“Who’d have thought it back then, eh”, she cackled before chomping down on her next pizza slice leaving my eyes raised longer than they’re used to. “You and I here having lunch with our kids.” An observation that didn’t merit such an intensive brow workout but I knew what she meant. “Aye”, I smiled over at her 12 year-old willingly enduring some type of Chinese burn from my one half his size.
Back then I was seventeen going on fifteen, she was nineteen going on thirty-four. She was all Anaïs Nin and Betty Blue, I was wondering if I’d ever catch up. Reading between the mouthfuls, we’re simultaneously impressed and appalled that we’ve made it this far without social services intervening. Neither of us point out we’re the same meaning-seeking junkies who re-cycle soul searching question marks into ninth degree levels of scrutiny. Not that we haven’t modified our behaviour. The smoking ban saw her banish herself from her own living room to the porch, and I no longer pretend to be excited when she offers to read my tarot cards. The game is more or less up. But we never run out of if-onlys that temporarily tear down our doubts. If only for the time we’re together.
Later I’m half listening to my niece breathlessly instructing me on the city’s cultural scene. I’m distracted by her contemporary Nana Mouskouri range glasses and theatre-curtain velvet hair. She’s talking to me with an intensity she is perfectly at ease with so I plant us both in an imaginary indie film we’re starring in without her consent. She’s all cinemas with cool cafés that show It’s A Wonderful Life at Christmas. I’m all up for it this year, and for almost telling her I remember the cinema in its original incarnation a few streets over in the city centre. And how I thought the break during An Angel At My Table was actually the end. But that would cast me as an elder city alumni desperately going on nineteen. If only.
I can still turn a few knees though so I mumble apologies and sink into the middle seat for the evening to watch the real darlings of indie film. Greta Gerwig is breathlessly tearing down all doubts her thirty year-old character has about her latest business enterprise . But it’s the towering self-belief she radiates that boomerangs to tear the ground from under it completely. That, and her knack for the lack of follow-through.
Just as the Curly Wurly has imperceptibly shrunk over the years, the cinematic mid-life crisis appears to have slid back down a decade. At thirty, my Olympic levels of procrastination had yet to peak, and the ideas weren’t within reach. So I invest my nostalgia in the younger character. One who’s dining out on wobbly self-assurance, as yet unacquainted with the pallbearing potential of fear and laziness. She’s all fresh-faced and woollen-jumpered eagerness; I’m all leg-cramp and delicately trying to open the Maltesers without a sound.
They descend into screwball farce, and I fall for it and headlong into a reverie that shares little with them. Except the nerve tugging soundtrack, their stamina for late-night drinking, and the naïve belief it’ll all come together eventually.
The credits role but I’m left stranded in a frame of my life from long before the one I’m in was written. People travel miles to escape the monotony and humdrum of their daily lives; I flee mine completely for a mere seven quid an hour down the road.
Post-film daze, I stare ahead in the mirror as I wash my hands in the bathroom. Forever make-up free having procrastinated over synthetic attempts at freshness, however necessary now. My feet risk an autopilot return to an old student flat.
I ring the doorbell and await the shuffle of feet, the fumble of keys. The door opens and I wonder how I got here, and who these two people are, if only for a few seconds while I adjust my mind-set and make it back to now. Somewhat reluctantly.
Malteser opening not featured in OST