This is the seventh chapter of my month-long fiction, album, made of word pictures.
sparkling. adjective. Emitting sparkles; that is, giving off small sparks or similar scintilla, literally or figuratively. From sparkle, verb, which is formed from the frequentative (and sometimes diminutive) suffix –le added to the noun spark, which is an old Germanic word referring to a little bit of fire.
In this picture she is half-slouched in a folding chair, her head tilted well back, drinking a glass of sparkling wine. She is wearing a long sleeveless violet dress. Her legs are stretched ahead of her with one crossed over the other, and her left hand (the side closer to the camera) is pressed against the seat. Her right hand is lightly holding the glass, which is about half drained. Behind her in blurred lines is the jumble of a photographer’s studio.
This is Ellen. Blonde Ellen with the long hair and the almost-noble features, Ellen with the dancer’s feet and the magician’s fingers and the orchid skin. Ellen who may or may not have told Dave she was coming to pose for Jacob. Why would Jacob ask who she’d told?
This was just before he took two photos that have sold very well. You can see the stars of those photos in this one: the glass, her hand, her back.
He could have used this photo shoot for a champagne ad. He was pouring Moët & Chandon. He liked the look of its bubbles and he always had certain standards. But this was just for him. And Ellen. It was because Ellen called and said, “How about you photograph me? But not my face.” A semi-secret session for two.
He took quite a few photos of Ellen, but – except for personal ones like this one – never her face. She didn’t want to be known, not like famous Pam of the famous clavicle and coccyx and breast. Once she had drunk a glass, and they had talked a little as he assembled his gear and took this picture, he set up his lights and his black paper and put the camera on the tripod and he filled the glass again and had her sit with her hand holding the stem on a black-covered table against a black background. Just the hand, the glass, and the black. He set the camera a metre away with a portrait lens on it.
He stepped back and looked. “Too much purple,” he said, almost to himself.
“I thought my dress wasn’t in the photo?”
“It reflects the light and gives a colour cast. That’s why I normally wear black when taking pictures. Light control.”
“What should I do?”
“I think a soft creamy white reflection from a curvy surface would work better.”
She cocked her head and smirked a little. He shrugged. She set down the glass and stood up.
So he did. She stepped out of the dress and he carried it over to a corner behind the camera. She was now wearing just a bikini bottom. She posed again.
The sound of a Hasselblad 500 CM shooting at the same time as studio strobes go off is something between fireworks and gum popping. The mirror inside the camera flips up and makes a dull clap; the lights make a popping sound that seems louder because of the brief burst of brightness. Then the photographer winds the camera forward and so on. And when the photographer is Jacob he asks questions to provoke movements and expressions.
“Do you think Dave had a good time on Maui?” Pop. “Did it take a while to get sand out of your things?” Pop. “Do you like the champagne?” Pop. “What would you like to do?” Pop. That was the best one, the hand stroking the stem in playful thought: thumb and forefinger tips together on the middle of the stem, the other fingers half retracted.
“I have an idea,” Ellen said. She drank the glass of wine.
“That’s a good idea,” Jacob said. “There’s more.”
“That’s not the idea. Here.” She gave him the glass. He refilled it. “You should drink some, too,” she said.
“After the pictures. It affects my judgement.”
“But then you have the advantage of me.”
“Fair enough.” He drank the glass down. She climbed onto the table and lay belly down.
“Put it on my back.”
He refilled it and set it on the small of her back. It took a bit of adjustment to get it stable. He stepped back. Looked at it. Stepped closer. Looked at it. Looked at the lights. Went around and unplugged his strobes. Focused his camera. Held an incident light meter in front of the glass to measure the light coming from the bulb in the ceiling. Took off his shirt, threw it aside, went up and metered again. Lifted the glass off her back.
“I think you need to take off your bottom.”
She inchwormed up, slid her bikini bottom down to her knees, flattened out again, flipped up her feet, pulled the bottom to her right foot and flicked it off her toe to the side. He put the glass on her back again. A little spilled; she gasped ever so slightly. He looked in the camera’s finder and framed the image carefully. He set the camera aperture tight and the exposure long, and he locked the camera’s mirror up to minimize vibration. And then, holding the cable release at arm’s length, he stood almost next to her.
This time there was no flop of the mirror, no pop of the lights. Just a very quiet tick and then tick from the camera, like two little sparks of static. And it was captured: a wet glass of champagne on a creamy landscape that was just the rolling prairie of a beautiful back.
He lifted the champagne. She sat up and swung her legs to hang from the edge of the table.
“Now, then,” she said.
And that was how it really started between Jacob and Ellen.
And at the same time, forty minutes’ drive away, in Dave and Ellen’s house, another bottle of another champagne (Lanson brut) was open and getting drunk. And so were Pam and Dave. Jacob didn’t know this, but he figured it was so, and I’m here to tell you it was. Here, look:
“I’ve lost the spark.” Pam drained her glass and Dave refilled it. “And I just don’t want to be the body model anymore. At this point it’s beginning to be humiliating.”
“You have a lovely body,” Dave said, and leaned forward and kissed her neck.
“Thank you, but I would rather arrange private viewing.”
“I would like to arrange one.” He set down his wine and started unbuttoning her blouse, kissing her with each button.
“Do you think they’re having fun?” Pam said. She set down her glass, put her arms back, and pulled the blouse off one sleeve at a time.
“Who?” Dave was already undoing her pants.
“Jacob and Ellen.” She pushed her pants down with her underpants and stepped out of them.
“Does he do anything besides take pictures?”
“It’s like he has two heads, and each one has one eye,” she said. She sat on the bed and flopped back, naked. “The one with a camera; the other one… lower down.”
Dave had managed to peel off his clothes by this time too. He handed her her glass and raised his. They clinked the edges.
“I’m just looking forward to some… real contact, you know?” Ellen said, and sat up and drank from her glass, then set it down on a nightstand and lay back.
Dave slowly tipped his glass and poured it over her torso. “Here’s to contact,” he said, and leaned forward to sip what he could from her skin.
You get the picture.
Within two years, Ellen was saying to herself some of the same things about Jacob as Pam had. And saying them to him as well.
“I feel like you’re always on the other side of glass.”
“When I was a child, an evil witch cut off my hands and replaced them with lenses,” Jacob said.
“It always feels like a first date. And I’m beginning to feel bad about all this.”
“Pam seems happy. Dave?”
“I guess. Dave is like a hot tornado. A one-man tropical cyclone. I need some calm. I like thinking. I like respect. But I don’t want to be trapped between glass plates. Or suspended in midair between two houses.”
Jacob looked at her.
“I just can’t anymore,” she said. “And I’m moving out. I’m moving to Halifax.”
And that was how it really ended between Jacob and Ellen. And between Ellen and Dave. But not between Pam and Dave.
The boys were not oblivious to all of this. They knew that Ellen visited Jacob often. They did not know that their mother spent the same hours with Dave. When Ellen stopped showing up, Lucian concluded that Pam had sent her packing and was fighting to save the marriage that Jacob was so reckless with.
Carl decided that people came and people went and that it was just how it was. Ellen was not Jacob’s first regular or occasional visitor and wouldn’t be the last. He knew where his father kept his personal albums. Sometimes he flipped through them. He was very taken with two pictures of a young woman, nude, simultaneously plain and remarkable, that he saw in the university years album. He borrowed the pictures and put them in his dresser drawer.
When, a little while later, he found that they were not in the drawer anymore, nothing was said of it.
They did not return to the album.
Pam had seen them when “tidying up” in his room, knew where they had been taken from, and knew who the subject was. Knew her name.
Knew that with Ellen gone, Jacob needed a new distraction.
Mailed them to Clara, with Jacob’s name and return address.
But Clara never made contact. Not for the several years between then and now.
But she received them. And she thought about him.
She’s thinking about him now.
Jacob flips the page. He’s near the end.