A bronze statue on a plinth comes to life. It bops a passerby on the head with its sword. The man executes a double-take, fists clenched. He’s wearing a kilt and black knee socks with red tassels. Even his silver buzz cut looks fierce, gilded by a shaft of setting sun.
But the statue is frozen again, blasé, nonplussed, the sword resting casually against its shoulder.
I watch a magician blow up a tube balloon so it’s the length of his forearm. He promises to swallow the whole thing. He tilts his head and opens his mouth wide and holds the balloon over it, but pauses to remark: Ladies, I sympathize.
There’s a boy who calls himself Super Scott, further down the street. He cajoles and mocks the crowd that grows thick and presses closer. He takes volunteers—a beautiful girl who writhes with self-consciousness and two good-natured, smirking men. Super Scott gets the crowd to clap for them; he makes the men do goofy dances.
Then he prepares to juggle batons of fire.
The two male volunteers grip each other’s wrists to make a seat. The boy climbs. He makes a show of clasping the volunteers by the cheek or nose, pulling himself up to a wobbly standing position. Once he’s up, he flaps his kilt at half the audience and there’s a burst of applause. And then he tells the girl volunteer to throw him the batons at her feet, one by one. He calls for a lighter.
I’m eighteen years old, he says. He produces a hat and drops it at his feet.
Please. Give enough to keep this kid on the streets where he belongs, he shouts.
The boy has lit all the batons. He is crouched, leaning forward. Super Scott is very handsome and young looking, wiry and wry—but all of that has emptied out.
The boy is staring forward with an intensity that makes him seem absent, a husk. It’s as if he is possessed, caught.
Much later in the evening, I will eavesdrop on three women who are part of a cruise. They have finished their meal and the bones are sitting on the plates. One woman leans forward.
It would have been better, she says, if he had married Camilla in the beginning. She’s the one he loved.
The other women lean in too, Macbeth’s three witches,and discuss it with whispered urgency.
Super Scott has lit the torches and drops the lighter to the street below. He tosses the batons and they begin to cartwheel around him. Each baton tips end over end and touches down, slapping the boy’s outstretched hands. The flames are tattered and clinging until they are circling him in a solid chain. They are circling faster and faster, licking and snapping, an orange wheel of ragged light.
The air around the boy goes liquid, a wavering film of heat. His blue eyes stare straight ahead, big and wide, into the dusk beyond the glassy melting street.