I was a few miles from the airport before I decided what to do about the car lot cashier. It took another ten minutes to decide to do it now, rather than risk not being able to locate her later. I went back. She was still there.
"Forget something?" she said. Her smile was a bit pinched, as if she had been startled smiling. As if to hide the ugly tooth. It was too far forward to hide.
"I want to give you my card. I'm a photographer. I'd like to photograph you."
She looked at the card. "I can't afford a professional photographer," she said politely.
"No cost. I want you to model for me."
Her station turned her so that her right side, the broken one, faced the window. She maintained a three-quarters profile by rotating the chair forty-five degrees, as if to lessen the effect of the tooth, the collapsed cheekbone. Her presentation asserted that the damaged side wasn't all of her. I wondered if I was imagining that self-consciousness. Perhaps I was. Now she turned her head and I saw, again, full-on, that her face was truly, dramatically asymmetrical, two incongruous halves. One of them, the unflawed, could be Eleanor's sister.
"Y'kiddin'," she said flatly. Not accusative or astonished, just an observation.
"No." There was a car behind me. A family, waiting patiently. "The phone number is my studio. Call me." As I started to pull away, I added, "Fifty bucks an hour. I'm serious."
If she hadn't called, I'm not sure I'd have tried to find her. I flew to Chicago twice more in the next two weeks, without seeing her on the return. I considered going back at the same day and time that I'd first seen her, Sunday at 8 pm. Then she called. Janet put her through after asking if I wanted to speak to her.
"This is Marie Anne Foligno," she said, as if it were a question. "You gave me a card. At the airport?" Each sentence ended with a upward, querulous lift. She waited, to see if I remembered, I think. She was testing me, making sure it wasn't a trick. I didn't recognize her voice on the phone, but there was no one else I'd given a card to at the airport.
"Great," I said. "I'm glad you called. When can you come in?"
"Look, Mr. Bosworth, if this is some kinda scam, you're wasting your time. I can't afford it, and— It's too much money."
"Miss Foligno, the deal is you model for me, and I pay you. No tricks."
"You're talking with clothes on?" Oddly, perversely I guess, I wondered if her body was damaged somehow as well.
"I shoot ads for magazines, family portraits. Come by; if you don't like what you see, forget it and no harm done. I'm not a pornographer."
"Yeah, but no 'art' either." She was silent. Then she said, "Why?"
"Interesting? Yeah, right! I never heard ugly called 'interesting' before."
"I'm not interested in ugly/not ugly." I considered leaving it at that, then I decided to give her the whole truth. "I deal in images; you are interesting because you have two faces, in a way. I want to try to isolate them one at a time. I want to explore the visual effect of that; photograph both of you, both sides. Your look dramatizes something that's true about everybody, the two faces. Nobody's face is really symmetrical. It's as if you were the opposite of twins. Not two people who look alike, but one person who's—"
"Ugly and not ugly. Weird," she added. There was a long silence. "How much do you pay?" she said. "Non-professionals, I mean."
"I start at fifty an hour."
She giggled. "That's a day's pay for an hour. Well, almost. What a deal." She paused again. "Daytime, at your studio, while that woman—your receptionist?—is there?"
"Of course. Actually, she's my assistant. Daytime, chaperoned. All above board. You'll see."
"Yeah, I know; you're a professional." There was no sarcasm in her tone. "I don't work Thursdays. Is that Ok?"
For a second I thought she meant she couldn't come on Thursday, tomorrow. "At the airport? If you could come in Thursday afternoon, that would be great. Two hours. And it won't feel like work at all. Really. Three o'clock?"
"Two hours, a hundred dollars. What a deal. I'll be there."
And she was. I had Janet get the releases signed, and she explained to Marie Anne that her makeup would have to go. She had "done herself up" well enough-the predictable response to being photographed, even for men. But Janet knew I wanted skin and bones, not pancake and mascara. Janet is great at putting people at ease. She has reserves of diplomacy I envy, and I pay her to employ them. I am cold and I talk too much: Janet's characterization. With Marie Anne, she was careful not to criticize or correct. They came in together, chatting about the movie across the street.
For that first shoot, I concentrated on separating the faces. The right side was, harsh as the word sounds, a mess. One tooth—not even a canine, but a lumpish premolar like a hard candy-was extravagantly out of alignment, as if it had been laid on the gum as an afterthought. It bulged under her upper lip, twisting her mouth visibly the way a wad of gum would. The protuberance was accentuated by some failure of the cheekbone above it. The cheek was slightly collapsed, as if bone were missing. There were no scars, or I'd have guessed she'd been in some sort of accident. Nothing wrong with her nose, or her right eye, aside from the difference in shape caused by the asymmetry of the planes of her cheeks. Studying her face, I thought of it, the damaged right side, as Eleanor's face after a dreadful accident. Marie Anne's eyes were darker, more green than blue, the green of standing water, and the right eye was pinched at the outer corner, I realized as I looked more carefully, giving it almost a squinting quality
I circled her, studying he. She blushed a bit under my scrutiny.
"Don't let it bother you, Ok? I'm just getting ideas, what to do."
"I'm looking for something. Give me a minute." She glanced at Janet for reassurance. I turned her head, getting a three-quarters profile, then a bit less, then tipping her head a bit away from me. "There. Don't move." I moved back to the camera. "Don't move; look at the camera—" She started to turn, and I snapped, "Don't move." Janet hissed disapproval. "Sorry," I said, addressing them both. "Just look without moving."
I captured the sidelong look, then again, moving a bit to her right, and again, slowly excising the left side of her face from the image.
"Don't let him fluster you, Marie Anne. He's all bark." Janet stepped in to push a curl of hair off Marie Anne's forehead. "But don't nod," she added, looking melodramatically toward me, "or he'll fire us both!" Marie Anne glanced at Janet again and flashed a quick smile that exposed the tooth for an instant.
A good shoot is a ballet. I play music on a multiple-disc CD, randomizing the kinds: bluegrass, rock, jazz, ethnic things with unambiguous peasant rhythms. Music that encourages movement, gets into your feet. I move constantly, looking for opportunities, images, accidents of light. It's a cliché of an old film; it works.
Janet slips in like a Bunraku puppeteer—to adjust a drape, a sleeve, a vagrant curl of hair, to push gently on a bone to move an arm, the chin. She moves reacting to gestures she's learned to read minimal instructions, sometimes simply anticipating what I want. We're a great team—Rogers and Astaire.
"There, sweetie," she murmured as she lifted Marie Anne's chin with a fingertip. "There. And smile, just a little. Not a grin, just a good feeling smile. Relax," she prattled quietly, layering the scarves and quilts of her own calm over Marie Anne's nervousness. Janet had been a model when she was younger and still, now, when the shoot called for someone her age—or rather, the ten years younger she looked.. She was too shapely and feminine for today's photographic ideals, the Dachau clichés of film fashion. But she was lovely in her way, aging well, like Sophia Loren or Julie London.
"Say 'melody'," she told Marie Anne. As she repeated the word, I got two more frames. Watching through the viewfinder, I said, "Talk to the light, that one, behind me."
"The light?" She grinned. "Hey, light. What's happenin'?" She shot a glance at me, not moving her head, then looked back at the light, a spot off to my left. "You're not much of a conversationalist."
"Sorry. I'm thinking," I said without looking up.
"Not you. The light,"
I smiled and looked at her over the viewfinder, my smile becoming a grin and her face filling with confidence. Janet laughed. "Not too bright," she muttered, and she and Marie Anne broke up. I mimed exasperation while they regained their composure.
I shot a roll of film, popped it, rearranged the lights, changing the shadows, adding another key, and shot a second roll. Then I did the other side, bracketing shots in harsh, unfiltered spots. I had three rolls of film, and we were done.
"That's enough for now." It was 4:30. "Janet leaves at five. Come back next week?"
"Do I get to see them?"
"If you want to. They'll be ready. Janet has your check."
"That was only an hour and a half."
"It's Ok. Come back next week. Thursday."
"Free money." She looked for a reaction. I had put the camera away, and I was taking down a couple of the lights. "I don't mean to sound so ... harsh. This is weird."
"You get used to it. It's just bodies, sometimes just shapes."
"Yeah. Well." She shrugged, got up from the posing stool. "I'll see you next week, huh?"
Her attitude was transformed when she saw the results, the next Thursday.
She separated the pictures, almost unconsciously sorting them, into left side and right side."She's beautiful," she said, looking through the pile of pictures of her unmarred left side. She was right about the isolations; they were perfect. She didn't comment on the others; I'm not sure she saw what I had done there. Before Marie Anne arrived, Janet had chosen a few of her favorites; one was of the right side, a stark monochrome, almost a surreal landscape. She commented that they were exhibition quality. Possibly, I agreed.
Marie Anne had bought a new blouse for the second shoot. She had a good sense of color, although her tastes were a bit more florid than I would have liked. The blouse was acrylic, a gaudy South Seas print, greens and yellows and too much blue. Janet made a fuss over it, admiring the colors. I got a kimono from the costume rack and draped that over her shoulder, arranging the folds, covering the blouse. Some of the colors were similar, and the fabric was a silk similar to the acrylic of the blouse. But the kimono's base color was dark indigo, a rich, deep purple that worked with some of the blue in the blouse. Eleanor had left the kimono behind, with other gifts. I used it as a prop sometimes, memento mori.
"It's gorgeous," Marie Anne sighed, stroking the fabric. Janet moved it a bit higher on her neck.
"It looks great on you," Janet said. "And it goes with the blouse!" she added, as if this were a discovery. The colors did complement each other, but the patterns conflicted, making too much visual business.
"Picks up your skin tones," I said, returning to the camera. I studied the effect. I was referring to the kimono. The browns and reds it added to the kaleidoscope accentuated her natural colors just as the greens and some of the blues of the blouse contrasted with them. Her hair was nearly the same color as her deeply tanned skin—dark blonde oak, nearly the color of deerskin. There were lines in the kimono, like bamboo canes, almost the same dark blonde.
"No, it doesn't work," I muttered after examining the effect from outside the battery of lights. I adjusted the kimono again, then began to take pictures. I was not satisfied. My body language communicated my discomfort, even frustration perhaps. I circled her, rejecting setup after setup, stopping short of snapping shot after shot. After a few minutes she said, "Maybe I could try it on." She glanced at the dressing room.
"That might work," I said. Janet walked with her to the booth, talking in an undertone, then waited for her.
Without the blouse under it, the kimono hung more naturally. Its lines were smooth and liquid where before they'd had a plastic, almost frozen quality. Marie Anne was shy at first, as if conscious of being less dressed than she was used to in what was, for her, a public rather than a private place. Janet jollied her into a more comfortable frame of mind while I worked the camera. I finished a roll. I reloaded the camera, taking my time, while Marie Anne and Janet browsed in the rack, gossiping and exclaiming over the costumes. They found a white poet's shirt, huge, with balloon sleeves, a remnant of my college days. She was small, maybe five and an inch, and it would be big as a tent on her. "Try it," I said, snapping the camera shut. I had photographed Eleanor in it and nothing else, one weekend at Moab. A shot from that series had won me a second at the State Fair.
She and Janet retired to the dressing room. When she came back, the blouse hung to her knees. Janet had snugged the sleeves at the wrist and forearm with rubber bands. Still, they nearly covered her hands. We worked on poses, angles, until a few minutes to five.
After she left, Janet came back into the studio and helped me pick up. "She thinks it was a birth injury," she said.
"She told you that?"
"Uh-hunh. While she was changing"
"You mean, like a forceps thing?"
"She's vague. It's what her mother told her. I don't see how it could be though. Did you notice her hand? Her nails are really short on her right hand, and her pinkie barely has a tip. I don't see how a birth injury could do that. And one—"
I waited. "What?"
"Girl stuff. Never mind, Ok?"
We shut down the shop and left together. Janet drives a Porsche. Her husband, Roger, sells stocks. She taught me to say "stocks," not
"stock," and thus avoid embarrassing myself on the rare occasions when I encounter him. I don't know what she sees in him, but it's the least of life's mysteries. I went home.
My pictures of Eleanor are all gone. I burned everything I could find, everything in the house, the night she told me she was leaving. While she slept inside, I sat in the back yard under the moon, surrounded by roses we had chosen together. I chain smoked good cigars, Churchills from Santo Domingo, and burned all of them, every photograph, dozens—my own, others she'd had made for me, others she'd found and given me, any that we would agree were mine rather than hers—for remembrance. I burned them in the barbecue grill. I didn't sleep. She asked me, next morning, what I had been burning, and I told her. She packed and moved out that weekend. Not because of the pictures; she didn't seem to think anything of that. We slept together till the end, after the first night, not even avoiding each other in bed. Then she was gone. Ghost images of a gone time. Negatives I had no more use for, but couldn't discard. And this woman, this woman so utterly unlike and yet a twin. Half a twin.
Marie Anne was shorter than Eleanor, an inch or more. It was not noticeable unless I was standing in front of her, face-to-face. Then I was aware that her eyes, greener than Eleanor's, were lower than I had been accustomed to. The angle of eye contact, standing close, was quite different. Like having someone put a mat at the bottom of your steps and your foot hits solid an inch sooner than you expect. They were about the same proportions, otherwise—frame, carriage, measurements. Stand her at ease, facing right, and the illusion was uncanny. Janet never mentioned it, but it was there.
"It looks silly with jeans," Marie Anne said of the blouse, the next week. "I should've worn tights." She had put the white shirt on immediately when she arrived, going to it as if it were the whole point of the shoot. She'd shown up in jeans, a T-shirt and running shoes, a purse big as luggage on one shoulder. The poet's shirt was a pullover with a drawstring front. On her it was open to the sternum, inches below the points of her breasts. She had left the ties loose; the T-shirt was gone, of course. She was right about the jeans. When I made no comment, she went back to the dressing room, returned without the jeans, barefoot. "Ok?" she asked, and I nodded. From the fall of the blouse, she was still wearing her bra. She had good legs, muscular and tan, nicely toned, like her arms.
"You work out. Aerobics?"
"Some. But I ride my bicycle a lot," she said, watching us arrange the lights. Janet went to her desk out front and came back with a handful of ribbons. She and Marie Anne consulted, tying points on the sleeves: the wrist, above and below the elbow, adjusting the balloons that resulted. The shirt was more than big enough to allow it, and the effect, finally, was delicately anachronistic, a bit of Elizabethan androgyny. With her hair up, she could have been a soft boy.
We spent an hour working with the shirt. Later, during a break, she browsed through some pictures I'd shot for a spread in Utah Holiday. I went to the darkroom, giving her a chance to relax. Janet had returned to the front desk. She must have come back while I was working with the negatives. After a few minutes, I heard Marie Anne exclaim, "This is you!" and Janet answered "Yes."
The darkroom is opaqued, but not insulated. Their voices were as if beside me.
"Did he take it?" Marie Anne said.
"Uh-hunh. Out by the lake. Phew! Dan'l, you're not going to need me late tonight, honey?"
"No," I answered over my shoulder, timing the last wash. "I'll just be a minute."
The phone rang. When I came out, Janet was gone again; I could hear her voice, a wordless melody, at the phone in front.
Marie Anne said, "Doesn't it bother your wife, you spending all this time with beautiful women?"
"I live alone," I said. She was holding a picture of a model in the same white poet's shirt. I had been using it for a prop for some time. She had not looked up when she asked her question, nor after; I took it that she was referring to Janet and the model, whose name I had forgotten, Melanie something. A long time ago. And other, anonymous women, women she imagined in her place. There had been something in her tone that did not include herself.
"You like the picture of Janet?" I said.
"You made her even more beautiful."
"Cameras bring out what's inside. They isolate things."
"Isolations," she said. She was holding the picture in her right hand. She twisted from the shoulder, her left shoulder, as if unconsciously prompted by the word. She raised her left arm like a tentative wing beating in slow motion, then let it float down. The motion was familiar, but I didn't place it then.
"They also lie, of course," I said."It's all in how you look at it. Some people would say I made her look younger and prettier. Maybe she was younger, in front of the camera."
"She's really pretty." Marie Anne was, at most, thirty. I wondered how old Janet seemed to her. Janet was not that much older than I was, little enough that for me the difference was an idea, not a fact. Roger was inching toward sixty, and not without a fight.
"Of course," I said. "But we usually don't look like our pictures. You have to wonder why that is. Maybe the camera sees what people can't see, or maybe it creates something that isn't there." I looked at the camera. It offered no explanations. I changed the lens. When the camera was loaded, I set it down on my desk. I went to the coffee table by the door. Janet was still on the phone, taking a long time with the conversation. I was closer to the front, but I still couldn't make out words. It didn't sound like a client call. I picked up a book on the couch and brought it to Marie Anne. I flipped quickly to the middle.
"That's Janet," I said, indicating a beach photo. "And this."
She studied the pictures. They were Brett Westons, a shot of Janet's back, another of her naked body on the Carmel Beach, as if asleep in the brilliant, slant light. They were more than twenty years old, those photographs, when she was a student at UC Santa Barbara.
Marie Anne sighed. "She's gorgeous."
"That's right. Maybe that's still in there, waiting for the right camera. Meantime, we should be so lucky, to get past forty looking that great."
"Annie," Janet cried from behind the drapes, "is he telling my secrets?" She stepped half through, her hand over the phone's mouthpiece. "Roger locked his keys in the car. He's having a pet on his cell. I gotta run. The poor baby, he's all hot. Can you shut up?"
"Yeah, sure. Just a minute," I said to Marie Anne, and I joined Janet out front, letting her out and locking up. When I came back, Marie Anne was standing by the couch, looking at the Westons.
"What do you want?" she said, without looking up. Then she did, look up that is; as if to see the effect of the question. We stood facing each other as if we had not been introduced and should have been.
"Surprise me," I said, returning to the camera.
"I can dance?" she said in that odd intonation that made her statements questions. When I did not reply, she added, "I took jazz in high school." It was nearly five.
"Like what?" I said. "Miles Davis? Cassandra Wilson? Kenny G?"
She looked over at the CD player. The music was Mediterranean, Albanian folk music, I think. Possibly Greek. Greek-sounding, anyway, a World Music grab bag CD. Harsh, heavy, something reedy droning in the background. She looked dubious, reluctant. I was not sure I could control the illusions while she was moving. She did not move like Eleanor. But I wasn't making movies, and it was a logical development, the next step.
"Next time," I said. "Bring some CDs of your own, something you like. Something you are comfortable with." I put a pile of clothing on the floor, sat her in it. I turned her and pulled her, posing her like a mannequin. Her arms were firm and muscular. Janet was right about her hand. I put it on her bare thigh, palm up. "Fist," I said.
She was beginning to understand how to strike and hold a pose. I took one ankle, stretched her leg to full extension, snapped a few frames, then pushed it back, so her knee rose. The blouse fell away along her upright flank, a line of green flashed, exposed at the top of her thigh.. She pushed the blouse down with one hand, so that it gathered between her legs and covered the exposed flank and bit of underwear again. Her skin was warm. It was early autumn, and the studio was warm from the lights. I put my fingertips on her left cheekbone, pushing as gently as a dancer's lead, and she tilted her head, watching me from the corner of her eye.
"I never..." she said, and left the thought incomplete.
"Never thought you'd be doing this?" I said as I stepped away.
She laughed. "Not that, but no." She was getting the hang of it. It took less adjusting to get only what I wanted the camera to see. But I wondered if I could do it with her moving. It would be a challenge.
She was late, the next week, and we shot for a half hour before she pulled a couple of CDs from her purse. I chose one to play. Her nerve escaped her, and she sat listening. Finally Janet began to dance, off camera, off to one side. Then she stepped forward and put out a hand to Marie Anne. "Come on!" They danced together, improvising. I stood aside, letting them play. They danced together, laughing like girls in a high school gym, spinning and tossing their hair, for ten minutes, two or three cuts of the CD, and then Janet danced away, so that they were separated by a few yards. Once, for a few measures, Marie Anne did a quick shimmy that Janet stopped to admire and awarded a "Wow!"
Marie Anne danced on, weaving patterns with her hands, and Janet accompanied her from off and to my left, and I began to take pictures. At first, I tried to get only what I wanted, the left profiles. It was futile. I decided to just shoot and cull from the negatives. Janet continued behind us and I circled Marie Anne, aware of the beat but focused on the viewfinder.
The CD ended and both women collapsed, simultaneously, as if they'd rehearsed it, gasping.
I draped Marie Anne in shawls, deep amethyst, red, and a sheer indigo printed with splotches of black. Her face was glittery; sweat beaded her upper lip. I got a towel from the dressing room and wiped it dry. She pulled the indigo shawl around her face, then peeked through, smiling shyly, her lower face masked by the transparent fabric. She was still breathing deeply. She glanced at Janet, moving just her eyes, then back at me. Her eyes betrayed a hidden smile.
I restarted the CD.
"Hold still," I said. I adjusted the lamps, bringing a flood in closer. I took the shawl away from her face, combed a curl away from her ear and shot from behind her, catching the curve of cheekbone, a bit of eyebrow. Then I put the dark shawl around her head again, the way she'd had it before, and walked away, ten feet, and turned. I sank to the floor, sitting cross-legged and facing her in her tumulus of fabrics. The shawl was silk, so light, nearly transparent, that it looked like a breeze would sweep it away. The white blouse was coarse linen, white as limestone.
"How about just the shawl?" I said.
"I don't want to," she said.
"Ok," I said. She wore a sober, considering look. I waited. "A deal's a deal," I said, and I put the camera to my eye. Janet was silent. Marie Anne looked at her.
"Don't do it if you don't want to," she said.
"All right," she said. But she meant she would. And then an odd modesty; she went to the dressing room to remove the blouse. She returned with the dark shawl wrapped around her like a mantilla. Janet was waiting when she came out, standing between us, as if to shield her if she changed her mind. She had put her jeans back on, but she was bare under the shawl. I let her choose her poses, keeping my distance, shooting only her upper body. She turned languidly, as if listening to the music in slow motion.
"Your back," I said, and she rotated, facing away from me. We'd been taking pictures for nearly a half hour. I suppose she was thinking of the Weston, Janet's wonderful terrain of muscle and spine. I restarted the CD and she let the shawl drop till it hung from one elbow, discovering a bit of the denim.
"Up an inch," I said.
Instead of rasing the drape of the shawl, she fumbled with the front of her jeans, unsnapped them, adjusted the zipper, and squirmed a bit to lower them, all without turning to face me. She settled on her heels again, her back to me still. Her back was bare to the dimpled triangle of her sacrum.
Her bare back was muscular and symmetrical, striped across the ribs, just below the shoulder blades with the white of an untanned bra line. Her hair touched her shoulders. I had her lift her hair with one hand and I shot her back like landscapes, asking for shifts of muscle and leverage with words, not touching her. She was practiced by then; she knew what my instructions meant. Janet stayed with us; she moved lights for me.
When I stopped shooting, Marie Anne rotated to face me, the shawl closed across her breasts. Her cheeks were flushed; she was breathing through her mouth. She raised one corner of the shawl, supporting it with her right forearm so that it hid her face like a little curtain. She made an odd sideways move with her neck, revealing the good half of her face, then concealing and revealing it again. Again her eye darted toward Janet. The bottom of the shawl draped itself across the small shelf of her breasts, covering all but the hint of cleavage. The rest of the fabric made a thin, opaque curtain clear to her belly button. She smiled at me with the exposed side of her face, watching me expectantly.
We were doing so well I took a chance. "A little more?" I said, and she looked uncertain what I meant. Janet stepped between us and whispered to her. Marie Anne nodded and looked over at the fabric bin. Janet handed her up and they walked over to rummage there. I went to my desk and switched cameras, then I came back and fiddled with lights, my back to the two of them. I heard Marie Anne say, "Ok," but softly enough that it must have been directed at Janet. When I turned to look, Marie Anne was settling to her knees again, Janet between her and me. She and Janet were adjusting a green shawl they had pulled from the bin. Janet stepped away. Marie Anne's left nipple and the globular pendant of the breast were exposed. Janet nodded and stepped back, like a pleased flower arranger. "Wow," she said. "Great!"
It was small, apple-round, her breast, with an aqueous sag to it. When she smiled at me, as I approached, it was shy, uncertain. I was struck at once, that it was unlike the casual nonchalance of Eleanor's tough, confident grin. It was not quite what I wanted, the picture she and Janet had come up with, but I raised the camera. The smile faded. "I could be a cat," she said suddenly.
"Sure," I said, snapping the next shot.
"I mean...." She sighed through her nose. Then she began to move in time with the music, swaying, her shoulders riding the undulations of her spine. I only took a few pictures; we were all getting tired, I think. Then we called it a day. She dropped the shawl into the pile, hitched up her jeans, and snatched her T-shirt from the table, headed for the dressing room.
While she was in the booth, Janet said under her voice, "I told her she looked nice. You could try it!"
There was a noise behind her, and Marie Anne emerged.
Janet said, "Well, this has been fun, guys, but I gotta get home and fix Roger his coq au vin and mashed potatoes, or he'll turn into a pumpkin. Next time, bring waltz music, huh, Annie? I'm too old to rock and roll." She limped out melodramatically, one hand on the small of her back, waggling fingers of the other over her shoulder as she departed. I wished her a hot bath, and turned to face Marie Anne. She had picked up her handbag, and we joined Janet in the lobby. Janet pushed the door open with her back and stepped outside. The front door closed with a last "Tah" addressed to Marie Anne. Marie Anne gave me a look, unreadable but not hostile, and passed me, heading for the door. I held it open.
"Wait," I said when she passed me. She stopped and turned to face me, her face opening in an expectant smile. "I'm sorry," I said.
"I took advantage of you there. We had an agreement."
"It's Ok," she said. "It's kind of fun. It's like pretending to be beautiful."
"If it makes any difference, it pays better. That's standard."
"Cool. I can use the money." It was a pat answer and somehow, for all its enthusiasm, insincere. I was puzzled. "The pictures are beautiful," I said. She looked wounded, and suddenly I realized what she had heard. I felt like shit. "I gotta go," she said, and she was gone. I stayed, printing some of the pictures. A few were close-ups. The camera sees things the eye doesn't see in the chaos of real time. I studied what I saw in her face—not the broken planes but the eyes, which seemed, in one or two images, to be looking through the camera. I was late going home.
It was going to be a busy weekend. I had an assignment to photograph the local belly dancing festival for Bonneville Scene. That Thursday would have been the first night, but I had intended to skip the first night, so I worked in the lab instead, skipping dinner as well. There would be the weekend for the festival, and Friday.
Friday evening I took a spare camera body in a rucksack for emergencies, along with a handful of backup lenses, and headed for Liberty Park. I preferred to work without the visible baggage of professional photography so that the pictures would be purged of the self-consciousness people feel when the camera seems to have some formal significance. I used my best zoom lens, powerful enough to get me in close from deep in the crowd. I would rely on fast film and available light in the early evening, and do most of my shooting during the day.
I had been photographing the event for about five years, since Eleanor turned me on to this hidden treasure of the valley, Salt Lake's annual flirtation with hedonism and sensuality. Eleanor had studied with Sulika Selim, a lanky, long-boned Dane from Manti with a degree in Dance from the U. I had taken a picture of Sulika a few years ago, here at the festival, that Eleanor had showed her, and Sulika had purchased it and hung it in her studio. Occasionally, dancers would ask me to capture their performances and then purchase a shot or two—not enough to pay for my time, but I went for fun anyway.
This was the first time I had come to the festival with a professional agenda, really. It made me abstracted, more apart from the carnival of sound and color than I was used to. The magazine wanted a mix of the most polished and accomplished dancers and gifted and enthusiastic amateurs. I came by at four on Friday, so I could do as much as possible with available light, and as a result found myself with a host of student dancers to choose from.
At six, Rahksima's Studio was represented by six students, all women in their twenties and thirties. Rahksima herself was a stunning grandmother, grey-haired, perhaps seventy, and supple as a child. She would be performing Saturday and I intended to have pictures of her. Friday evening her role was to organize and encourage her brave beginners who were, some of them, stepping onto the stage for the first time. She was in costume, but hovering in the background. Her students were always a pleasure to watch; they would perform again both Saturday and Sunday. I expected them to offer some good material.
The routine for a student class presentation is an ensemble performance followed by brief solos and capped with a second ensemble. With my chosen lens, a tele-zoom, I could choose to fill the frame with a single body in portrait from where I was, halfway back in the crowd. If I wanted tighter shots—faces, hands, details of costume—I would have to move much closer. I might do that for the pros. For students, it was usually overkill.
The great thing about belly dancing is that the beauty is in the motion, so the plainest woman, even a woman who is overweight and physically unattractive, can be beautiful while she is dancing. There are ideal body types, and individual favorites, but there is nothing that doesn't work—not age, shape, even character—given skill and enthusiasm. Of the six women in the class group, one was significantly overweight. She wore a transparent veil that covered her waistless midriff. She was a practiced amateur; a woman I remembered from last year. She did handwork for her solo, graceful weavings like the liquid movement of snakes or water plants. She always seemed utterly at ease, and I tried to capture that self-confidence on film.
The others were not memorable. Except for the fourth soloist, a mousy woman who had been almost invisible during the ensemble performance. She was clearly a beginner, her movements more enthusiastic than precise. I expected a perfunctory solo from her, something simple and unchallenging. Then when she stepped forward and struck a pose, and her music began, she shifted her head sideways in a way that seemed almost impossible. I was startled. The neck doesn't work that way, I always found myself thinking when I saw that subtle move performed.
Her solo was almost Balinese. The movements would have been called contortions had they not looked so effortless. She chose a staccato delivery style that left her stopped on every other strong beat, like a dancer captured in a strobe light. It was disorienting and a bit too dramatic, but impressive and individual. It took me a few shots before I was able to get my own rhythm synchronized with hers. Then it was as if we were dancing together. She would stop, executing what could only be called a retard, and my finger triggered the shutter at the same instant. Her technique was not polished, but she had a talent for what she was doing that Rahksima, I was sure, would hone quickly to something fine.
Beginners' costumes usually have a makeshift quality. A good costume represents great expense in either money, time, or both. These six women were typical in that respect. The most striking appearance of the six was the larger woman, with her volume of muting draperies, but this woman's costume was original and eccentric, even in the fantasy context common at the festival. She had pursued a Gypsy theme, improvising colors and fabrics, rather than trying for a coherent Middle Eastern look, and a fall of long black hair down her back gave the Gypsy look authenticity. She wore bracelets, ribbons, and sashes in odd places: a bright red ribbon around one biceps, a black one confining a heavy pantaloon above the knee—as if her inspiration were the symbolic language of the Tarot. Aside from the standard two-piece foundation, which could have been a discount store bikini, the costume seemed assembled rather than put on. It left nothing bare, but flashes and glimpses of skin peeped through with each shift of weight or pose.
One long veil ran from a ring on her upper arm, caught in the red ribbon, across her torso front and down, secured to the knee on the opposite side. Its mate on the other arm was the same length, but attached to shoulder and wrist, with half of it trailing loose, streaming behind as she moved. A drape from her turban fell to her cheekbone and then, attached somehow to a wire thing like a cross between a tiara and an ineffectual birdcage, the veil crossed her nose and fell, framing the eye and leaving her other cheek bare but her mouth hidden.
Less than a minute into her solo, I finally realized who it was. I zoomed in to full magnification, and I recognized her. I grinned and snapped the shutter. Marie Anne had a hobby she hadn't mentioned.
Rahksima's Studio had a second performance scheduled for late Saturday evening, too late for pictures. I watched, but without my camera. They were also up on Sunday afternoon, fortunately. I made a point of being there and I was prepared when "Marisa" stepped forward to repeat her Balinese solo, which I was now familiar with. The costume was different, but only in minor details—the colors of the shawls, a few pieces of jewelry.
As soon as I arrived at the studio Monday, I developed the pictures and showed a few blow-ups to Janet. She laughed, as I had. We waited for Thursday like kids planning a surprise party.
Marie Anne was late. "I got stuck in traffic," she said before I asked. She was wearing a casual dress and nylons.
"Would you like to do some commercial shots?" I said. "I need a couple of things for a Nordstrom's ad. I think you'd be fine." I expected refusal, reluctance, but she nodded agreement, not even pausing for a "Me?" She took the dresses away, returned in one, and posed, in one and then the next, for nearly an hour. She was practiced enough to work efficiently, inexperienced enough to give me the realistic, unprofessional look I wanted without having to fabricate it. And she trusted me to leave the disfigured side of her face out of the image. Janet was busy and we worked alone. When it was time for a break, I casually laid some of the 8x10's from the festival on the table, along with the best of our last shoot, while Marie Anne got a drink from the fridge. She sat down in front of the pictures. I pretended to ignore her.
When she picked them up, she shuffled through them slowly and said, about half way through, "Oh my gawd...."
"What?" I said. I had selected about a dozen festival pictures. Half I chose for quality; the other half were the best shots I had taken of her. Not to say some of the latter didn't qualify for the first category. There were two that I had stared at for a long time. The angle, the light, the way she stood: If I hadn't taken the picture myself, and known the truth, I would have thought it was Eleanor. That false identification both thrilled me and sickened me at the same time. Marie Anne spread all the pictures out on the table.
"You were at the festival," she said without looking up.
"Assignment for Bonneville Scene."
"Which one are they going to use?" There were more than a dozen pictures; she was sorting through them like they were huge playing cards.
"It's a feature. They might use four or five. I'll give them ten or fifteen to choose from—not just those. We negotiate, maybe they realize they want something else that I have. Like that," I said, shrugging.
One of the best shots of her Sunday afternoon solo had shuffled its way to the top. She paused over it, then put it down with a kind of deliberate casualness.
"Rahksima is a great teacher," I said.
She nodded, as if half listening as she examined a picture of another dancer, and then a third. The next picture after that was her again, from Friday night, in a slightly different costume.
"Interesting style," I said.
"You know this is me," she said. It was a question.
Our eyes met. I smiled, but she glanced away at once, as if she had been tricked into looking.
"That was a surprise," I said. "You ready?" We had one more dress to do. We accessorized the last dress, a deep maroon Laura Ashley, with a string of faux pearls. I pulled four more strands from the prop box. I put them around her neck, looping one twice around, half as a joke. She touched the pearls.
"I wish they were real," she murmured, running her hand across them. I stood in front of her, and her eyes met mine. There was nothing sidelong in this look. One eye smaller, slightly lower in her face, her tentative smile with lips closed, not exposing the terrible teeth. She was nakedly herself for that moment, in the Ashley, the nylons, pumps, the fake pearls. The long moment was there and gone.
The last dress took a half hour. Janet came in at one point, saw the pictures, and beamed. "Hey, Annie, you're a star!" she said. She walked up to Marie Anne and they high-fived, then Janet stepped forward and aside and bumped hips with her. It was so outrageous we all were stunned for a moment, then the two women saw my expression and burst out laughing.
Another ten minutes and we were done for the day. Janet was back at her desk, closing up. We could hear her moving beyond the door. "Now what?" Marie Anne said, standing in front of the grey dropcloth, still wearing the maroon Ashley. "What do you want?"
I thought about those two pictures, the ones where Eleanor's face, her body, her very person stood there. "I'd like to photograph you doing your solo, and some other moves, in costume. I've never done studio work with the dancers. I'd like to see what I can get. I might even end up with something Bonneville could use."
"I'm just a beginner," she said dubiously.
"That would show up in videos, but not so much in stills. I suppose a real pro, like your teacher, would see faults in the pictures, but that's Ok. And maybe I'll ask Rahksima to let me do a studio shoot as well, of a class, if things get that promising. You and I have a rapport, and the first attempts would just be experiments. I'll pay you seventy-five, because it's more than just 'off the street' posing."
"Big bucks," she said. "Ok." She was studying my face, as if looking for something else.
I nodded and she changed and left. She did not ask, "Why do you want to do this?" I was grateful. I didn't want to answer that question.
When I arrived at the studio the next Thursday morning, Janet was on the phone. She said, as I opened the front door, "I'll call you back, sweet pea. Give me a number, Ok?"
I didn't ask. When she hung up the phone, she said, "That was Marie Anne. She wanted advice."
"And you told her...?"
"Girl stuff," Janet said, in a tone that ended the conversation.
Marie Ann arrived that afternoon with a lightweight hanging bag. She had brought three costumes and a handful of CDs. She dressed hurriedly, and Janet joined us when her music began.
"Don't expect a lot," she said self-consciously, speaking to me but with a sidelong dart of smile aimed at Janet.
"Walk like un Ee-gyp-ton," Janet sang. Marie Anne struck a cartoonish pose at once and the ice was broken by their laughter.
"Can I use my zills?" she asked me. "They won't be distracting?"
"Fine. They're part of the music."
There was a certain tentativeness in the routine at first, but she soon fell into the spirit of the dance. I watched; Janet watched. Marie Anne stopped abruptly after a couple of minutes. "What's wrong?" she said.
"You aren't taking pictures. Did you change—"
"The first one's free," I said. She didn't understand. "Do the routine once to get comfortable, Ok? Then we'll start shooting."
She glanced at the CD player apprehensively.
"Why don't you start over?" Janet said, heading over to restart the music. "Hey, it's his nickel. If he just wants to enjoy the show, that's his nevermind, huh?" She cued up the music. "You ready, hon?"
Marie Anne nodded, and she began again, more confidently this time. In a minute or so, I started taking shots. Janet clapped time behind me as Marie Anne executed her angular, staccato routine. She had dressed in mainly green and black, her hair bound in a dark scarf the color of shade under a pine tree. As I shot the whirling colors, the monochrome effect of the costume gave me an idea. I stepped over to Janet, asked her to gather up all the purple draperies in the costumes. She nodded, and I shot a few more pictures as the dance came to an end.
"I hope it's not distracting," Janet said, "us puttering around like we aren't paying attention."
"It's like class," she said. She ran a bare arm across her forehead. "I understand."
"Can we make some changes to your costume?"I asked. "I'd like to get rid of all the colors except purple. Lots of different violets. But no green, no yellows. Black and purple."
She gave me a long, penetrating look, then looked at Janet standing off to one side with a handful of scarves and shawls. "You da boss, man," Marie Anne said, more to Janet than to me, and she popped the knots on a light green shawl attached to one sleeve, pulled a scarf from her bikini and another, the yellow of ripening lemons, loose from the bra. She threw the yellow one into the air dramatically, saying, "One," and then a green one toward the couch. "Two"; and then the other: "Three." Janet waited to hand her replacements. "Oh this one," Marie Anne said, lifting the turban's dark green drape. "Four!" She pulled it loose and tossed it to Janet, who handed her a long indigo scarf which she tucked immediately into the biceps ring.
They fussed over the costume then, adjusting this, shifting that, exchanging a square of electric green crepe for a long piece of satin fabric the color of eggplant. The bikini base was black. "Can I keep my red one?" she said, her tone almost ironic, a bit challenging. I nodded.
When they were done, she looked like a Gypsy witch. "Silver," I said. "It needs silver."
Janet found a rope of metallic cord. She stood studying Marie Anne. Marie Anne said, "Here," took the length of silver rope and wrapped it around her waist, up over a shoulder, twice around an arm and twice through the biceps ring. Finished, she struck a pose, one hand raised, one foot on toe, her face expressionless.
"Perfect," Janet said.
"Ok" I said, "Let's try again."
"With film in the camera," Janet muttered. She and Marie Anne exchanged a private smile, and she started the music again.
She danced more effortlessly the second time. Where Eleanor's dances had been all suppleness and snake-spined twists and turns, Marie Anne moved at times like a two-dimensional puppet, a break dancer, a badly spliced film. The effect was to distance her from Eleanor, but it was not graceless, not without charm and grace. It was unpolished, but it had snap and vitality. After we had played the music three times, Janet went back to the front desk. A half hour later she looked in, waved good-bye, and left.
We broke after an hour, as usual, and I went to the darkroom, developing film while we took a break. Marie Anne left her music going, and I could hear the zills jingling. She danced through the break. At one point, I opened the door to see. She was doing slow, graceful movements, like swimming or an elegant bird, a heron, stroking the air in flight. She had added a long satiny drape of black to one hip and it swayed as she moved. There was an abstracted quality to the movement, and her head was bent toward the floor. Her body rotated slowly on the axis of her spine, as if she was on a turntable that rolled slowly clockwise then hesitated and reversed. I watched for thirty seconds or so, perhaps a minute. Eventually the movement turned her completely. She saw me and was startled. She looked apologetic.
"Nice," I said, and I closed the door.
She seemed thoughtful when I emerged a few minutes later, ready to begin again. She said, "Wait," and went to rummage in the fabrics. She came back with a big black chiffon scarf and took a position in the lights. "Ok," she said, and I started the music.
When I returned from the player, she had the scarf tented on her head and she was tying a piece of the silver cord around her temples to hold it in place. It was big, the scarf; she is small. It covered her nearly to the elbows, the ends of the cord dropping in a line along the almost invisible cheek. The effect was ghostly but appealing. She began moving slowly, attending to half the beats of the music. First her arms, rising as if they were slowly filling with helium. Then a shift of weight with no change in her legs or feet, her head disturbing the black tent as she looked left, tracking slowly. With only the slightest movement of her feet, she turned her whole body ninety degrees. I had seen a professional dancer do this once, Tajlah, and her feet had not seemed to move at all. Marie Anne hadn't quite mastered the move, but it was dramatic, nonetheless. She thrust a hip forward on a downbeat and began to move more freely, shaking and spinning.
A good shoot is a duet where two people dance together without touching. The model moves independently, but she reads the photographer's cues and leads, his appreciation, and she responds. He anticipates her motion, keeping a bit ahead of her, shifting and focusing to make the most of what she offers. I had reached that kind of balance with Marie Anne before, but I think this was the first time she really got into the partnership that the shoot can become.
For half an hour she danced this slow dance for me and I filled two rolls of film. She did floor work, playing with the scarves. She had good muscle control, and I captured the geometries she offered. She slipped the black satin scarf from her belt and drew it across her body while she lay flat on her heels, and she left it behind when she rose to her knees. She stood with a spinning, corkscrew movement, first one foot under her, then both, and each hand had captured and disengaged another of the draping shawls from her belt. She danced with these two veils, sweeping them through the air around her, and let one, then the other go. While she moved sideways, moving left in tiny stepping motions, she put a palm on her ribs and stroked upward till her fingers touched the edge of the bra, one fingertip slipping under the bit of fabric between her breasts. And then the music ended, and she was still. She stood there, anonymous, faceless in the black burnoose, bits of her costume scattered around. I was sitting on the floor when she stopped; I had been shooting up at her to dramatize raised hands. I could see her chest heaving above the bra, a washboard slope dramatized by the shadow the black gauze cast on her skin.
She was standing at ease, her hands relaxed at her sides, the black gauze disturbed—in, out—by her deep breathing. I put the camera down and stood up. I stood in front of her, and we stared at each other through the gauze. I could see the glitter of her eyes, a challenging, breathless look. I lifted the gauze away with both hands, one on each side of her face. There is a look in a woman's face when she intends to be kissed. I had forgotten it. I had not seen it in those last ashen months with Eleanor, and I had forgotten about it. I could not describe it to you, any more than I can capture in words the smoke I can bring to life on film. It is unmistakable, that look, and I kissed her mouth. She did not move, not so much as raising a hand, but she kissed me back, opening beneath my mouth—not eagerly, more as if her face were relaxing as she drifted into sleep. It was not passive, the kiss; it was as if she retreated from the kiss and took it—the kiss, me—with her, pulling me in the way she pulled breath into her chest.
I put a hand on her hip. Her bare skin was hot and damp. Her upper lip was wet, beaded with sweat. I tasted salt at the corner of her mouth. Still, she did not move. We ended the kiss, our faces close but apart enough to meet each other's eyes.
"Did you kiss me?" she said. For a moment, I misunderstood. Then understanding was naked in my eyes, and embarrassment, and she turned away, pulling the headpiece off from the back as she turned and, in the same motion, tossing it toward the fabric bin. "I better get going," she said tonelessly, looking around to gather up things. She bent to retrieve one of the discarded scarves, then another. I put the camera on my desk. I stared at the camera, then at a lens I had put there earlier, and my calendar. I could hear her moving behind me.
I returned to her. She heard me coming and faced me again, a question in her face, but not the one she had asked before. I put an arm around her strong, naked waist and stepped into an embrace she neither welcomed nor returned. I kissed her again, on the mouth, on the lump like candy that raised her upper lip, then on the fallen cheekbone. She closed her eyes when my mouth touched her the second time, and a sigh escaped from her open mouth when I moved away from it to kiss her cheek. Still, she did not move.
"That's not me either," she whispered. "But you're sweet." She added, as an afterthought, "I should go."
"Stay. Annie, stay," I said. And she did.
She stepped back and she stripped in front of me, not provocatively but as if she were alone, preparing for a shower, except to cast a quick appraising glance at my face while carefully putting down the bra. Then she was naked, except for her bikini bottom, and I saw for the first time that her breasts were off balance, one slightly higher and smaller.
She looked at sea for a moment, then, as if resigned to the gracelessness of it, she hooked her thumbs in the bikini bottom and pushed and stepped out of it. Her mons was a dark triangle below the pale, never tanned, white of her loins. Pearls were more pink than that skin. Her thighs were slightly indented at the hip socket, her waist on a shelf of hipbone, her ribs a scallop above her belly.
"What do you want?" she said when she was naked.
I didn't know what to say. She waited.
"What is your favorite color, Annie?" I said.
"Green," she said, as if prepared for the question. I pulled a green drape, almost yellow, really, from the bin and took her hand, leading her back to the lights. I sat her down. She let me guide her hands, her legs. I stroked her back with the brass-green fabric, wrapping it around her, draping it along the slope of her thighs. I went back to the fabrics and found darker greens, draped one on her shoulder, another around her neck, and she moved them like towels on her skin when I picked up the camera. After a few shots, she relaxed and I captured the nude geometries of her body. She moved, relishing the heavy drape, a cool, velvety fabric like a stage curtain, rubbing it and moving it like fur on her naked skin. She lay back after a while and drew a dark green satin up her flank, across her chest, around her face, the lighter green, the brassy drape, was a length of rumpled blanket that hid one side of her body, flowing from her shoulder down and over loins and legs to cover both her feet.
She was clutching one edge in her other hand, and her eyes were almost closed. She released the satin. Leaving her hand over her head. The scarf puddled beside her hair. She lifted the blanket away and we made love on the floor, naked under the hot lights.
"I don't care," she said afterwards, breathing the words in my ear. "I will later, sometime. I know. But not now. I don't care."
"Annie," I said.
She did not speak. I kissed her cheek, the right cheek with its strange bones. Then I kissed the other cheek, near the edge of her eye, where a tear would be, if there had been a tear. There was no tear. I thought how silly it must have seemed, that odd continental gesture. "Annie," I said again.
"Yes," she said.
"I'm sorry," I said. She kissed my ear. I could feel her smile move against my cheek.
"I don't care," she said once more.