea and might even treat himself to a chocolate biscuit: there was a pack he bought lying on the sideboard he said. He noticed that every remark he now made contained if not the flirtatious at least the assertive. This woman whom he had given so much thought to a few years earlier while assuming that she had not even recognized his presence, now, he believed, had given some thought to his existence in his absence. He told her he remembered her from several years ago; that she was working as a receptionist and she admitted that when she saw him first at the house he had looked familiar: that familiarity you know isn't that of the person forgotten, but the person half-known. He might have preferred that she had recalled exactly who it was, but it was as if the formulation she offered made up for the failure to have observed his presence as he had observed hers. He asked her perhaps too directly about Whiteley and how long they had been together, and she said three years and that he had persistently pursued her - which she then qualified by saying that was an arrogant thing to claim, but unfortunately the best way to explain it. He made her feel very special she said, but at the same time could also make her feel that her life wasn't her own. Three years ago she probably needed that: she was confused, frightened and worried about everything, from money to her mental well-being. For a while, he seemed to make the problems go away.
There was the suggestion in what she said that these problems had returned, and perhaps a few more to accompany them. Dave wanted to ask her about their impending wedding but thought better of it, unsure whether he was doing so because he didn't want to be impertinent, or was a little afraid of the answer. A wedding over the next couple of months he would have taken to be tantamount to a rejection, and yet what right had he to feeling rejected at all? He felt curiously entangled with this woman, he said, and socially he couldn't at all have justified this thought, but spiritually he really believed it had a justifiable place. Instead of asking her about Whiteley, he asked her what she had studied and where. She said she was from Bosnia and that her degree was in linguistics and English from Sarajevo university, and so it was that I knew for certain that Joanna was an acquaintance of Milla's.
Milla met Joanna at a Yoga class about six months earlier, chatted after one of the classes, and started going for coffee after their morning sessions and quickly built on an understanding that they both agreed had been quite immediate. Milla would often tell me things about her friends, yet rarely in a scurrilous manner. If I knew of any of their secrets it rested on Milla asking for a second opinion when it came to advice. Over the last two or three months, Milla had talked a little about Joanna, saying that she was a bit worried about the man her friend was marrying. He had money and could offer her security, but Joanna had told her several anecdotes that made him seem controlling and would sometimes appear to undermine her confidence. I would ask for examples and Milla's most recent one was from a couple of days before. Joanna and Whiteley were sitting in the garden and the electrician working on the house was carrying what appeared to Whiteley light bricks that he was carrying as though they weighed many kilos, only for her fiance to realise after the electrician had left, when Whiteley tried to lift one off the ground, that they were far heavier than he imagined. Earlier while the electrician was carrying them, Whitely had sniggered, saying he could easily have carried three at a time, Joanna suggested they were much heavier than he might think, and he smiled at her as if to say that he wasn't going to get into an argument in front of the workman. After the electrician left he said he would take some up the stairs himself, and she saw him straining to lift one, watching his legs half-buckle as he took the stairs. He left the rest where they were. Later that evening over dinner he started an argument over what she had cooked, and concluded saying the mother of his kids would have to do better than that.
As Dave told me his story and I realised the woman he was talking about was the same woman Milla had been discussing, it was interesting to have this double perspective on the same person and also oddly on Dave. When Milla had told me about the incident I imagined a man like Dave because he was the only electrician I knew - but I hadn't assumed when she told me that it was him. I would that afternoon and evening have liked to tell Dave that I knew who the woman was (and had very briefly met her), but sensed somehow I would be betraying Milla to talk about her; while at the same time feeling if I didn't say something to Dave the next time we met I would be betraying him. That evening after Dave had stayed for dinner, and left after nine, Milla and I were loading up the dishwasher when I said that it seemed Dave was working on the house her friend Joanna was moving into. I didn't say that Dave had been attracted to her for some years and that he was still attracted to her now, but I did ask if it would be okay to say to him that she knew who Joanna was. Milla said she saw no reason why not, but perhaps it wouldn't be fair to pass on any personal details that Joanna had passed on to her. It was already bad enough that she had told me.
I didn't see Dave for about a week, but the next time he came along to the house I promised myself I would tell him that I knew who Joanna happened to be, without divulging any of the information Milla shared. Yet while I was dunking tea-bags in and out of the mugs in the kitchen, so Dave was already telling me he had been back to the house a couple of times. I didn't want to interrupt and thought more information would give me the opportunity to decide exactly what I should say. The first time he arrived Joanna wasn't there and he dawdled over the work hoping that she might turn up. He didn't feel any guilt about this: he had offered a fixed price to Whiteley and so the only time he was losing was his own. He knew he would have to come back in a couple of days' time to double check everything, but this was his last work visit, and he hoped she might appear. He had sent a text to Whiteley saying that he would be in and perhaps hoped that he would pass it on to Joanna: he had no mobile number for her. After a couple of hours she hadn't shown-up and so he finished the work, then left a note on the kitchen table saying that he would come along again on Thursday afternoon at three and make sure everything was working fine. He knew Whiteley might find it and wonder why he hadn't sent a text, and might surmise that Dave hadn't done so because he wanted to see Joanna and had no interest in seeing Whiteley, but that felt like a small risk next to a big loss.
When he arrived on Thursday he chapped on the door before starting to turn the key and just as he was opening it he heard footsteps coming towards the door and waited for the door to open. Joanna asked him to come in; he said he would be back in a moment, he just had to get his work bag from the car. He took the brief walk to and from the car as an opportunity to compose himself: an odd, old-fashioned word he thought, but one on this occasion entirely appropriate. He pushed open the door, walked along the hall and turned into the kitchen. She was seated at a new dining table, the sun passed through the patio doors and Joanna looked as he would wish to remember her if he were never to see her again. However, while on the last few occasions he had seen her she was well-dressed, this time she was more casually attired, as if closer to what she would wear when he had seen her at the university. There she would wear a skirt and a blouse, occasionally a dress, and now she was wearing jeans and a T-shirt, so describing what she wore wouldn't convey what he had observed. No, Dave said, it was that he thought the clothes seemed her own; that everything else he had seen her in over the last few weeks he believed would have been bought by Whiteley. She had always seemed somehow dressed up and even dressed - like a well-turned out little girl clothed by proud parents. He sensed what he thought was a sartorial complicity, a feeling that she might be dressed casually but this was for him; on the other occasions she had worn what was expected of her.
As I listened to Dave, I still didn't tell him that Milla knew Joanna, that I had briefly met her and that Milla had talked to me about Joanna's relationship with her fiance. It was as though I wanted to keep hearing Dave talk to have a sense of how good his instincts were, to observe just how well he could read people even when his own emotions happened to be involved. I have colleagues all over the world who write learned papers on sign systems and how we read them; who know Peirce's work, Barthes' Mythologies, Eco's application of signs to literature, and yet I have never met anyone quite like Dave for his interest and capacity to understand the meaning of signs in everyday life. I have seen him practise this skill on numerous occasions over the years, and he has offered many stories about people's behaviour that on most occasions I am sure has been correct. Sometimes this has concerned friends, occasionally his lovers, and frequently people whose houses he has worked on and wired up. I even think one reason why he has remained all but alone over the years that I have known him rests on this need to make sense of the world as readily as experience it. Yet his attraction to Joanna appeared to be different; her behaviour as incisively observed as those of others, but with an added sense of his own involvement and of course an extended interest. Having seen Joanna several years before, and now seeing her again, it was as though chance had intervened, creating a new complexity to his capacity for making sense of signs, and giving his awareness of them a new possibility.
I don't want to get lost in my own work here and impose upon Dave thoughts that aren't his - though we have on numerous occasions discussed my work as if two sides of the coin: his observational and practical; mine theoretical and historical. Yet our friendship has been based on certain affinities, and if it wasn't I don't think I would have been much interested in the story he told me about Joanna. That she happened to have become a friend of Milla's added a twist to the contingent and the interpretive. Yet there I was with knowledge he didn't possess through the chance aspect Milla had revealed. I asked him since the sun was out whether he wanted to continue the story out into the garden; I would get a couple of beers from the fridge. He said that somehow seemed apt. I looked quizzical and he said that for the answer to why I would have to wait a few moments.
We sat on the picnic bench. It was around six thirty and Milla had gone out with Mina to pick up a few items for dinner. I asked him if he would want to stay for some food, but he said no - he had to sort out a few things once he got home. After arriving, he said, Joanna had offered him a cup of tea but he insisted on first getting the work done, though he would love a cuppa after as she told him she was in no hurry: that she was waiting on a delivery anyway, and would be putting it together when it arrived: some items from a well-known furniture store that flat-packed everything. After he finished the job he went downstairs looking for Joanna and called out her name: the first time he had ever used it directly. She shouted back that she was in the rear garden and there she was sitting at a picnic bench she had just assembled. She was obviously pleased with herself and pleased to see him as she got up and said now her final task of the day would be to make some tea for the man who was rather more practical than her and, by implication he believed, so much more so than her fiance. Indeed she said as much fifteen minutes later as they sat there in the early evening sun, saying he was good at ordering things, and ordering people around, but not at constructing anything. She added with the wistful sigh that she believed this included their relationship, before a few minutes after that saying that she was with a man who could give her anything but couldn't create anything.
I wondered as I listened to Dave how many of these words came out of her mouth and how many Dave was putting in hers as he related the conversation. The phrasing seemed very precise, less the language of someone who wasn't entirely familiar with English and speaking spontaneously, than the words of an articulate native who had given the words much thought and perhaps fashioned them into a more precise formulation. Yet I didn't doubt this would have been the content of her remarks: if David was as perceptive a person as I had ever met, part of this perceptual skill lay in almost never placing his ego in between what he saw and what he believed.
He talked with her till nine at night and until the light started to fade and the temperature dropped. At one moment during the conversation Dave asked her whether she had to get back to their flat, alluding to Whiteley. She replied there was no need: he was in London for a couple of days on business. She said business as if with disdain, suggesting that he might have had another lover down there, would be visiting a high class prostitute or swindling someone out of their money. I looked at him as if to say was that not an invite; that if she wouldn't be spending the evening with Whiteley then she would surely be spending it with him, yet at the same time I knew that Dave had the ability in the company of women to seem neither a eunuch nor a pest. Most men would have seemed one or the other: to have made a clumsy past that was rejected, or slope away feeling they hadn't made that move. I asked him how the evening concluded and he said with a handshake. He laughed as he said this and thought it was the most appropriate gesture: one that would acknowledge that business had been concluded, that would respect the relationship she was in, and somehow make clear that there were feelings there on his part but she needn't expect him to act upon them.
I asked him if he thought he might now be missing an opportunity, There she was perhaps dissatisfied with her fiance, almost certainly attracted to him, at the very least enjoying his company, and he was willing to let it go. He wondered what good could come out of intruding on a relationship she was in; he would benefit from the resentment she would feel towards another person, but is that quite the same as her feeling love towards him. Maybe love would come; perhaps resentment would just shift from one place to another - with him the recipient for breaking up her relationship. No, perhaps if it was to be they would meet again in the future, just as they had already done so thanks to chance. Did he have a point or was he rationalising his own fears and phobias, his own need to be alone, with his desire to be with Joanna? I could not say for sure, but my feeling was that for Dave the most important pursuit was well-being, a sense of harmony not only within himself but within the world. It was at that moment I knew that I didn't need to tell him anything about Joanna, didn't need to say that Milla and Joanna had become friends. I was not keeping a secret from him, as I suspected at first I might be, I was instead respecting the decisions he was making over a woman he liked but whose well-being he wanted to protect as readily as his own. Is that my own rationale? In other circumstances I might have thought so, but as nine o'clock came, as the light had faded, and the temperature had dropped, so he said he needed to be going and as he left he shook my hand. It was a joke between us since we never hugged, but on this occasion signifying perhaps the depth of it as it seemed to carry the echo of his feelings towards a woman he may have let go, or hoped to find again soon in less complicated circumstances. Perhaps in time Milla and I could engineer a situation that might allow for Joanna and Dave to meet again, but I knew that he wouldn't have wished for me to do so; that just I was entitled to keep my secret, so he must be allowed where possible to rely on contingency. As he left me I saw the straight demeanour of a man who may have made a rod for his own back, but that at least the rod was his. The Epictetan electrician indeed.
© Tony McKibbin