Looking for Jimmy

..in the small hours.. cognac, and a pointed reminiscence..

Author's Note: 

This piece came after a visit to the south of France in 1996, and walking into the town of St Paul de Vence.. with the chance experience of Colombe d’Or, a select host and long favorite spot of artists.. it was also a particular haunt of James Baldwin’s.. -years abroad, in the closing period of his life.. 

Looking for Jimmy was written in my early reach as ‘fiction’, and originally intended as a piece for the collection Doors To My House.


I did not breathe, so as not to dissipate the magic.. 


And I.
At La Colombe d’Or.
Sat at a quiet corner table. The one beside the fourteenth century fireplace. 

“..mais maintenant..-Je suis vraiment désolé. Je crois...-” Etienne waved three fingers at the Braque -as though the painting’s angular richness pointed the extremity of his comment. “....désolé. Oui. Désolé.” The other hand raised the demitasse to his mouth -halted it there, as his lips decided something else. No expression lasted very long on his face; the lines were too steep. The emotions slipped too swiftly into crevices leading elsewhere. It would have been impossible to follow the subterranean progress of his thoughts, if it were not for the various tics and tremors that betrayed his feelings. “Il-..” -the voice was like sandpaper softly rasping my ear. 

Nothing else sounded as Etienne pressed himself forward, over the tabletop. His shirt had hidden that it was missing two buttons, but now splayed open revealing the ancient white hair of his chest. His grip gave a spasm at the handle of his demitasse. His eyes drew murky. A finger rose and trembled open his mouth, before the hand fell to the table top. “..he -died -in my arms..” He slowly curled the palm open to accept a remembered weight. 

The candlelight mottled him in oblique golden hue. The night air was chilly through the open patio doors. 

Etienne slowly raised his arms from the table and molded pain into a languorous stretch. The hot pink linen of his jacket slipped back along his sleeves, revealing thin sticks of wrinkle and bone. He smiled. “Alors. Mort -mais on ne l'oubliera jamais. N'est-ce pas?” 

I smiled. “Yes, I understand.” 

“C’est vrai. L'amour avant tout...ne l’oubliez pas-” The candle sputtered. A dollop of wax spat out at him -fell short, and dropped to the white tablecloth. Etienne frowned -fleetingly.

I did not take the sign as a judgment against the tale. 

“Alors.” Etienne smiled. 

It was the last vestige of the beauty he had owned, which once had captured Jimmy. White teeth and humor; crackling blue eyes sparked up out of the grim. He raised the empty glass that had been host to a cognac. “Another, no?”
“Of course.” 

It was past one in the morning. The waiters were gathered about the edges of the dining room; waiting discreetly for our departure. As I raised an eyebrow in the thought to find assistance, a body detached itself swiftly from the wall and was at our table. “Monsieur?” 

“Encore, s’il vous plait.” 

“Oui. Merci.”
The man left for another room. A soft command went out before him. In the distance, a sound of bottles moved -then silence.

Etienne relinquished his smile -much like a Viking loosening the funeral boat of a favorite warrior. It would all go up in flames soon. All of it. “Jimmy was a beautiful lover. We talked. He liked to talk deeply. Or walk. And always after..” 

This is what I had hoped to find; this very conversation.

This very improbable exchange.
I had in fact come expressly in search of Jimmy’s presence..
Jimmy who was my hero.
And upon arrival in the medieval fortress of Saint Paul, I had immediately gone sniffing for his remnants; a favorite restaurant -a favored path through the hillside. A special view before which he might wonder -or write.
I conducted myself as a proper pilgrim, inquiring along my progress if Jimmy might have sat on this stone- or upon this bench; if he had walked here -or, if he had, perhaps.. 

Too used to the same groupie questions, every answer, every glance -every inhabitant asked, pointed me towards a small building and its tiny aperture of a door.

Within- in a cool desolate shade, I had found Etienne. 

He sat on a fragile wooden chair with the tiny square footage provided him, arranged in varying degrees of shadow.
He waited in that spot at a little table -staring at the doorway, as though he constantly expected quests. Which he did, as I soon found out that not a day went by when someone had not bought him a drink -or lunch -or asked for an evening of his company, so that he might share the reverie of his most famous love. 

Etienne, survived to indulge curiosity -and play the blessed disciple. 

“Monsieur.” The waiter set two more glasses of cognac before us. He smiled, though I’d no doubt his heart sank at our inertia. 

Etienne took up his glass before it had the chance to fully settle on the table, “Merci,” though he did not say this to anyone in particular. “He did not live in Saint Paul of course. We -drank here. On occasion.” Eyes remained on his glass. He sipped. 

The waiter sniffed -slipped away, to wait against shadow once more.