A little genre fiction, dedicated to my colleagues.
As soon as she pushed open the swing doors and drew breath, she knew it was the wrong kind of place. The smell tipped her off. This wasn't the usual stench of seedy bars on the wrong side of town. Sure, she was on the wrong side of town, but stale beer, blood and sweat were kind of welcome. No, the top note in this dive was something else, something familiarly depressing. It communicated desperation, failure and cynicism.
Looking around, she saw the telltale signs: shabby, mismatched clothes in natural fibres, patched at the stereotypical places and pierced with badges testifying to youthful optimism and fervour: here a Cuba Solidarity pin, there a 'humorous' Derrida badge. Expressions were hunted, eyes peering suspiciously at her through thick glasses as they smelled both youth and affinity. Possessions hurriedly rammed into plastic bags or scuffed leather. Glasses were clutched with a preciousness that conveyed the central place of weak ale in their sad, shadowed lives. Shreds of tobacco littered the rough tables as the denizens rolled up with the skill and dedication of Cuban peons.
She knew that taking one more step meant becoming one of them. Meeting their eyes meant melding minds. And yet… resistance was futile. Fate, and her intellectual rapacity had brought her to this place. She took her place amongst them, ordering a cheap wine and rolling a thin cigarette before diving into a circle listening intently to the familiar tale of administrative woe, malfeasance by their shifting population of charges, and the ceaseless hunt for the Lost Text: a tale shared compulsively whenever these denizens of the underworld met over alcohol.
That fragrance, the one that had haunted her for so many years, was dry wipe marker and these lost souls were… academics.