There I sat, pleasantly full after a late breakfast, watching the smoke from my cigarette move lazily up the window frame. In my other hand was a smallish glass of whisky, which I raised to sip before exhaling pleasantly, nodding to those around me, which in this instant meant my cat, Thomas. A good meal and a vice in each hand. “Who could better that?” I asked my loyal companion, reflecting on my previous afternoon’s adventure.
Caught in a lift with some lady who, it transpired, was a new “mature” student at the college where I taught music, I had the chance to discuss the vagaries of life before some rude engineer mended the fault and curtailed our pleasant conversation. “Is it possible” I asked her as we left, “That we could continue this discussion over lunch” “Are you married?” she asked me, which I thought a little forward, but allowing that to pass I replied, “Not currently.”
“And how about yourself?” I asked her, feeling it only fair that we should be equally informed on the topic, “Not happily?” she said, so I nodded and then suggested “A light luncheon and a brief chat on the subject of fine dining and its relationship to vice” . “Do you have any lectures this afternoon?” I continued. “Not any more” she replied, and with that we went to a small Turkish restaurant tactfully situated on a side road off the High Street, and away from the prying eyes of curious husbands or gossips looking for some scandal worth the spreading.
Once we were seated at a small but comfortable table, away from the window, we continued our lift-bound conversation. “Do you have any children?” she asked me, “Not to my knowledge” I replied, “And how about you?” I continued. and she told me she had three: two boys and a girl. “And how are they?” I asked her and she told me, “Beautiful up to the age of ten. Awkward in their teens and now distant in their twenties and living on different continents.”
“A more than usual story in the modern age” I observed and refilled her wine glass with more anaesthetic. Her eyes clouded over slightly, filling me with some alarm as I dislike confronting direct emotions, especially in others. Trying to comfort, her I added, “They will thank you in time” which was the most apposite platitude I could think of in an instant. “Do you really believe that?” she asked earnestly and I replied, “Not really, but we like to think our efforts will have an impact don’t we?”
“It’s a theory” she replied and we smiled despite ourselves at life’s rough lessons. As lunch progressed, and we moved discreetly towards the dessert wine, I said, “I think the polite thing to do is go to my flat for coffee and some light exercise.” She replied, “Exercise is unwise too soon after a meal, but I would enjoy a coffee and the chance to criticise your furniture, ” and we agreed to leave after I paid the bill.
Towards the late afternoon, she having forgotten her initial reserve, we lay propped up with pillows reflecting on our time together and she said, “Shall we do this again?” and I replied, “In life, I prefer to offer ‘a delightful episode’ rather than rescue or solutions.” She smiled and said, “That’s good, I dislike nothing more than false promises or fake morality.”
“Is there any other kind” I asked her, and we laughed at our mutual disconnection. To those of us who live private lives, any thought of value is discrete and “sharing” becomes more frightening than dying: a sense of life she seemed happy to explore.