There was something disorientating about that room. Partly it was the punctuated darkness. Every now and then someone would come in and switch on a light, and Imogen, without pausing in her conversation, would get up and switch it off again. No one ever objected to this, or even seemed to notice it. Imogen must have seen me looking at her quizzically over the macrobiotic book, though, because after the third or fourth time this had happened, she said, 'I hate artificial light.'
The only permanent artificial light in the room came from the television, which was a very small black-and-white one, with a picture so fuzzy that when I turned round from the dining table to look at it, I couldn't tell what was on: people-shaped blurs roared across the screen from time-to-time, the noise of electrical fuzz almost completely drowning out whatever they had to say. There was a plain white candle guttering in a saucer on the table, and another one resting precariously on one of the convex arms of the sofa. And everyone in the room, apart from me, was smoking. Just as she did in the Shakespeare's Head, Imogen rolled cigarettes all the time, and handed them out without comment. She never offered me one, so I supposed she had noticed I didn't smoke.
'It seems inconsistent,' I said.
'Smoking. When you go in for all this healthy eating.'
'I don't go in for healthy eating. What an expression! I couldn't give a toss about healthy eating. Anyway, cigarettes are vegetarian. Read your book, Daniel.'
It wasn't easy to make out the words in the variable light, grey from the television, yellow from the candles, reddish from the cigarettes. The author was an American journalist who suffered from agonies from piles until he discovered the macrobiotic diet, which involved eating nothing but unpolished grains. Even vegetables, it turned out, were a trap; when a hostess gave him some rice with a tomato and lemon sauce it caused days of bleeding. Finding the details a bit offputting (I was still trying to eat my bulgur wheat, which had gone cold by now), I turned a few pages, and started reading about President Kennedy's eyes.
Imogen was reading over my shoulder. 'Did you know that about JFK's eyes? Look at that picture. It's a really clear case.'
I looked at the suited figure, his short, parted hair, the classic symmetrical face gone slightly pudgy with middle age, and noticed, for the first time a crescent of white under each pupil. Now she drew my attention to it, I could see that it was quite unattractive, almost as if the eyes were upside-down. The book called it sanpaku.
'See, Daniel, that's what you get from eating red meat and processed food. Or both at once in your case. Corned beef, whatever that is. It probably means they put some kind of processed wheat or maize flour in it. And sooner or later it will kill you, like it did with JFK.'
I was half-way through my second glass of Piat d'Or by now, but felt drunk from all the shifting lights and people. 'Hang on, Imogen. He was shot, wasn't he?'
'Well, of course he was shot, Daniel. But would he have been, if his diet had been better? That's what we have to ask. Turn round, let me look at your eyes. I think you're a bit sanpaku yourself. Have you looked at your eyes lately?'
'I see my eyes a lot,' I said. 'My room is almost all mirror. I've never noticed anything much wrong with my eyes.' As soon as she said it, I had a feeling there was something wrong with my eyes after all. The fact was that I found my dressing-table mirror disconcerting and avoided looking in it as much as possible. 'But I still don't get it about JFK. How did having the wrong kind of eyes lead to him getting shot?'
'It's all in the book, Daniel. Read the book.' But seeing I had put it down when she started staring into my eyes, she carried on, 'I don't know, I can't remember the details. But it was the sixties, in America, and he was probably eating all sorts of hamburgers and hot dogs and T-bone steaks like they did then, and his whole metabolism was fouled up with them. It's pretty certain he would have died of cancer anyway if he hadn't been shot. And then when he was shot there was, what was it? Eight seconds or something between the first bullet and the second. If his system hadn't been so sluggish with the cancer and the hamburgers, he would have reacted in time and got out of the way.'
'I think it's the angle of the photograph,' I said. 'Probably everyone has sanpaku eyes if you look at them from a certain angle. I mean, you're smaller than me, so you look up to me.'
'I don't,' she said quickly, and we both laughed. I would definitely look at my eyes in the dressing-table mirror when I got back to the Squirrels.