We've both got a cold and an attitude and an overdeveloped sense of winter angst. As we walk towards the castle I tell him that it's sad, we don't spend very much time in Oxford anymore, we're always skirting around it, it's almost like we're afraid of it though really I know it's only because everything we need--the pub, the office, our friends and family--are also on the outskirts. Every day I cycle to work and I manage, going from one far end of the city to the other, to avoid the centre altogether. He says it's only because of the weather, which is miserable and makes us like hermits.
I say that there was a time when if a shop closed down and a new one opened up in its stead I would know instantly; now it might be months before I noticed. I wonder to myself how many things have changed without me knowing. There are roadworks on the High street that make it almost impassable; I've avoided it for months, and now, for the first time in a long time, I take a moment to observe the mannequins in shop windows, the half-hearted early springtime displays, the canary yellow macs and peep-toed heels.
He doesn't seem perturbed by it but I can't stop thinking about how long it's been since I sat on the steps of the Clarendon building watching Japanese tourists pose for photos and flush-faced American undergrads in groups, hiding under their new hoodies, watching women in heels and students in vintage brogues or else boots and tight skirts, toddlers tripping over the uneven stones. Our love was born here, doing these things, but that summer feels a very long time ago. Who was I then, with the time to waste on trivialities?
And who am I now, to think it might be a waste?
When we reach the castle we have dinner at a place I've never been before; it's huge and dark and full of dolled-up girls with painted lips and high heels and a twentysomething-single-career-girl-attitude. I'm glad I'm not them but at least they don't have a cold, I think. It's a very American place, cavernous, full of booths and happy-hour menus and even the toilets downstairs trick me into thinking for an instant that I'm in New York or Los Angeles. I feel momentarily both homesick and repulsed.
It's just winter, he tells me. We'll walk around the city in spring, we tell each other, we'll drink at all our old haunts and watch as many people as we like when it's warm enough.
So until then I'll spend time in my study, by the radiator, watching cats in the far end of the garden. There goes another one now, a new black-and-white thing, picking through the tangle of dead brush. And here I am in Oxford, missing Oxford. Humans are funny creatures, much funnier in a way than these aimless cats.