Naked Lightbulbs

He said he was feeling nostalgic. He needn’t have said it, really. It had been pouring from him for hours. There was a mist of it hanging around the ceiling with the smoke that was swimming laps around the bare bulb. I’d always been led to believe that older people would provide me with some kind of wisdom, not just sit there talking about things that I had hardly any interest in and sucking the joy out of me. Somehow, in that dimly lit kitchen, he had robbed me of my optimism.

He was like some old cartoon villain, sat there all wrapped up in black. His grey hair flopped apathetically about as he spoke and his red hands were never still, carousing always over the table-top like injured bats, playing with the matches or his glass while he spoke and always his eyes were quite still. I think he was certain of something but he didn’t want to tell me what it was.

As the ashtray filled up and the gin disappeared I began to fear the future. Fear the world. Not in the usual way, either. His regret had seeped into me somehow and the little ball of childish apprehension that I normally carried around inside me had grown into something bigger. Something twisted and black was writhing in my guts and it scared me.

I’d always imagined nostalgia to be a kind of warm, yellow dream. A half-real smile during some happy moment and a murmur of wistful longing that slips out after a good laugh with old friends. Not this. Not this creeping, dying thing that was prowling about me now.

He said that he guessed I couldn’t understand. I was too young, apparently, to feel nostalgic about anything. He was a silly old man really. I wanted to shake him and slap him and make him smile a smile that wasn’t out of spite or dripping down from defeated eyes. I wanted to tell him that he was wrong and that nostalgia has nothing to do with age. It’s an idea. A realisation. It’s not about regret or pain or wishing something was different, it’s a grateful thing and a warm thing and it should fill you up, not drain you of your will and your colour and your life. I wanted to tell him that there would never be a time like that for me. I would never be old enough to feel like he was then, even if I lived a thousand years. I would never be so old that I would have to feel the kind of choking nostalgia that he was feeling then.

I wanted to tell him how age really has nothing to do with how bitter or how sweet your memories taste. It’s only life. It’s the deeds inbetween, not the years that season the past. I wanted to tell him that nostalgia needn’t hurt. I wanted to say it to him and I wanted him to agree and tell me I was right and that when I was his age I wouldn’t be sitting in kitchens drinking and smoking and trying to recapture the past because no matter how sweet my past had been my future would be better and I would always be looking forward. I wanted him to tell me that and I wanted to believe him.

 

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