Evelyn shakes my arm, and I snap back from inside Shigem to Paradise. “He’s still chatting,” she says. “Let’s get another drink, we’ll catch up with him in a minute,” and she pulls me in the direction of the bar. “The bar’s better lit, so you’d better hang back a bit, behind us two.”
Standing in the shadow of Alaia, I watch the crowd reflected in the mirrored wall behind the bar. There in the distance is Shigem; then much nearer to the mirror there is Evelyn, laughing; and standing near her, with eyes open wide and an opaque smile, is a slim, dark-haired figure—oh but that’s me of course. And there’s Alaia right beside me, lighting a Virginia Superslim, or trying to, with a match that isn’t working. I take a book of matches from my pocket, turn my gaze from the mirror to the real-life Alaia, strike a match and hold a yellow flame in front of her. She waits for it to finish flaring, sucks it through the end of her cigarette, nods me thanks and turns her attention elsewhere. I drift my gaze back to my unexpected figure in the mirror, which is the only figure, out of all those in the tableau, who shows any consciousness of someone else looking in upon them, of someone outside them in a different dimension: the only individual in the composition to look outward at the viewer, like that figure in the Bosch picture who fixes the observer with perceptive eyes from in between the heads of unperceptive companions, who is often thought to be Bosch himself. The frozen transience of the figure in the bar-mirror mural reminds me of the figure of a boy I once saw who’d been preserved since Roman times by ash, whose delicate build and size were mine, with the faint ashy shape, on a round little head, of a sort of Roman buzz-cut, just as my own hair was cut then, and vague eye-hollows where I stared back at length through the centuries…
The bartender blocks my sightline, cutting off this outsider view of myself. He’s a young white man in his twenties whose blond cropped hair, handsome face and shirtless body make up a generically attractive ensemble. As I watch him, however, this generic allure starts to assume its place as packaging for a content richer and subtler than expected. There’s a quietness, seriousness and simplicity to his movements and expressions, as he serves customers, which suggest a considerable emotional vulnerability under the watchful care of a rather greater strength, coupled with a touch of sadness somewhere. Evelyn bubbles up and puts her arm around me. “Hi Kim,” she says to him.
“Hi Evelyn. What can I get you?”
“I’ll have a Bud. Have you met my friends Jaymi and Alaia here? They were just doing a broadcast earlier. I was helping out.” I sense Alaia deciding not to question again the wisdom of such further indiscretion, in view of Jason’s bid for secrecy. I have to confess we’re doing a disastrous job of keeping a low profile tonight. But Evelyn turns to pre-empt her: “It’s OK—Kim doesn’t even live in Asbury, he’s just bartending on a trip here from London.” She turns back to Kim: “Is Shigem packed up yet?”
“No, he still has a lot to do. We have a few more days left. You’ve met Shigem?” he asks me.
“We tried to, just now,” I say.
“I first met him about three months ago in London where I live,” Kim explains with a smile. “He was visiting there on his first trip from here. We fell in love pretty fast.” He has a light English accent that I know isn’t from London but cannot place any further.
“Cool,” says Alaia. “He’s kind of in demand here, but we’ll have another go at meeting him in a minute.”
“How will you stay together?” I ask him.
“He’s going to have to move to Britain with me, because the U.S. doesn’t let me move here for him, which is pretty dumb. We’ll be moving out of here for good in a few days.”
“I hope you’re happy there,” I say.
“Thanks! Gotta go,” and he turns to a customer. I’m not going to tune in to him now, because I want to finish with Shigem first, but I realise that in all of Kim’s clear-eyed candour he hasn’t yet shown any signs of recognising me from the broadcast. This is interesting, in view of the fact that his boyfriend Shigem watched it in spades, as I just explored. Did Kim not watch, or has he not recognised me here despite Evelyn’s introduction of us, or is his recognition concealed for some reason?
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