braid. verb. Plait, intertwine, weave into a single strand, notably of hair. noun. A strand made of strands intertwined together. From an Old English word and Germanic root originally meaning to move with a sudden jerk to the side or in a twisting motion. It has also, in the course of its history, referred to a sudden change and to a deception.
Here’s a picture of a young, thin woman, dressed all in black, standing by a fence in rolling countryside. She’s on a path that slopes down to the left towards a river that we see in the farther background. There’s a railway bridge across the river made of black trusses, with a freight train heading into it, and farther behind are rolling hills with patchy trees. The young woman’s body would be facing the bridge but she’s twisting abruptly around to her left to face the camera, and her two long black braids of hair are caught mid-fling. She is staring at the camera and sticking her tongue out at it, a tongue like a cat’s tongue. In her right hand, reached across her body, is a small pocket film camera pointing right at the viewer.
This is Trina, Jacob’s assistant. The one who will find his body in four days.
It’s a photo from a day when they were scouting locations and he was shooting scenery, mainly. It’s in black and white, so Trina almost looks like a photo negative, which is her general presence in life. She is always in black, always working in the background, always quiet and pleasant, where she should be when she should be there, never where she shouldn’t be. You can tell by looking at this picture that they weren’t seeing clients that day, because she never wears her hair in braids around clients: it makes her look too young and they wouldn’t take her seriously. Working on a shoot, she has it up in a pencil bun; for meetings and formal occasions, she lets it fall straight down to the small of her back.
This picture was taken not long after Kate sped out of his life and before she even started talking to him again at all. He hadn’t gotten back in touch with Ellen yet either. He was throwing himself into his work, and outside that into exercise and then into drinking. When one addiction isn’t fed, the others are just that much hungrier.
He would like to have more pictures of Trina. It’s not easy. Somehow she’s rarely right in front of him. He’s asked her if she wants to pose for him. He asked her the first time as they were driving back from this location in the photo. “I like to be behind the lens,” she said. She’s said that every time since.
She’s not standoffish. She’s very friendly. She swears freely around Jacob, though never around clients. She’s a good conversationalist and an excellent observer. Here is their conversation from yesterday at the end of the day:
“Ugh, I think this potted plant wants to be my lover.” This was Trina stepping out from behind some greenery after their corporate clients had finally hitched up their britches and shoved their clipboards into their bags and trundled off. She was holding a large circular reflector, which she started twisting into its collapsed form to put into a zippered bag.
Jacob didn’t say anything because he didn’t have anything to say to that, but he watched her as she worked. He started uplugging the cables connecting his digital Hasselblad on its tripod to his laptop, which was sitting on two stacked cases.
“Is it just me,” Trina said, “or were the VP of Marketing and the District Manager exchanging a lot of knowing glances?”
“Knowing glances?” Jacob raised his eyebrows.
“Not about the work. I think there’s something going on between them. They could have traded places with me. Lots of room for them to get private behind these horny plants.” She crossed behind him as he started dismounting his camera and packing it into its case.
“Now, if they had been the subjects,” Jacob said, “I would already know all about their relationship.”
Trina was about to say “Pity you can’t talk to buildings and cars,” but she didn’t, because they’d had that conversation before, a few years ago. The answer is that buildings and cars are made by people and used by people and seen by people and you’re photographing them for people, so talk to the people. Which is what he did. But – on such assignments – about the buildings and cars, not their private lives.
She was now over on the other side of him, taking down a pole-mounted soft box, a big flat-faced black-backed marshmallow of lighting. “Did Pam come with you to corporate shoots?”
“No, she was always in front of the lens. Until I hired you I just handled all the equipment myself. I’ve never shot weddings, for years I didn’t do much corporate work, and a lot of what I do shoot is better with some privacy. Unlike what you prefer doing.” He turned towards her just as she slipped something in her pocket. (It was one of her several pocket cameras. Trina likes to do street photography, silent, observing, like a cat slipping in and out of the shadows, catching the spare edges of people’s souls.)
“Well, you didn’t have a lot of privacy today.”
“Buildings aren’t easily embarrassed. Cars blush a little.”
“There were a few people back there kibitzing.” She up-nodded her head towards the busy part of the atrium behind him, where people transited from elevators to front doors. “I gave out one of your cards.”
Jacob’s eyes rolled to the ceiling for a fleeting moment. “Do they know how much I cost?”
“She seemed familiar with your work and your price bracket.”
“Well, she can call. It’s not like I need more walk-ins, but let’s see if she has money. Ugh,” he said, pulling on some cords on the far side of his computer. “What the hell.”
Trina decided not to say that the woman had asked if he could be reached on the weekend, and she said to try around noon on a Saturday. He’d find out. Right now he was trying to tilt a concrete planter so he could get a cord out from under it.
“Shit,” Trina said, “how did they even do that.” As he leaned into the planter she gave the cord a good forearm flick and it skipped out. “See,” she said, “that’s why I think you should braid them. I should braid them.”
“Huge pain in the ass if you need to replace one,” he said.
She reeled in the cords one by one on hand-cranked spools, a little device she had added to his equipment. “I saw Pam the other day.”
“What did she want?”
“I just saw her in the mall at a store. I think someone declined her credit card. She didn’t look happy. She saw me and gave me a complete elevator look. I said hi. She said have fun.”
“Well, someone’s got to.”
“And what are you doing for fun these days?”
Jacob snapped the locks shut on a case and looked up at her. “You sure you don’t want to be photographed?”
“Take all the pictures you want, as long as I’m behind a plant.”
“Why don’t you photograph me, then?”
She smirked ever so slightly. “I’m sure that can be arranged.” She picked up several bags and bundles containing lighting equipment. “Do we really not have anything till Wednesday?”
He hefted up his cases. The whole shoot’s worth of equipment could be carried by two fully laden people. They started walking out to the car. “Yeah, you get two whole extra days off. What do you do for fun?”
“Work in my darkroom.”
“Aside from that.”
“Are we having a contest to see who can have the least fun in four days?”
“Or the most.”
They joined the crowd of freed office workers streaming out the front door, some going to their cars, some going to public transportation, some going to get drunk nearby.
At the car, they set down the equipment and he opened the back. “Do you need a lift?”
“No, I’m good from here. I have a camera and a crowd.” She looked over at the people flowing past.
“OK, have fun.”
“Bye,” she said, and slipped away, reaching into her pocket.
And that was that. He talked to himself at home, he cursed other drivers from behind his car windows, but no human being heard any more words from him.
Trina wasn’t lying about her plans for the coming four days. She’s taken a lot of pictures. She often spends time with her street photography, but this time it’s another project, photos she’s taken stealthily of the same subject over a few years. In fact, right now, as Jacob is looking at this picture of her, she’s printing an eight-by-twelve of a photo she took a couple of years ago. In the background is a neighbourhood at the edge of a town. The houses overlook a river, and there’s a path between the backyards and the river bank. In the foreground is a man in his later forties with wind-mixed hair, wearing jeans and a windbreaker and a fascinated smirk as if he’s losing at cards to a cat. He’s looking down at the waist-level finder of a camera he’s holding, a Hasselblad 500 CM, the lens of which is pointed directly at the viewer. It’s the one time he caught her photographing him. When she enlarges it she can see a small reflection in the lens, not enough to make out details. But if you could look closer, you would see the picture it’s taking of Trina: a young, thin woman, dressed all in black, twisting abruptly to face the camera, her braids flicking; she’s by a fence, and behind her is rolling countryside and a train heading to a truss bridge.
Jacob is near the end of his last album and his tumbler is sitting empty on the carpet in front of him. He is about to turn the page when the phone in his office rings.