The bar by the université
redundantly dubbed “Bar de la Fac”
had no style,
served cheap martinis,
was almost always empty
except for us and Benoît
who dried glasses and assured us
he was nothing like
his namesake, the new Pope.
Benoît poured happy-hour wine
sweet kir flavored by
the indiscriminance of youth:
pêche, mûre, framboise,
and my favorite, cassis noir.
We barely knew it at the time
but Normandy was adulthood’s apéritif,
a little taste of bittersweet-to-come.
We drank our 2 euro apéro
and grew thirsty from the salty peanuts
that Benoît rattled into dishes
shaped like crooked ashtrays.
I smoked my one-and-only cigarette
because a boy I liked rolled it for me.
It didn’t taste like Greta Garbo.
Once or twice we played babyfoot,
the foosball table slanting like the hill
upon which the bar squatted,
but mostly we pontificated
under faded posters for Guinness
and Martini & Rossi, too young
to be vintage, too old to be new.
We watched the trams turn
that treacherous corner
from the Fac to centre-ville
in the rain, in the ice, in the sun.
Kir cassis pour tout les jours
Kir cassis pour tout les temps.
We threw a party there to celebrate
the end of parties, the end of our long printemps.
That was the last time we saw Benoît.
We learned he had a 9-year-old son
and owned Bar de la Fac with his brother,
a fantôme before that night.
I told the boy I liked him,
for the first time, for the last time.
And he just said “je sais”
like a French Han Solo.
But when he spoke he looked me in the eye,
and so it didn’t matter if he liked me back.
It was new, like the kir and the tramway,
thirsty like the cacahouètes,
a precursor to a meal that never came
and to every meal after.