A grand old dame | let us eat cake (The Sibelius Chronicles)

A grand old dame

“Hello!” Sibelius chimes, looking too happy for a Saturday night.

I am understandably concerned. The last time he had turned up so cheerful at my doorstep, I had ended up having to explain why he had switched over to a math department TA-ship to his formidable mother.

“Happy Onam!”

I tell him it is over. He says a festival not yet celebrated could not be possibly over. Against my better senses, I accept his gift. It turns out to be two bottles of a grand old dame. I don’t even drink vodka, unless it comes in ice-cream. Most of my alcohol consumption is via ice-cream.

Onam isn’t a potato harvest festival. I don’t even like potatoes. He assures me that vodka is many, many steps away from potatoes.

It is a good brand. So I fetch my bucket of Trader Joe’s vanilla ice-cream, we open a bottle, and he plays O Fortuna on his guitar. I have never heard that played on a guitar. It is good. It gets better when I accompany him on the keyboard. The vodka helps a great deal, especially when we start singing. It helps even more when we start talking about Thoreau and academia. God knows that my convalescing self needs a great amount of alcohol to even contemplate academia.

I tell him about the Goldfinch, a book that had been my cafe read for a while. I have finally completed it. It is a good story, though a tad too American for my tastes. It also made me want to go to New York and spend a year or two there. It was a magical place in the book. Too chaotic for my nature, definitely, but wondrous nevertheless.

In general, wanderlust has been strong in me recently and I am tiring of California. The food is great around here, but how people try to pass off other motivations as idealism gets to me. It is perfectly all right to be motivated by whatever you are motivated by. It is not necessary to be idealist. I don’t like it when someone tries to sell me something different disguised as idealism.

I was asked to be a judge at a poetry contest recently. I listened to the appalling poems, listened to what their friends and family applauded as talent and brilliance, and came away wretched. Networks make you. I am horrible at networking, I am horrible at even dealing with people unless there is true resonance on some level, and my introversion is a tragedy that has haunted me all my life.

“You have tanned!” Sibelius points out. I serve more ice-cream. It is the swimming. I glare at him. Not all of us have the luxury of tree-shaded backyard pools. I could stop, but the stress relief swimming a few laps everyday has been granting me is too precious to lose.

There is a long discussion on the various demerits of his advisor. It is more a rant, really. I bring out my card of three dozen emails in a night from my ex-advisor. There is a reason for that ex. Thankfully, the next advisor had been a much better match. We talk about Stanford. My dealings with the labs there are less complicated than his dealings with their administration.

“I will be twenty-five soon,” he laments.

We spend the mandatory fifteen minutes reminiscing over our association which had begun in the late summer of 2012. We had attended symphonies using our student IDs to get cheap tickets. The box office knew us well by the end of that season. We went to the 14th street playhouse for adapted Shakespeare. We went to the Fox when we could afford it. We had drunk cheap wine and eaten pad-thai out of take-away boxes under the ivy of the church on Peachtree a few blocks from the Bank of America there. His mother forced cold lemonade on us and made us help her with her prize bulbs in her large garden. He taught me swing-dancing. We danced for Thanksgiving that year and at the half-a-dozen parties his mother coerced us into.

I remember my twenty-fifth very well. I had walked around the pond near Atlantic Station with Yoda, and he had told me something about how it was time to grow up, to get serious about everything, to start taking care of my health, and to think about what I wanted to truly do with my life.  It was a lifetime ago.

“You. Tell me about you,” my new concert partner asks. She is a decent pianist. She has a great ear for music.

What do I tell her? She is considerably older than me. Sheltered, well-educated, and beautiful, she is a darling. I have lived more, even if I hadn’t necessarily set out to. I don’t tell her. She doesn’t need to know about all that brought me here, as we stand together on Patricia’s Green and smile for the photo she wants.

Let us eat cake

The morning sees us nursing cold beer, because Sibelius assures me that this is the best way to get rid of the headache. He is confident about this and I hope his mother doesn’t hear about it. Since my tolerance of beer is next to nil, I decide to have ice-cream as accompaniment.

It has been forever since I have had Tiramisu. Sibelius laughs and tells me that even my heavily-budgeted purse can buy a slice of Tiramisu without too much strain. It isn’t the buying. Tiramisu is associated in my head with other warm and cosy things. We end up at a bakery in San Mateo, and have tiramisu for brunch.

“How was Onam?” he asks me.

I think about the association event I had been intending to attend. They had a feast. I had been meaning to go and network. My father had asked me to, I vaguely remember. I had been dreading the many aunties and uncles there who would come and sound me out about marriage. I had been dreading the bold, single men there who make me want to go home and hide for the next few months.

Onam was vanilla ice-cream, vodka, tiramisu and Thoreau, and a full night of conversation. It wasn’t that bad, even if my tolerance of alcohol seems to have to gone with my tolerance of caffeine in the months between graduation and now.

“Do you want to see the new Mission Impossible?”

I don’t want to. Still, I am sleepy and I sleep well in movie theatres. Sibelius likes the Mission Impossible series for some unfathomable reason.

“Will you come with me to the concert?”

I should have known better than to barter with a lawyer, because he cuts me a deal that is tremendously unfair.

“It is for your own good,” he says.

I suppose it is. I promise him a novel for Christmas.