After the weekend was over, when we were driving home from Barry and Sean's house and the twins were at last beginning to whisper themselves to sleep in the back seat, I said to my wife that we must buy our hosts something. We had taken Barry and Sean's hospitality, as we had so many times before; we had to give something in return, maybe a good bottle of champagne, vintage, the label that Barry approved of.
They don't want anything, Alice said. They like having people to stay. Anyway, what do you get the people who have everything? Anything they want they can get themselves.
Something well chosen. The price isn't important.
I don't know. But if you really want to get something we can give them something for the house.
Yes, that's a good idea, I said.
I found what I thought I was looking for in a film memorabilia shop. An Italian poster for one of Barry's movies. It was a very big poster, but Barry and Sean lived in a very big house. The poster cost more than I had dreamt of paying, which seemed to be part of the joy of the giving. The boy in the shop, whose plump hairless face was punctuated with little metal studs, slipped it inside a protective cardboard tube for me to carry.
I showed the poster to Alice and I felt very proud.
Look, it's perfect isn't it? just look at those colors.
I don't know. I'm not sure. How much was it? These things cost a lot, don't they?
Don't worry about it. It was a bargain. But it's perfect isn't it?
No it's lovely, it is, but I thought we were going to get them something for the house.
This is for the house.
Yes but have you seen any posters in their house? I've got a feeling it might be vulgar to advertise your own movies? I was thinking candlesticks.
We can give them candlesticks as well.
No that's too much. It's embarrassing. We have to give them one or the other.
Well, which do you want? Do you want to give them candlesticks?
We'll give them the poster.
Only if you want to.
I knew I was looking like a child when I said that, a boy unsure of love who was threatening to cry if an ice cream wasn't bought or his boots not tied for him.
Yes I want to. It's a very good choice.
We had been invited to have dinner with Barry and Sean at an Italian restaurant in Chelsea. I took the poster along. I left it in its cardboard tube with the cloakroom girl.
Alice walked ahead of me into the restaurant. (She is more adept in this kind of world -- I might even have pushed her to go ahead.)
The maitre d' stood tolerantly in front of us as we looked and listened for Barry's unmistakable head.
There. I heard it over there.
Like bells from a miniature traveling church, the trinkets in Barry's hair tolled through the restaurant. Shiny metal fetishes, seaglass pendants, polished leather scroll-cases, hooked and tied and dangling from wild grey and black curls. Sean waved as we approached. His head was shaved, restaurant lights glared off his scalp, the blubbery W of male pattern baldness.
When I first met Barry, long ago, when Alice still worked for him, I'd been struck, principally, by the unnecessary magnitude of his wedding present to us and by the things he wore in his hair. I'd fearfully assumed that the producer was deep into primitive religion, voodoo, gris-gris, dark practices. I later realized -- or, as it usually happened, Alice explained to me -- Barry wore heavy things in his hair to show that he could, and to remind the world that Sean, his younger lover, could not. He added to them periodically, like a charm bracelet.
Also at the table was Dylan. I had hoped she would not be. Dylan had close-cropped hair and a handsome, unnecessarily young face, like a rock star's. She outshone everything and could be mean to people. Once she had been a young writer of passionate plays as slim and delicate and poetical as herself. Then she had alchemized one of her plays into a film and now she was middle aged and was a movie director in Hollywood and her body and her vanity and her appetites had expanded into the space the world gave her. Critics praised her. Foreign governments awarded her medals. Women admired her. Men adored her, especially gay men. She had a variety of children, including one with her current husband, who had once been her ambitious, watchful assistant.
I reminded myself not to try talking to him tonight. I often did try, because he always seemed so anxious and watchful, but he didn't like to be pitied, especially in public by someone like me.
And you remember Phillip.
The husband looked watchfully away. Sean repeated the statement a couple of times before Dylan noticed that she was meant to respond.
Yes, of course.
Dylan smiled lamely. I winced. Of course she didn't remember me, she never did, despite having met me at least a dozen times. She realized she was meant to say something more. She concentrated very hard. Lines emerged in surprising parts of her face.
You're a doctor aren't you?
No, I said and my smile hurt my teeth. You must be confusing me with someone else.
No it's you, something to do with noses.
We last met after a preview. I talked to you about Sinology.
You see? I knew that.
Dylan went back to talking about herself for the benefit and applause of her claque of hustlers, actors, flunkies, and starlets, who were hungry for everything she had to say, do, and imagine ...(Continues...)