My mother has taught me there are no accidents in life. That we all are precisely where we are meant to be. Serendipity. Luck. Chance. Call it fate. We all hold to some belief. I personally believe there are sign posts, but the harder you look for them, the more you become blind to them. To see them you just need to be present. Occasionally they even wink out at you.
A vein of the exotic most certainly runs through him.
Peering into the small upstairs room from the doorway, it is the flash of silver that first catches my eye in the wavering candlelight. In that flicker of the flame, in that sputter of a second as the candle flame guttered, throwing wild shadows across the walls, it is what I needed to turn to and see.
On a dust-furred shelf, tucked between a collection of Sinatra records and a portable record player, a journal written almost fifty years earlier. The initials D.B. are prominently embossed in silver stylised lettering both on the spine and on the front of the black hardcover. The name Randall P. Scott and ‘Book of Accounts’ is neatly written at the bottom of the inside cover in faded black ink.
Affixed to the opening page, like the frontispiece inside a children’s book, is an elaborate sketch of an old-fashioned Teddy Bear sitting on a square tasselled pillow. Written beneath the sketch with a beautiful cursive flourish, ‘For Ellie’.
At the top of the following page is just one sentence, written by way of a dedication. Like that first flash of silver on the spine of the book, it immediately draws attention to itself, insisting on being seen: ‘A vein of the exotic most certainly runs through him’.
A glance through the gilt-edged pages and I am able to tell that this is not so much a financial ‘Book of Accounts’ as it is a personal book of accounts. A charming journal of sorts. Parts of it read like memoir, eloquently written in beautiful penmanship, presumably by Randall Scott, with occasional digressions to his childhood, ‘growing up on the farm’ in Oklahoma, his formative years at Yale and, more and more frequently, to a man named Damon John Bradley.
The entire second half of the journal is like a scrap book, dedicated to Bradley. Pages torn out of notebooks, restaurant menus, theatre programmes; envelopes postmarked in cities around the world—Prague, Genoa, Geneva, Paris—each a dedication in dessert to a place. On every piece of paper, a sketch, a recipe, an idea. Even the back of a Lenten missal finds new purpose—in place of a personal prayer of abstinence, a recipe for whortleberry pie and white chocolate mousse. In a theatre programme, too—A Presentation of Hamlet in Central Park, New York—Bradley is busy in solicitous thoughts and plans for a special occasion.
Dried rose buds steeped in boiling hot water for five minutes makes for the most fragrant brew. Serve with scones and Devon clotted cream. Pair with spray roses, rosemary (“that’s for remembrance”) and Queen Anne’s Lace bound with a trailing plum bow (this, definitely for Ellie). Crisp white table linen and napery de rigeur. Grey suit, pressed white shirt, purple tie. And Sinatra.
There are no photographs of Damon Bradley anywhere among the contents of the journal. Yet, I do see him there in Church with his head bowed thinking decadent thoughts, or standing before a mirror adjusting his purple tie, whistling To be Young at Heart. And, as I read the first part of a letter addressed to Ellie, an image of him later in life slowly begins to form.
Hotel de Vendome, Paris.
January 1st, 1997. A secret place in the heart of Paris.
My memory has become a labyrinthine place now, Ellie. I fear of becoming lost in it. But just as Theseus held tightly to his silver thread, so too do I now hold dearly to mine. To the echoing din of Place Vendome; through the quicksilver streets of that winter; to that secret place in the heart of Paris; I am led to begin again at the start.
Bradley is clearly a romantic. Well-travelled, flamboyant, to be sure. But he is also admirably grounded and sensibly restrained. Perfectly purple: the emotional energy of red struck into calm stability by blue.
That evening, after a hot bath, I stoked the fire in the upstairs study and put on record. With a glass of local wine at hand and Sinatra, now accompanied by a light rain drumming against the window, I sat by the fire and pored through the journal.
So began my eight-year romance with Damon Bradley, to whom my own dream—to create something special—is eponymously dedicated. To the decadent man with gilt-edged dreams and ambitions tempered by the sensibilities of a humble upbringing. ‘Success is so much the sweeter for its honesty’.