Nothing Here for Him

Barry was always impeccably dressed when I first knew him, smart-casual, moccasins, pressed chinos.  Miriam had a kind of witchy look, long black hair behind, a big nose. Later she put on a lot of weight.

They had been living in Chicago.

He was British, but had gone to America soon after he completed his PhD, worked as a virologist in a research team. I guess those were the best years of his life, working with other clever scientists, under a man they respected, a leader in his field. I think they were researching what are called interferons that counteract viruses, and I believe he helped to create important and successful treatments that were patented and went to market.

She was American, always talking about herself, often about old boyfriends, which made us uncomfortable when he was there. But she had an absolutely amazing singing voice. When she sang Kennst du das Land by Hugo Wolf, you could have been listening to Elizabeth Schwarzkopf.

She said one time:  “I asked Barry to take me away”. He had been raised in a city, I think it was Nottingham, but they chose our village, I guess, because villages are “safe” and he had heard me talk about it.

They got a pretty nice house – they must have made some money from his work in the US – and she bought a grand piano and they sent their children, a boy of 11, and a girl of 15, to a local private school.

But things just did not go right when they moved here. It took a while for him to get a job, for a start. He eventually got a position in the huge county hospital, doing tests, where I guess the doctors and consultants paid him absolutely no attention.

He became bitter about his work in the US. I once heard him say: “I helped develop a cream for genital warts”.

As for her, not many people wanted to hear her sing – you had to be a real connoisseur to shut your eyes and hear the quality of that voice, and ignore, I am ashamed to admit it, her slightly creepy appearance.

We stopped seeing them at village events. Then I heard the marriage was breaking up.

She moved to, I think, Belgium, because she said she could always find good accompanists there.

He took a flat in the town, and began to suffer, it is said, from depression. I saw him once or twice, slouching around in blue jeans, his hair thinning. He’d lost the smart look.

I think his life had become completely pointless. There was just nothing here for him.

Somehow, in America, their lives together had worked. Once here, they seem to lose their guidance systems and some sort of internal chemistry took over their lives but it took him nowhere.

I wish he had stayed with his clever scientist friends, she in a huge American city where there are so many more people ready to befriend a strange and eccentric woman or join together to follow a rare enthusiasm.

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