Remembrance of Things Past
I met him at Jinty McGuinty’s on Ashton Lane. He tagged along for drinks after a conference at the university and was introduced by my colleague simply as, a friend.
My colleague began the conversation. The topic: Proust, the only topic with which he was completely comfortable.
His friend was a good sport and chimed in whenever he could. He said, “Having never gone to university, having never read Proust’s work, the best I can offer is that in a weakened moment of practicality I once used À la recherche du temps perdu as a doorstop.”
My colleague, well on his way to being drunk, was good-humoured about the admission, “Had you used it to line your birdcage I would have been forced to kill you and dispose of your body in the most disrespectful of ways.”
We laughed a little too loud and quickly fell quiet. To break the silence we agreed to another round. I went out for a smoke and my colleague’s friend joined me.
“Can I get a light?” he said.
I held the cigarette lighter out for him. Ignoring it, he leaned in, put his hand at the base of my neck to keep me from pulling away, and lit his cigarette from mine. He took a step back and looked at me, expressionless. He took a long draw and held the smoke, without exhaling, for longer than I could watch without breaking his stare.
The wind tunnelled through the narrow lane, trapping trash from the parking lot into a littered corner and pasting autumn leaves against wet cobblestones. I zipped my jacket and said, “Glasgow weather, eh?”
He didn’t reply.
Feeling even more awkward, I finished my cigarette and made a step toward the pub. He took hold of my arm. “You don’t remember me, do you?”
I looked at him closely. His face looked soft under the glow of strung twinkle lights and neon blush but there was something stern in his expression, something that made me uneasy.
“I thought you were pretending for the benefit of the academic whores but I should have known that you weren’t that good an actress.”
“Perhaps you’ve got me mixed up with somebody else.”
He let go of my arm and took a final draw from his cigarette. He said, “There is no man, however wise, who has not at some period of his youth said things, or lived in a way the consciousness of which is so unpleasant to him in later life that he would gladly, if he could, expunge it from his memory.”
I shook my head.
He said, “That’s Proust, bitch.” He put the hood up on his brown jacket, stuffed his hands into deep, flannel-lined pockets and cut a quick path toward Byres Road before I whispered, “I’m sorry you’re still such a bastard.”