Read Remembering Carmen Online
Authors: Nicholas Murray
Tags: #epub, #ebook, #QuarkXPress
Christopher agreed with Jimmy.
“Jimmy's right. He doesn't sound very idle to me. Haven't you just got back from Paris?”
As Jimmy nodded, Carmen looked at him sharply as if his presence in Paris were somehow further evidence of his failure to pay proper homage to the deities of work.
“It's just a phrase. Jimmy knows what I mean. We've argued about this before. He thinks the lower orders protest too much. We aren't quite insouciant enough for him.”
“Carmen, you are trying to wind me up. But I am too full of this excellent wine to be rattled. You just hammer away and I'll smile sweetly at whatever you say. That's sure to drive you so mad that you'll go back into that inferno and start an argument with someone else.”
In fact it was Christopher who started back to the door at this point. He had spotted someone he knew and therefore excused himself. Left alone with Carmen, Jimmy could hardly contain myself. He wanted her, there and then, and to hell with all these trappings of urbane irony and word-play.
“I gather you were in Paris at the same time as Alice,” she said with twinkling malice.
Jimmy resolved to meet her glittering provocation with an affectation of unruffled coolness.
“Yes, we had lunch. She seems on good form. Did you know she was about to throw it all in?”
“Yes, she told me.”
Not liking the tone of this exchange he decided that two could be provocative.
“She was looking stunning.”
“Alice always does. It's Alice's thing.”
“I took her to a place my father was very fond of. It hasn't changed in thirty years.”
“I find those places so dreary. I like change. I like innovation. Why should a restaurant be like a mausoleum?”
“I doubt if one would eat so well in a mausoleum.”
“Yes, but what about all those half-dead
relics with their spotted skin and expensive jewellery and fussy demands.”
“There were a few of those, I agree, but Alice caught sight of one of her celebrity chums â you know the actress Selena Seferis? Well, she's hardly half-dead, is she?”
love to play with such places. They think they are anointing them with the sacred water of celebrity and cool. Like Mick Jagger buying a Jacobean manor house in Somerset. I suppose she got up half way through her meal to snort some cocaine in the Ladies.”
“Possibly. But aren't we being a little bitchy this evening?”
“Jimmy, why do you use these expressions?”
“Oh, no doubt because of my linguistic impoverishment. You must teach me some new vocabulary.”
There was a pause. Jimmy thought Carmen was about to say something but she checked herself. He knew that she wanted to know what had happened between Alice and himself, whether, for example, lunch was followed by any other intimacy, but she was too proud even to be seen to be fishing for answers to her unvoiced questions. He took no pleasure in tantalising her but equally he had no wish to be put in the dock. Then she suddenly put out her arm and touched his forearm lightly. Her hand rested there briefly. He could smell her scent. He could sense the tension in her body. Her desire. The power of this unspoken feeling silenced both of them. The wrong words could have wrecked this moment so they chose to use none.
She had withdrawn her hand before Christopher returned, with a red-faced type in tow in a grubby white jacket, dirty trainers on his feet. Hanks of stringy and disordered hair had been scraped across the bald summit of his scalp. His glass was slopping over and he was waving his arms about. Ignoring Carmen's scowl of disapproval, he insisted on introducing himself.
“Peter Worsley. Christopher was telling me you interviewed Lavinia Watersmith not so long ago. I had her on
a couple of years ago but I am sure we haven't milked her dry yet. I am quite keen to set up an interview to coincide with the Francis Quine exhibition at the Tate. You've got to catch these old biddies before they croak. They always give good value for money.”
“Why's that?” Jimmy found himself asking rather tartly.
He was familiar with Worsley, who had interviewed him on his weekly radio arts programme a year earlier. It purported to be a discussion about the public's tolerance of new music but it turned out to be the usual ritual display of soundbites provided by a round-up of people who seemed to Jimmy to have little passion for music of any kind. He was cast as the Uncompromising Artist, and round the studio table there was an Earnest Provincial Post-Modernist Academic, a Smirking Populist, and a New Labour Voice Machine. Worsley slurped his way through two bottles of wine, occasionally sending the bottle in the direction of the panel as an afterthought, before abruptly calling time in response to a gesture from the producer on the other side of the soundproof glass who mimed the slashing of his own throat â a gesture with which Jimmy could only sympathise.
“Well, first of all they do Posh. Those high-pitched upper crust voices talking about Bertie and Virginia and Aldous are cracking radio. And then there's the sheer bloody marvel that they're still alive. Still churning out anecdotes about people whom you thought had died half a century ago â at least. The market for this sort of thing is always buoyant.”
“But you aren't really talking about the artistic giants are you? These people were minor players even in their own day.”
“True but the big game have all been bagged.”
Carmen now cut in aggressively.“How do you rate Ben Bush then?”
She gestured towards the photographer, who was now out in the yard like every other escapee from the heat of the gallery and surrounded by admirers. He was dressed in black with Ray-Bans propped up on the top of his head. He rolled a cigarette, while a blonde journalist with a small Sony recorded his clipped replies to her questions.
“Don't care for his stuff much. It's all been done better by Danziger. But he's very sexy just now.
are doing a feature on Sunday. The book is in the hardback top ten. We can't afford to ignore it.”
“What is the radio equivalent of bums on seats?” Christopher suddenly asked.
“Earholes on static,” suggested Carmen with a laugh.
Worsley looked a little put out. He probably thought that they weren't taking him seriously enough. In common with most people in his trade he had an immoveable conviction of his own importance but at the same time required periodic affirmation of that status. Like someone pressing a safety button he signalled madly to another group and, making a swift apology, darted off to join them. They all looked at each other in relief. Christopher spoke first.
“It's faintly worrying that people like that are in charge of the imaginary museum.”
“I have never met anyone who actually listens to his programme,” said Carmen.
“Oh I am sure there are a few insomniacs, lonely car drivers, academics wondering how to break in to the racket,” Jimmy speculated. “It's just as well that the listeners can't see him, given his standards of personal grooming.”
Carmen now indicated that she had had enough. Christopher nodded his agreement but first she dashed across to Bush, cutting across his interviewer, and pecked him on the cheek, then muttered some non-specific approbation about the show. Jimmy watched her go, thinking that he too must follow. But, when she reached the open door of the gallery, she turned, in the realisation that she had left behind a tote-bag of papers on a table placed against the rear wall of the yard. She walked quickly back towards Jimmy. He watched every motion of her body and when she came up to him he knew that she had been aware of the greed of his gaze. She bent to pick up the bag and said, quickly, in a matter-of-fact tone: “Jimmy, give me a call. I've got to go now.”
His eyes followed her again as she retraced her way across the yard. Christopher was waiting to gather her into the care of his outstretched arm. He turned to Jimmy and smiled in all candour. Then they both disappeared.
Jimmy waited for a few minutes, walked back into the gallery to take another look at the photographs, then slipped quietly away, knowing that he would indeed ring Carmen, very probably the next day.
Carmen knew that she should not have gone back to Jimmy. After Nice something had changed in her, quite apart from the particular change in the way she saw him. There was now something unpleasant, reproachful, quite hideous, in their mutual history. She knew that the right thing would have been to cut him out of her life, to concentrate either on rebuilding her relationship with Christopher or on the task of finding a new direction. That had always been her response to any personal crisis or dilemma: to move on. She loathed therapies, analyses, probes, and inquests. She wanted always to snatch a new beginning from the ruins of the present moment. She wanted to act. Perhaps this was naive, to think that one can cut loose, that one can cancel out the memory of failure. Might it not come back, inevitably, to haunt one? Or was that to concede too much to the memory-merchants, the exactors of retribution, the people who do not want to see you go, slipping out of their hands? She had always wanted to be free and had been perplexed throughout her life at how this ruling desire is not widespread, at how passionately so many love their slavery.
Carmen went back to Jimmy. He rang her on the morning after the private view. She could hear music playing in the background which surprised her, for he would always lecture her about combining music with other activities. He saw this as a demonstration that one was not listening. He sounded a little distracted, a little uncertain, as if he knew, as she did, that this was unwise, that the proper path was well understood and that they were choosing not to take it. They agreed to meet for lunch at a little place in Dean Street of which thay had been fond. The choice seemed to suggest a touch of harmless nostalgia: two old friends meeting again for old time's sake. To have chosen a new venue would have been too much like a bold step forward into new terrain. When the manager came from the rear of the restaurant, recognised them, greeted them warmly, they both experienced a tremor of unease. Like guilty lovers, terrified at being found out, uneasy at their momentary triumphs, they smiled nervously at the manager, accepted the menu cards â and laughed when Jimmy, without thinking, ordered a particular Muscadet. This had always been their way of starting a meal on the first, rare and intermittent, summer evenings they spent together, while Christopher toiled late at some overdue refit, in the weeks before Nice.
They drank their wine, ordered, broke their bread rolls, and drank their chilled soup accompanied by a steady murmur of unexcitable conversation. They moved these banalities between them like counters on a board. Neither seemed willing, at first, to raise the stakes, to say what needed to be said. Carmen decided that she had better start to force the pace.
“So Alice is giving it all up. Did she tell you why?”
“Not really. I assumed that she wanted to quit while she was ahead. Her assets are not renewable, sadly.”
“But she's still in good shape.”
“Well, you've seen her recently yourself.”
“Did she talk about that.”
“Not really. I take it she told you more than she told me.”
“I think that there might have been some... catalyst but I think her official reasons are sensible enough.”
“She seems very astute. She has invested very wisely in property in various cities. I don't think she will have to struggle. And if the book dishes the right amount of dirt she should do very well out of it.”
“Do you like Alice?”
“You seem to hesitate.”
“I suppose I do. There is a sort of controlling element in her which makes me uneasy.”
“I thought you found me too bossy as well.”
“No, it's not that. I don't mind boisterous, combative people who fight their corner. This is something else. It's a kind of awesome self-control that I find quite chilling. It's hard to express it but I find her too perfect. The looks are part of it and since they are her professional tools, as it were, she has to work on them, keep them well-oiled and sharpened. I can't criticise her for that. No, I suppose it's the way everything fits so neatly. Her diary, her movements from one flat to the other, one city to another, her routine in the gym. I don't know how she conducts her love-life but I am sure it is equally well-regulated. There isn't a lot left to chance in Alice's life.”
“You didn't discuss her love-life, garner any personal insights?”
“Carmen, that's rather low-level sarcasm for you.”
“I was wondering what you two did in Paris.”
“Why don't you just come out with it. Did I sleep with Alice? No I didn't sleep with Alice. OK?”
“OK. Sorry, I shouldn't have asked.”
Jimmy put his hand over hers, he picked a tiny breadcrumb off her sleeve with his free hand and they said nothing for a few moments. Carmen knew she was playing with fire but what could she do? After the meal they went back to his apartment near Regent's Park. It was all so easy. Inevitable.