The summer that sprang to mind when I first thought about what I read is not this summer at all but one from a number of years ago and it isn’t about something I read exactly but something that my friend Jamie read to me.
It was a brutally hot August day and we were floating in her pool, each of us in one of those brilliant floating chaise lounges with the built-in cup holder or in this case, built-in glass of iced tea holder. I am almost positive that Jamie was one of the very first people I knew to have a floating chaise lounge with the built-in cup holder and in fact she had two; one of which I was in, the other occupied by her. I know for a fact that there was a very fragrant, perfect sprig of fresh mint in my iced tea glass which I can promise you she grew in her garden.
I was drifting, my head resting on the floating chaise’s pillow, my eyes closed, letting the chair take me wherever it wanted. Every once in a while, I’d bump gently into the side of the pool, and using my hands as paddles, I’d turn myself around, never once opening my eyes. The relentless sun and heat had made me feel positively light-headed and the water washing across my legs as Jamie floated past me, her chaise leaving a small but cooling wake, was the only relief. I was somewhere between conscious and not when suddenly I heard a loud shriek. “Oh my God!”
Startled, I opened my eyes, shielding them with my right hand. Jamie had floated to the opposite end of the pool, holding a hard cover book in her two hands. “You have to hear this!” she insisted. “You must.” She began to read, her voice rising and falling dramatically, pausing in just the right places:
“When from a long distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essences, the vast structure of recollection.”
“Did you ever?” she asks, not really asking, laughing with delight and awe and vast appreciation. “Did you?”
No, I say. I never did. And truly, I never had.
We stayed in that pool til the sun went down, Jamie reading aloud from "Swann's Way," me floating quietly around her. It reminded me of another Proust quote that seemed somehow apt that day, and really, on any summer day that I’m lucky enough to have time to read: ‘There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book.” And a favorite friend.
Katherine Reback was born and raised in Connecticut. She was a screenwriter, speechwriter and essayist.
by Kitty Kaufman