Harold Pinter and I have been driving around Paris all night.
The two of us are hunched over in his little Citroën. He is bigger than me. Somehow I always knew he would be. He grapples the steering wheel so tightly it looks like it will soon snap off. His driving style can best be described as erratic. There are no other vehicles on the road.
I’m pretty sure that he is driving, but then again I feel that I am also driving, and sometimes it seems as if neither of us are driving—but the car still moves, zigzagging in and out of designated lanes. The traffic lights are all burning green.
We slide onto the Rue des Lombards. He points, still holding the wheel, to a jazzy bar slightly ahead of us. “Harold loves it there”. He is constantly referring to himself in third person. I do not question this. You do not question Harold Pinter.
I feel as if it would only be right to discuss his work. I want to tell him how inspiring he is, how influential he has been. I want to ask him for advice, for the secret. I want to quote his work back at him. But I also don’t want to seem sycophantic. I don’t want him to think that I’m using him—that I want to take advantage of his talent. I settle for a safe alternative.
“I own a pair of very similar glasses to you, Harold.”
He smirks, but not smugly. There is a twinkle in his eye.
“Call me HP,” he says.
“Like the sauce?”
His face does not move. We drive on.
I get the sense that we have been drinking and smoking a little too much for our own good. Too much for my own good, at least. I’m embarrassed to admit to him that we might soon have to call it a night. It’s four o’clock in the morning.
I tell him that I’m suffering from the most wretched indigestion. Without thinking, he takes a sharp left turn. We arrive at a small café, quaint and empty. He sits me down at a table and hands me a menu to peruse. I read each dish out loud, in my best French, hoping to impress him. When I look up, he is gone.
Time begins to spin. Or perhaps it’s me that’s spinning. Either way, HP is gone for what seems like an age. When he finally returns, he is carrying a small paper bag. He walks very quickly towards me—a deep, sharp stride—and waves the bag in front of me, almost like a warning.
“I’ve been across the whole of bloody Paris to find this,” he says, matching my gaze.
(Pause.) I wonder if he will tell me what it is.
He opens the bag and takes out a tin of bicarbonate of soda. I cannot help but smile. It does the trick.
We are walking through the Jardins du Luxembourg. I am stumbling a little bit trying to match his rhythmic pace. Every now and then, he erupts into a violent coughing fit. I hover my hand over his back, unsure whether to pat him.
“Valpolicella,” he barks, as if I asked him a question.
Almost instantly, we are sitting outside a wine bar. We are both drinking very large glasses of red wine. HP is laughing. It’s the first time I’ve seen him laugh. It is musical and unexpected.
He slips me a tattered book on the table.
“It’s full of HP’s finest poetry,” he promises, speaking into his glass.
I don’t know what to say. A part of me wants me to ask him to sign it, but it feels as if it is his own personal copy. I feel embarrassed smiling in front of him.
Suddenly, HP points to a darkened patch of Paris behind me. He shakes his head.
“We cannot go over there,” he growls.
“No man’s land?” I grin.
He does not appreciate the joke, or perhaps he’s heard it before.
He leans in to me—the closest we have been; he is breathing my air. He raises his little finger and holds it in front of my eyes, before clearing his throat magnificently.
“Sometimes you need someone to rub your face in the shit.”
We finish the wine and head back to the car. I can barely stand. He doesn’t seem drunk at all.
“Soup?” he asks. “I know a place.”
“No, thank you.”
He is not impressed. I should have said yes to the soup.
Image by Ian