For Auld Lang Syne, My Dear...
God, I hated parties - and this party was no exception. I really didn’t want to come to it, but one has to one’s duty sometimes. I can still remember the exact words on the invitation:
THE PRINCIPAL CORDIALLY INVITES YOU TO A NEW YEAR’S EVE FANCY DRESS PARTY.
Theme: Fantasy & Sci Fi
Time: 8 till late
Place: The university main hall
A bar and buffet will be provided
So here I was, dressed in an orc outfit - very Lord of the Rings, I thought. A dead ringer for one of the foul creatures, I believed, though one or two people had already asked me what I was meant to be. God, I detested parties – especially since the accident happened three years ago. Emily would have loved this. “Cheer up! It’s a real blast,” she would have said. But she was dead.
I would have preferred to have stayed at home. I always do. If you are going to mark the occasion of the calendar advancing and getting nearer to our graves, then why not stay at home and do it quietly and without a fuss. But the job has called me – it always does - and I’ve got to be here tonight, mingling and chatting, and generally pretending to have a good time in a stupid costume. At least the drinks were quite cheap at the university. I headed over to get one.
“Ah, Tony, there you are,” said Professor Deakin - someone I didn’t want to talk to right now. I pretended I didn’t hear him over the noise of the music. I knew it wouldn’t work.
“Tony; how are you my dear boy?” asked Deakin, placing his drink down next to me on the bar. I drank a bit of beer before turning and hitting him with my best fake grin.
“I’m just dandy Professor Deakin, thank you. How are you doing on this fine evening?”
“Oh just wonderful - thank you. I see you’ve come as some sort of dreadful creature from the dark recesses of Tolkien’s brain,” he said, giving my costume the once over.
“Thank you. You’re the first to spot it.” I replied, smiling and quaffing more ale. I looked over his outfit. He was dressed as Gandalf the Grey, which didn’t surprise me a bit. “Or should I say – thank you Gandalf, and hope you don’t smite me,” I said.
“Oh I wouldn’t do that. It’s not in Gandalf’s interest to smite just any old thing, you know.”
“Why, of course not,” I said. He was a right one, Professor Deakin. This is what being head of the English department must do to you over the course of time.
The professor twiddled his beard and I could visualise his mind searching for more things to say. Eventually, his lips opened: “You haven’t produced any papers lately, and your last book was published over three years ago. Is there anything wrong Tony?”
No, there was nothing wrong. Only my darling wife had died, and there were the constant demands of the university to deal with: The endless rounds of lectures, tutorials, meetings, petty administration, and marking to do. And now I had to suck up to colleagues and senior college bigwigs. There was nothing wrong at all.
I glanced around the hall, looking for somewhere I could go and sit by myself. It was then that I noticed another Gandalf. If the professor’s wizard costume was good, then this one was truly magnificent. It had a real ethereal quality to it and you just couldn’t keep your eyes off it. Talk about charisma.
“I think you’ve got a bit of competition, Professor,” I said, nodding over to the other wizard, “Gandalf the White is here.”
I made my excuses and walked over to an empty table in the corner of the room. A quick glance at the clock told me it was 10 o’clock – thank goodness for that – only 2 hours to go.
Perhaps it was the drink, but things were starting to get better. The dance floor was filling up and I spotted quite a few attractive lovelies dressed as elves, warrior maidens and robotic replicants. There was even a very fetching Princess Leia, who, I’m sure smiled at me. I smiled back and immediately felt foolish.
And then I saw him again – the person dressed as a wizard. What an amazing costume, I thought.
Avoiding Professor Deakin, I went the bar, bought another drink and sat back down on my mercifully empty table. I knew I was meant to be chatting to people, but I really just didn’t feel up to it. I imagined Emily sitting next to me, and for a fleeting moment I heard her laugh once more. And then I felt sad - so I went to the bar again.
When I got back I was surprised to find Princess Leia sitting at the table.
“Um...hello,” I said.
“Hi,” said Leia, smiling and offering me a bowl of cashews. “You’re Tony from the English department, right?”
“Yes, I am. How do you know that?” I asked, grabbing a couple of nuts and gobbling them down.
“We’ve spoken before. You don’t remember?”
She was right – I didn’t remember. I hate to say it, but I might have been a bit tipsy that night.
“Well; let me help you out. My name’s Liz and I teach in the Politics department.” She said. Now she mentioned it – I did remember her a bit. She looked very different in the Star Wars costume though.
“Nice to meet you Liz... again,” I said, before adding: “I hope you don’t mind if I call you Leia.”
“Not at all Mr Orc,” she replied, laughing. She seemed to like me, which was very strange indeed. I looked at the clock again, which read 11.50pm. In a moment I was going to have to make a break from the crowd. I couldn’t really face talking to Princess Leia anymore and there was no way I was going to sing and hug people at midnight. No way. I made a break for the gents’ toilet.
I arrived in the loo in the nick of time. I could hear somebody announcing the build up to midnight on a microphone. All I had to do was sit it out for the next 15 minutes or so. Nobody else would come in to the washroom at this time. And then Gandalf the White came in. Drat!
“Er...hi, Mr Gandalf,” I said, slightly mirthfully, before turning. I was going to go into the cubicle to be left alone.
And then he pulled down his cowl, stopping me dead in my tracks. It was the most hideous sight I had ever seen. He...or it...had two faces. Two faces side by side on the same head. I nearly fainted, but my rubbery legs somehow kept me standing.
“Do you know who I am?” asked the creature with the mouth on one of its faces.
It couldn’t be, could it?
“Are you...um... Janus?” I replied. What on earth?
“And do you know what I do?” it said, using the other face.
“Um...you’re the god of beginnings and transitions. January is named after you.” I said, the words coming out as a whimper.
“And do you know the song Auld Land Syne?” asked Janus.
“I...I...do. We sing it at midnight to mark the coming year.” I responded.
“And what does it mean?” asked the god.
“The song asks us whether it’s right to forget the past and to remember old friendships.” I said. I had always liked Burns’ old Scots verse, despite not singing it very often.
“And do you think we should do this?”
I hesitated slightly, before replying. The answer came out:”Yes, I do.”
At the moment music started playing in the main hall – the build up to the song.
“SING IT!” said Janus, with an unfathomable depth and power. I started singing:
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
“SING IT LOUDER AND WITH FEELING!” boomed Janus. The words suddenly seared into my brain, flashing up like the HUD in a fighter plane.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?
“SING IT LIKE YOU MEAN IT!” said the deity. I began singing the chorus. Suddenly, a terrific energy pulsed through me.
For auld lang syne my dear,
for auld lang syne,
It was all becoming clear: I had to let go of Emily and move on with my life. The tears started rolling down my cheeks.
We’ll tak’ a cup of kindness,
For auld lang syne.
I went on to the next verse. Janus nodded and started to smile on both faces.
And surely ye’ll be your pint stowp!
And surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
Memories of Emily filled my mind - happy memories. I would never forget her and my love for her would stay with me till my dying day. We had walked upon the slopes together, picking flowers, but that time was finished.
We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine;
but we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.
My epiphany reached a crescendo and I passed out.
Well, that was last New Year’s Eve and quite a lot has happened since then. You may be pleased to know that Liz, or Leia as I still sometimes call her, has moved in with me and our relationship is coming along nicely. I’ve started writing again and will have a new book out early next year. I can safely say that I have stopped being an orc – but I am pleased to say Professor Deakin still sees himself as Gandalf.
Mike Evers 2011
Mike Evers 2011