The Cold of Early Summer

I have a cold; it’s a nice day, and I have a cold, and I’m grumpy about it in that “there’s nothing I can do, and it’s not even a bad cold, but I’m going to harrumph about it anyway” way. Last night I lay awake trying to decide if my throat hurt; when it decidedly did hurt, I lay awake trying to decide if it hurt in a coldy way or a just-kidding way. Having spent my lunch in the garden trying to convince myself that it’s a just-kidding way, I have a feeling it’s not. Ah well.

I’m also at work. This is not what they pay me to do at work, as you might have guessed. Ah well.

One year ago, I had a cold, too. I went to the Summer Eights and sat reading near the river in the shade of a tree near Christ Church Meadow and sucked on lozenge after lozenge pretending that I was just jet-lagged. I did this because there was a boy I’d met who I wanted to go on seeing, and I couldn’t bear to miss out on a date because of a cold, a lousy cold. Before we met up in the evenings I blew my nose furiously, took several ibuprofen pills, and put on a brave face, and since things were so exciting, I never once noticed my illness until the next morning, when we would wake with gin-soaked heads and I would have to swallow about a gallon of water before I felt able to speak, and then I would tiptoe to the bathroom and blow my nose furiously again and apply masses of careful makeup so that he would think, this boy, that I woke up not feeling hungover but feeling radiant and looking blemish-free.

I wore lots of skirts and dresses and shorts, not because the weather permitted but because it was summer, so one morning when I woke up and saw it pouring rain outside, he had to lend me a jumper to wear with my shorts, which was large and red and warm and had two neat holes in the armpits.
“All my jumpers get holes there,” he told me sheepishly.
“All your sweaters get holes there,” I corrected him. It was a thing we had about jumpers and sweaters, because I thought jumpers were actually the little onesie things you put small children into.
“Yes, well,” he said.

My cold disappeared, not aided by the late nights, the drinking, the way I felt all the time, which was happier than happy and full of youthful energy. He called me for dinner one night—proper dinner, he said, at a proper time (we tended to eat at midnight, generally). When I arrived he said he had a rotten cold and he hoped I wouldn’t get it and I felt too awful to admit that of course I wouldn’t get it, I had given it to him in the first place, so I said, “I probably will, but I don’t care!” and kissed him very deeply and wetly to prove it, because I hoped secretly that he would have felt the same way if I had admitted my own sniffly condition earlier. We drank several bottles of wine and watched High Society, which may or may not be one of my favourite films of all time purely on its laughter value. I never told him the true source of the cold--so I’m sorry, my love, to have made the truth so public now.

I remember sitting by the river during Eights Week so clearly. I don’t mean I remember the details—I can’t even recall what I was reading, though it may have been 100 Years of Solitude which I abandoned when I realized that the fluid, breathless, running tone was going to carry on throughout, unable to make my mind concentrate on it; I know what I was wearing, but only because I had picked it deliberately to impress him (a sheer, flowy white-and-blue floral summer dress), but I don’t know the day, the time, the circumstances of my being there. I had made my way to the river to see tradition in the flesh, and having found it (crowded riverbanks and boathouses spilling spectators onto the paths) I retired to a spot of warmth-and-shade with a strange glow of contentment, for the first time not because of anything but my own personal satisfaction.