“The Damaged Map of His Face (A story about Diane Arbus)” by Terri Brown-Davidson
Before she discovered the girls, she discovered Redfern. She was living alone
in her tiny Manhattan apartment with its beige bland walls and the penis prints
she’d hung in the living room because she loved their shapes, so festive and yet
sad, like mushroom tops sprouting pale out of the dark clotted earth, and she
looked at them and hungered for Robert.
Sometimes she hung up the vagina photos she’d snapped of herself, calling
them “Self-Portraits” because the thought amused her and because frequently
she believed that was her essence, that whorled crimson intricacy that had
produced her single child, Doon.
But mostly, female genitalia scared her.
The vagina, the vulva, as complex yet blank as the dirt-rubbed faces of bums
she coaxed to pose in the subway, urging them to peer toward the lens and yet
deflecting their constant and immoderate tears, their sudden, babbled cries, for a
neutrality that spoke to some calm place inside.
She was drinking a chilled beer straight from the can, a fleece throw of
wide-antlered Canadian moose spread across her jeaned legs, when she heard
the tiny voice inside her, the Ed Sullivan show on black-and-white TV, a slim,
dark-haired woman, her name, “Beverly Jackson,” scrolling across the screen
bottom as she danced on arched legs in a long, foaming froth of blue polyester,
And then she heard the voice again.
A little louder.
A little more strident.
Diane tossed the throw onto her carpet, stood up.
She couldn’t make out words, exactly, just the emotional urgency behind
whatever whispered message was drifting up through her nervous system. She
was depressed, she knew–many doctors had confirmed this–but not crazy.
The voice meant she was an artist.
The voice meant it was time to seek a new subject.
She swallowed more beer. It wouldn’t hurt to arrive at her new destination a
little drunk, she decided.
She pulled a map out of her bottom drawer, traced the intricacy of lines with
one finger. Three hours, she figured. It would take her around three hours to
drive there in her truck, and then it would be after 10, and everybody would be
asleep. So why did she have to go there now? Her mouth tasted like flat, stale
beer. Hamm’s. She went into the bathroom, scrolled toothpaste across her
tongue, splashed water into her mouth, spat into the sink basin. She wasn’t
Moses, wasn’t a prophet, just obeying orders from her subconscious.
So why couldn’t she disobey?
She picked up the phone, inserted her finger, dialed.
“So what’s up?” he asked, listening to her breathe.
Diane hesitated. Then she said in a rush, “I have to drive up to Redfern
tonight. So I thought–”
“Redfern? The institution? Why?”
“Because I have to, that’s why. So if you don’t hear anything for several days,
it doesn’t mean I’m dead. O.k.?”
“Crazier and crazier.”
“Are you on your meds?”
“Yes,” Diane lied, and quickly hung up.
The truck was like a second home. Green and rusted, the tires
perpetually balding, two big dents in the fender, its dumpiness felt safe. Inside, it
was cluttered with hamburger wrappers, soiled condoms, photos she’d taken but
decided not to invite inside her house because they weren’t strong enough to live
with the rest of her collection. The fake-leather seats were ripped, stuffing
protruding in round white clumps that resembled human heads.
And the truck smelled like must, like mold, like the unwashed penises and
pubic hair of some men she’d blown inside it.
When her apartment felt too much like a “norm’s,” she slept inside the truck,
watching the broad sweep of white stars obliterate the ebony sky draped behind
her apartment building. When she felt some vague sense of longing she couldn’t
rectify through photography, random men, or a visit to Lisette’s black-walled
apartment, she masturbated in there, too, watching out for any neighbors that
might enter or exit the brownstone.
She was sexual–rampantly sexual–but not a pervert.
She knew this about herself.
She loaded up the back of the truck with goodies that she thought the girls
might enjoy–chocolate doughnuts, in cellophane bags from her kitchen–as well
as an armload of the stuffed animals, bears, giraffes, teddies, that Alan had given
her when they were first in love, though there was no certainty she’d see anyone
Then she climbed up onto the splitting seat, tapped a Kools out of its pack, lit
up, and drove.
She was a little drunk. The highway, rutted, with dark-brown wooded areas
descending on either side, twisted, turned. Exhilarated, she pulled the smoke
faster and faster inside her lungs. Now the voice had departed, and she was
glimpsing photo-like flashes of what lay ahead.
She pushed the gas pedal down.
Faster, faster, she drove, her heart twisting inside her chest.
The first view was monolithic. The building enormous yet quaint, Georgian
architecture, squat white columns, a wraparound porch with a steep stone
staircase descending out to acres of stubbled lawn. In the moonlight that cut
across the lawn in a hard yellow swath, the whiteness of the building shone
amorphous and eerie, a shimmering brilliance that sliced into her pupils. Diane
followed a slender dirt road that angled up behind the building, the truck choking,
coughing. But no one appeared outside, and behind the buildings were
tremendous Dumpsters crowded with black garbage bags, battered couches, dirty
toys, and sharper things that might have been needles that glinted in the
moonlight that floated over the lawn, over her hands, making them unnaturally
Diane parked the truck. Got out. Followed the dirt road around to the front of
the building, the gravel, twigs, crunching beneath her boots.
She stared at the porch for a second. Then slowly she climbed the stairs. She
glanced behind her quickly, discovered her boots had left a thick trail of mud.
There were broad panoramic windows at the top of the porch, windows thickly
clothed with purple-velvet drapes. Diane crouched by a window, peered between
a crack. A small sound startled her; she glanced up, saw several enormous
gargoyles, stone, looming atop the building, near the rain gutters that appeared,
from this angle, to be clotted with dead leaves.
She stood up, quietly, tilted her head back.
One of the gargoyles leaned over the roof, his stone head pointy-eared, his
open mouth a water spout, a round maw of darkness.
She was fifteen when she’d discovered the cabin. She’d been reading Carson
McCullers so incessantly that her momma, at breakfast, had taken to prying the
books out of her hands just when Diane was getting to the good parts, about
Cousin Lymon the hunchback swooning for a raw-palmed giantess he could
“What do you want to read about all those weirdos for?” Gertrude always said.
“Come down and see the new line at Russek’s.”
But the department store bored Diane, the endless fat-coated sables her
parents delighted in.
And her fur-obsessed family never seemed to realize where those coats
actually came from, the earth-spilled blood of skinned animals, though, for her,
death was a fascination, an obsession, nothing to be afraid of.
She discovered the abandoned cabin one rainy afternoon when she’d been
exploring the woods a few miles away from their house. It was o.k. for her to
wander, because nobody ever seemed to care where she’d been.
The cabin was rotted, with dark, sagging drainpipes dangling over the roof.
She liked the fact that the whole building looked smashed. She climbed onto the
porch, one leg falling; she tumbled down, grabbed, gripped the wood, couldn’t
move in or out of the hole.
“You need help,” a male voice said.
Diane looked up.
Then, had to close her eyes.
He pulled her up out of the hole, carried her inside the cabin, his large hands
very gentle despite what his face suggested. And it was a prejudice, Diane
realized, her reaction. No one in her family could tolerate any kind of disability.
Or–in fact–anything less than perfection. But Diane had been reading Carson
McCullers, after all. Maybe this man represented her Cousin Lymon. Her Alvin
Singer. The hunchback, the deaf-mute, the lonely denizens of a world they were
separated from by virtue of some anomaly of face or limb or a craving for utter
“Who are you?” Diane asked, when he laid her tenderly on a green-chintz
“No one,” the man replied, and smoothed her sticky hair back from her
forehead, gazed into her eyes. “You?”
“Yes,” she said. “But I’m not particularly proud of it.”
She glanced around the dark-wooded room. The windows were smashed out.
A crude, motheaten blanket was thumb-tacked above one window. And an
oversized camera on a tripod was located near the window, watery gray motes of
dust floating in an eerie stream alongside.
“You’re a photographer?” Diane asked.
The man smiled. “Trying to be. But why don’t you ask me what you really
want to ask.”
“What happened to your face?”
“Does it scare you?” the man asked.
“Me, too,” the man said, and pulled a blanket up off the couch, used it to wrap
her entire body. “Me, too.”
She stared up at him. She didn’t mind that he’d wrapped her in the blanket,
though it smelled of urine, of must. She knew he’d done it because he thought
she was cold. And it was freezing in here, forty degrees, maybe, the clouds of
her breath puffing out before her face.
It was like a map, she decided, his face. A map of a damaged forest she’d
never visited before. A fire. It must have been a wildfire, raging after a teenaged
punk consuming too much Jack Daniel’s had lit a match for a smoke, dropped it.
The fire raced in a red-gold curtain, draped itself around the trees, first a few,
then several hundred, wrapped the trees up tight, and–when at last, hours later,
dusk already descending, the curtain was tugged back–the trees were thin, stark,
bare, lifting stick limbs toward a flake-clotted sky, the blackened husks of burned
animals scattered beneath them.
The skin bagged in a half-circle beneath one eyelid. The skin on his left cheek
looked seared down to some underlayer of skin, gray, pustuled. The stretch of
his smoked countenance red or black or gray, like the organs of a split-open
animal dying on the road. His eyes, bright blue, shone a little glazed, as if he’d
“My mother,” the man said then. Set me on fire when I was seven years old.”
“Oh my God. Why? Why?”
“Guess she didn’t like kids much. Left only one part of me intact. For revenge,
I’m thinking. And she got it.”
“What part?” Diane asked, and the man stood up taller, smiled, unzipped his
She’d never seen one before but she knew enough not to be scared. And she
didn’t feel threatened, not by this gentle-spoken man with the trembling hands
and a face so ravaged it appeared scarcely human. Besides, he looked a little
vulnerable, with his jeans tucked down around his ankles, his white boxers an
eerie gleam in the darkness of the rotted cabin.
He peeled his boxers down around his thighs, and the mushroom rose slowly
in the pale, glinting darkness, pushed up from its nest of black hair, perfectly
She looked at it because she knew he wanted her to, and she looked at it
because she wanted to.
“Why revenge?” Diane asked.
“Why do you think?”
She shook her head. She didn’t know.
“It’s all right,” the man said then, pushing the mushroom by its elongated head
back into his boxers. “I had the last laugh, and she’s dead now anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
“I photograph it,” the man said. “Over and over. Because…it’s the best part of
“Can I come back here? Visit you again?”
“I live here,” the man replied. “Come back anytime.”
“Tomorrow,” Diane said.
He smiled. Nodded. “O.k..”
“They gave me a camera, you know. I mean, for my birthday.”
“Have you used it yet?”
“Yeah. On our furniture. House. It wasn’t interesting.”
“I’ll help make it interesting,” the man replied, and Diane stared at him, smiling.
Dinner was submerged in a silence. Diane had always thought of it as a “blue
silence,” a nightly quiet that accompanied the stiffness of the Russeks’
deameanor. She could never sit across the table from Gertrude without thinking
of her mother before her vanity, creaming her face, trying on several different
The Russeks’ Blue Period, she thought, spooning up some white mashed
potatoes, heaping them on her plate like individual hills of snow, tapering the hills
with her spoon, the maid, Kitty, narrowing her eyes to radiate a near-tacit
As a Russek, Diane was expected to be helpless.
Or at least to never serve herself.
Diane chewed the dead animal she forked into her mouth, glanced around the
table. Her father studied his peas as intently as a fox coat. Her brother, Howard,
had a book propped open, The Metaphysical Poets, reading at the dinner table a
habit that her parents discouraged though Howard never seemed to care.
Her sister, Renee, sat there munching her brown-sauced carrots, her face
“Diane,” her mother said, and rang the silver bell; Kitty brought in another
serving of roast on a silver-lidded dish. “What’d you end up doing today? Visiting
“No. I met someone,” Diane replied, and crushed Potato Hill with her fork.
“’Someone’? A boy? Who are his family? What does they do?”
“His family set him on fire,” Diane replied.
Her parents looked at each other across the table. Howard glanced up,
choking on his ice water. Renee stared into space.
The silence intensified.
“What do you mean?” Gertrude asked, and dabbed her lipsticked mouth with a
monogrammed napkin. “I hardly think–”
“His name is Robert M. Cooper. His mother set him on fire when he was
seven years old because she didn’t like kids. He’s hideous to look at, a real
freak; his face is all burned-looked and shiny and…lumpy. I think I might love
Howard stared at her for a second then barked. “Love it,” he said, glancing
around the table, smiling. “Groovy. Groovy. Have you fucked him yet?”
Diane looked at him. “I’m fifteen years old,” she said. “I haven’t had sex with
anyone, including Allan.”
“You’re grounded!” her father shouted, half-rising from the table. “Did you hear
me? For a month! Maybe more! Just try me,” he yelled. “Just try me.”
“Groovy,” Diane replied. Her eyes roamed the room for the maid, found her
cowering in a corner. “Good potatoes, Kitty,” she said.
That night she stuffed several pillows into the shape of a body under her
blankets, pulled on a wool sweater and jeans, tucked her camera on a string
between her bra cups. Her bedroom was on the second story, but she’d
managed to navigate the fire escape before.
On her balcony, the glowing lights of New York City at midnight laid
themselves out; a Hansom cab trotted past on the street below, the dark horse
nickering, tossing his blindered muzzle, a bride in yards of white lace, champagne
glass in hand, drinking with her tuxedo’d groom.
Diane smiled, clattered down the of stairs. It was unusual for a house to have
a fire escape; her parents had added it because they were terrified of fire, which
was ironic, Diane thought, since all natural disasters fascinated her.
Diane was on the first level now. Howard’s room. She peered inside, at the
darkness, a glimpse of his moving white hand, the blankets tossed back. Diane
smiled. Howard was three years older, but he’d never fucked anyone either. Or
been in love.
She didn’t know if she was in love with him yet…or simply its shape.
She moved away from the city. Hiked and hiked through the long, dark stretch
She wasn’t scared.
She’d ducked out plenty of times before. Moonlight illuminated the twisting
When she ascended the steps, crossed the porch, being careful to skirt the
hole she’d fallen into earlier, she couldn’t quiet her heart, and wherever he was,
she thought, inside that cabin, surely he must hear it.
She entered the room. Saw the couch where he’d laid her. Where he’d
brushed the hair back from her forehead, so tenderly, tenderly.
Where he’d revealed himself.
She saw a long dark shape in the living room and knew it was him. Robert.
She approached him a little cautiously–what if he had a gun? She barely knew
him. And yet, he’d stirred something inside. Some part of her that Allan, with all
his smooth, black-curled charm, had never been able to penetrate.
He was wrapped up in a blanket, wrapped exactly as he’d wrapped her,
coccoon-like, only his eyelids showing.
She knelt beside him.
Gazed down quietly.
He opened his eyes.
Even in the darkness, she could tell how blue they were. His face an
She peeled back the blanket, climbed inside, wrapped her arms around his
He smelled a little, but only slightly. She thought that he must shower at the
She tucked her chin over his shoulder, gazed at his camera on its tripod,
looming enormous in the darkness.
“Show me,” she said quietly. “The saved part. I mean, the part your mother
He reached down, fumbled. She glanced down, couldn’t see its whiteness
because of the blanket they were wrapped in.
He placed it inside her palm.
It felt like a warm, pulsing stalk.
She fingered the bumps, the protrusions on its head. It was odd and beautiful,
she thought, something not to be revealed in daylight, and yet he had. She
wanted to be as gutsy, as life-loving, as he was.
She hunched a little, reached down, pulled down her jeans, underpants, still
studying his face.
“You don’t want to do that,” Robert said. “Trust me–it’ll hurt like hell, and I
don’t want to hurt you.”
“Have you ever done it before?” Diane asked.
His eyes very close to her in the darkness.
He shut them.
“No,” he said, suddenly.
“Then you just don’t know,” Diane replied.
She took it between her fingers. It bent against her body. She gripped it
around its thickest part, tucked her bottom up higher, pushed it against her.
Initial resistance, as if it couldn’t go in.
But then, magically, it did.
Diane breathed. It was big, yes. Too big for her body. She wrapped her legs
around him, as tight as she could manage inside the blanket, which was taking on
an interesting musty smell that she realized must be coming from her.
She sucked in her breath, started to move, picturing the white, misshapen
mushroom blooming up inside her, and her wetness made it easier.
“Oh God,” she said. “I never–”
“I’ll show you,” he said. “I’ll show you.”
Moving together in the darkness.
Coffee was the first thing she smelled upon awakening, which was good. She
may have been only fifteen, but she’d developed a taste for dark Columbian
beans fresh out of the can, the succulent waft of Gertrude’s morning coffee a
sensuality so wonderful that she almost couldn’t bear it, though her parents were
worried about stunted growth and she had to sneak her Yuban on the sly.
She gazed up at the splitting cabin beams. There was a large hole in the roof,
and a gray, hazy sky floated above it.
Still lying down, she hiked up her jeans, zipped them, followed the coffee smell
to the kitchen.
He was standing there, holding a Mr. Coffee carafe as he poured the black
coffee into a cracked red mug.
She’d forgotten what his face, even in profile, looked like in daylight, drew her
breath in sharply, stared at him until her uneasiness melted away.
It wasn’t fair, she thought, what the world did to people.
And as long as she lived, she’d refuse to be part of it.
“Coffee?” Robert asked, and handed her the steaming mug.
She accepted it, smiling, its heat sending a shiver up through her arms; she
sipped then wiped her mouth, glancing around. The kitchen was white,
cavernous, exposed wiring dangling from the walls.
“I’m surprised it still works,” Diane said. “The electricity.”
“I had it rewired,” Robert replied, smiling around his coffee cup. “Though not
“This place? Why?”
“It suits me,” Robert said. “I’m happy here. I think you know what I mean.”
“Yes,” Diane said. She put her coffee cup down on the counter. Then, she
took his out of his hands, put it down, too, unbelted his jeans. He gazed straight
into her eyes and she could see all the damage there but all the tenderness, too,
the bloodmarks marring his blue blue irises, the sag of extra flesh beneath his
eyelid, the damaged map of his face that turned a darker, coarser red as the
warmth coursed up through his body and he whispered, and she pulled down his
boxers and her jeans and underpants, still wet from last night, and this time it was
better, she pulled herself up against his waist, folded her legs around him, and he
pushed into her hard and fast and her mouth trembled and the blood left her head
and round white stars pushed toward her, so fast she couldn’t count them as his
fingers tucked themselves, too, inside her, easing up all at once gently and then
soaked, and all she could think about was holding onto him, holding onto this
beautiful man she’d found quite by accident, and whom she now knew that she
They lay there on the scarred linoleum tiles, breathing quietly, Robert draped
nude across her own naked body.
“It’ll never work,” Robert said then, and placed his open palm on her breast;
she felt the nipple erect, and that, too, was magic. “I’m too ugly. Too broken.
“You have no idea,” Diane said, and stared at the ceiling. “Who I am. What I
am. I’ll make it work.”
“Don’t see how.”
“My brother and I have both had secret lives for years,” Diane replied.
“What about your parents?”
“I don’t understand,” Robert said. “You’re young. Beautiful. What could you–”
“You’re the most truthful being I’ve ever met. The only true thing. I want to
stay with you, Robert. I want to learn.”
“If anybody finds out, we’re in trouble.”
“I was born for trouble,” Diane said, and kissed his no-mouth mouth.
He taught her things it seemed she’d been born craving, and she knew what it
was, for the first time, to fall in love with shadows, shapes. He photographed
himself incessantly, and she watched. Never his face, though. That part of him,
he explained, had died. So he photographed the only part his mother’d never
been able to kill off. As a mushroom sprouting from the deep, dark nests of his
pubic hair, as an atomic cloud, as a hazed, featureless face rendered anonymous
in the rain.
She sat crosslegged on the cabin floor and watched. Sometimes she lifted
her own camera and started recording it from odd angles.
But, in her photos, it always appeared to be what it was.
She believed that this was because she lacked subtlety.
She photographed it hundreds of time, tucked her photos into her bookbag,
stored them in her closet at home. The photos didn’t have enough perspective,
she decided. But still, she believed that she was making progress. On the sly,
because he didn’t want her to, she started snapping his face.
He believed he was hideous.
She knew that he was beautiful, had already memorized every scar, every
damaged stretch of his skin, with her delicate, probing fingertips.
One evening–a rare evening that she and Robert had spent apart–she went to
the bathoom after dinner.
She went back to her room then, stood in the doorway, stared.
Howard was bent over her bookbag in the closet, rifling through her photos.
“What the fuck,” Diane said, and felt as if she might cry.
Howard’s shoulders stiffened.
He didn’t turn around.
She could tell from his back, though, that he was angry.
Then, he faced her. He had the stacks of photos in his hand. From across the
room she could see which ones. He glanced at her then looked away.
“You photographed his cock,” Howard said. “His cock?”
“You don’t understand,” Diane said. “I love him.”
Howard tossed a handful of photos onto her bed. “How can you love him?” he
said. He tugged a photo out from the stack: the drooping eyelid, the recessed
area that was Robert’s nose. “He’s hideous! He’s a freak!”
“You’re the freak,” Diane said. “And I expected you, of all people, to
“Because I write poetry?” Howard snapped.
“Because I thought you were a human being,” Diane replied.
“He must be forty years old,” Howard said. “You’re fifteen. That’s–statutory
“What’s rape?” Renee asked, standing in the doorway.
“You don’t understand,” Diane said. “He’s never been with anyone else. I’m
all he has.”
“You fuck him, too?” Howard asked. “Oh, Jesus Christ.”
“What’s ‘fuck’”? Renee asked.
Diane stared at her. “An ugly word,” she said. “One you don’t need to know.”
She pulled her empty suitcase out of the closet. Dropped all her photos inside.
Then, she went inside Momma’s bedroom, grabbed a fistful of money out of her
nightstand, looked at Howard, at Renee, left without telling anyone, including her
parents, where she was going.
She thought that they wouldn’t come after her. She was right. Howard must
have told them, and she knew that what she was doing now was so far outside
the bounds of acceptability in the Russek household that it was better that she
separate herself from them at last. She’d separated earlier anyway, she thought,
with the knife slicing through the umbilical cord, and had never felt close to her
And it was o.k.
He was inside her cells, her mind. She craved his damaged beauty, his cock
inside her body, his cock inside her mouth.
At night they lay outside wrapped up inside his blanket, gazing up at the stars.
She didn’t know any of the constellations, but he did. He’d name them all slowly,
carefully, as he pushed himself inside her. Ursa Minor. Ursa Major. She saw
shooting stars and the long reddish tail of a comet as he climbed, pulling her up,
too, toward some final ascension she could scarcely glimpse.
One morning she woke up naked outside, the blanket draped over her as she
lay on the grass. Cold, she wrapped the blanket around her shoulders, ascended
the stairs, avoided the stark dark hole in the porch, went inside.
He was in the bedroom, his camera set up in front of the full-length mirror she’d
bought with some of the money she’d stolen before she left, so he could see
himself better, or at least the part of himself he didn’t detest when he
He turned around, then.
Stared as if he hadn’t made love to her only hours ago.
“Drop the blanket,” he said.
And she did.
“I’m freezing, though,” she said, twining her arms arund her breasts.
“Come to the mirror,” Robert said.
“Come to the mirror,” Robert said.
“Uh-uh,” Diane said, and shook her head no.
He stepped forward then, twined his fingers through hers. “Let me show you,”
he said, and led her to the mirror. “You never want to look. But I want to show
you how beautiful you are.”
“But I don’t like to look at it,” Diane said. “It’s…scary. And….it makes me sick.”
“Mine doesn’t make you sick.”
“That’s different. Yours really is beautiful.”
“Diane,” Robert said. “I’m the ugliest man you’ve ever met. Ever will meet.
And yet, you say you love me.”
“I do love you,” Diane said, and pushed her arms around his neck, breathed in
the warm, stale scent of his skin.
“Then let me,” Robert said, and pushed her down gently into a squatting
position before the mirror, tilted her body back with his broad, gentle hands,
angled her knees apart.
“Look at it,” Robert said. “How complex it is. Like…a universe. There isn’t
anything else like it, anywhere.”
And she looked, though she was still scared. Stared for a second, longer
second, almost thought she could glimpse what he saw.
“Photograph it,” Robert said. “When you get older, more daring. Or let me do
She looked at him, bit her lip, nodded.
Smiling, he set up his camera.
She always knew he’d leave her someday. But when she woke up in January,
on the floor of their cabin, tangled in the blanket, the smell of new snow drifting
white and chill through the living room, and found the note on the floor, she was
surprised at how she felt. At how open. Raw. Vivisected, she thought. As she
read and reread the note.
You’re the most wonderful person, I’m sure, that I will ever meet. And bless you
for treating me so kindly. For loving me a little–I never would have known any of
that otherwise. But this life is no good for you. You’re a talented girl, a beautiful
girl, and I’m an ugly, damaged man. But thank you for everything. For always.
And thank you for helping me see what was best in myself. I’ve always felt like a
freak, you know, and I never could see that before. Never lose your empathy,
o.k.? Your compassion.
It’s what makes you beautiful.
Much Love and Respect,
Diane cried until the sun went down. Then, she went into the bedroom,
packed her bag, tucked her camera and hundreds of black-and-white photos
inside it, walked through the moon-striped forest back to the streets of New York,
to the multitudinous honking horns and stores open till midnight and neon shining
down crimson and green and blue on open-air cafes, back to the streeet she
trudged along with the hookers and johns murmuring near squat shadowy cars
until she emerged, finally, in a better part of town, the part where the mansion
was located on its wide lawn that glimmered green even in winter, so well-tended
was it, so well-tended was everything except the children who lived inside,
stepped up the white-painted porch to the enormous and shining Russek house,
vowing only, as she stood before the door, before the knocker, that she’d never
tell them where she’d been. What had happened.
Whom she’d loved.
Lying on her back, she stared up at the gargoyle on the roof until her eyes went
hot then dry. Then, she pulled out her camera, started snapping pictures of the
monster then the drainpipe, squinting, maneuvering around awkwardly on her
back, until she sensed someone nearby.
She sat up then, the camera sliding into her lap.
The girl was squat, slump-shouldered in a blue-checked gingham dress that
hung sacklike from her shoulders. Her greasy blonde hair was twisted into
pigtails, rubberbanded, even the rubberbands a little soiled. She stared at Diane,
smiled, exposing her rotting teeth, black, smoky stubs.
“W-w-who are you?” the girl asked, and squinted up into the first reddish glints
of morning sun. Diane had been lying there overnight.
“Diane Arbus. Who are you?”
Diane stared at stubby-fingered hand for a second before realizing that Sarah
wanted her to grasp it. Shake it.
Her palm a little sweaty. Warm.
“I–I–I live here,” Sarah said. “You…going to live here, too?”
“Maybe,” Diane said, glancing around, the velvet window curtains starting to
twitch, the girls getting up for the day.
“T–t-take pictures of us, too?” Sarah said, looking at the camera.
“Sure,” Diane said. “Absolutely,” and peered through the viewfinder at Sarah’s
shortened teeth, pigtailed greasy hair.
“W–wh-why?” Sarah asked, and looked at her thighs, pressed against the
crumpled gingham fabric, and smiled.
Diane laughed. “Because you’re beautiful,” she replied. “Because you’re
important,” she added, and then her finger went down, capturing Sarah’s face
before she set up for her second shot.
A Pulitzer Prize nominee, Terri Brown-Davidson has also been recognized with thirteen Pushcart nominations and have received the AWP Intro Award, the New Mexico Writer’s Scholarship, THE LEDGE Chapbook Contest Award, and other prizes. Her work has been published in more than 1,000 journals and anthologies, including HAYDEN’S FERRY REVIEW, PUERTO DEL SOL, THE VIRGINIA QUARTERLY REVIEW, DENVER QUARTERLY, TRIQUARTERLY, THE LITERARY REVIEW, LOS ANGELES REVIEW, THE ADIRONDACK REVIEW, and others.