I have my farlages.
I would like to think most of us do. Every so often we reach into the pockets or purses of our memories, pull one out, unwrap a corner, nibble on their half-stale sweetness, enjoy it for a few moments, rewrap it, and put it back.
I think of A—, who I helped study for a test, sitting facing her in her room, class notes spread on the bed between us. I told her the questions I thought would probably be on the test and what the answers would be to those. I had actually been to all the lectures; she was very smart but very busy. She was taking extra courses and rehearsing and performing in plays. When we sat down for the test the next day, she looked at it and, with her bright lips and braced teeth and surprised mascara, she gave me a jaw-dropped glance: I had nailed it. She got an A– on the test without having read any of the texts. I wrapped that look and put it in my pocket.
I think of R—, who I had taken a class with once and, a few months later, encountered in a theatre lobby while I was with my girlfriend of the time. R— and I chatted briefly and she moved on, but my girlfriend simply observed, “She likes you.” I was surprised, but I stopped and thought for a moment about the conversation, the look in her poster-girl eyes and her glossy half-smile. I wrapped them and put them in my pocket.
I think of – what was her name? I can’t even remember now. I’ll call her J—. We were in a drawing class together. She had a blonde bob and a lean and very smart face. On the last day the professor and the rest of us went to a cafeteria on campus and sat and drank tea and talked, and somehow I was sitting across from her in conversation. And somehow we kept locking eyes, each daring the other to look away first, neither acknowledging in any other way that we were doing that. As we were all finally getting up and going our separate ways, she accidentally said “Goodnight” instead of “Goodbye” to me although it was only a late afternoon in April. I wrapped those devious stares and put them in my pocket.
I didn’t take any more art classes, as it happens, and I might have seen J— half a block away on campus once, but I might not have. I never saw R— again, though I can see her eyes now in my mind. After the end of the semester, A— graduated and I have never had evidence of her again on this earth.
You could tell me these were all missed connections, and I could tell you that rain falls down and is wet when it lands on you, if we’re going to exchange obviousnesses. Of course I should have done something to stay in touch. If you’ve never had a paralyzing anxiety that prevents you from making an obvious social move, I don’t want your lectures, and if you have had one, you won’t be lecturing me anyway. But these memories are not burdens for me now. I’m happy. The missed connections are losses in their way, but the pocketed glances are all gains, gifts that I didn’t ask for or expect, each telling me in its little way that I had less to worry about than I felt. All three of them, and all the other givers of all the other farlages I have, have moved on in life and are no doubt doing well, as I am. That just makes the taste of the farlage sweeter.
Farlage was once defined – by at least one old author – as a wrapped piece of cake from the wedding of someone you were secretly in love with. More generally you could think of it as a treasured moment from an impossible – or at least unattained – emotional connection. But the cake is the clue.
A farlage was, before all the figurative talk, a share of cake or biscuit wrapped and kept in your pocket for a snack. It probably comes from farl, a small flour or oatmeal cake, from fardel, not the ‘burden’ sense known in Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy (although you could toss in a bit of that for measure if you must) but a sense meaning ‘fourth’ as in ‘quarter’ and referring to a quarter of a thin cake. I can’t help but think that another farl, a variant of furl, might help account for how it’s rolled up in the pocket.
I can’t help but think it because I decided it. I decided all of this. All these old farls are real, but farlage is in no dictionary and was not written until last night, when I saw its letters in a Scrabble rack and decided to make a lexical replicant of them. But the thing I have decided to name with farlage is real. As are the memories. And now you will always be able to come back to this new old word.