Hello everyone! Melissa, here. Welcome, welcome! I’m so glad that you’ve stuck around this long. Do accept my apologies for not writing sooner, but I’ve been somewhat busy with work, family life and some medical issues. All things considered though, I am always happy to read your work, and share whatever inspiration I can.
So today I am offering you a treat. As many of you who have read Austin Kleon would know, it is always good to Show (in this case I would say share) your work. Today I will share with you a short story I wrote, say about three years ago, that I wasn’t able to publish in a literary magazine.
This of course is part one and on Friday I will upload part 2.
Anyway it is time for me to fade into the background, and leave you with just one thing, as all writers, poets, authors will know, I leave behind the work. I hope you like it, and thanks for hanging in there. I wish you all, all the best with your work.
Here’s to a fruitful and productive 2018!
Without much ado, here’s Faces in the Crowd (Part 1)
Faces in the Crowd
At the front of a narrow hallway Mrs. Petrovich adjusted a pair of bulky spectacles and waited for the last participant to file in. Rocked by allegations of scandal and impropriety, the Vatican had hired her, an impartial New York photographer, to bolster their image. From where she stood, Mrs. Petrovich observed her assistant, DeeDee as she sauntered into the room. Then, Mrs. Petrovich went to her gear bag and retrieved a Nikon.
It was a warm May morning and heat poured into the room through the ceiling. The participants were citizens from various parts of the globe who had agreed to come to Venice as part of an experiment. Ordinarily, Mrs. Petrovich would not have chosen a church for such an ambitious endeavor, but ten minutes after hearing the Cardinal’s offer, DeeDee had smiled. Now Mrs. Petrovich surveyed the room and wondered why no one from the city had entered. However, after a little while, the thought dissipated and she allowed the Basilica’s ambiance to fill her.
In the front she focused on Gene, a tall dark man from America who reminded her of her ex, Michael, and that memory carried her back five years to the start of her relationship with DeeDee. At the time, Mrs. Petrovich had been on a lunch date with friends while DeeDee, an incensed waitress, had doused a customer for grabbing her ass. Grateful, nevertheless for prompt service, Mrs. Petrovich had paid extra and left her business card.
Now, five years later, she searched for the right place to set up a tripod as the men positioned themselves. After all, these photos would be made available to everyone so proper positioning was important.
“Free downloads,” the Cardinal had called them, as if it was a customary thing like uploading a youtube video. She balked at how easily these people had signed away their right on something she considered a financial whim. Mrs. Petrovich stopped. Then she opened the tripod and fastened the plate to the camera.
“They’re all yours,” DeeDee said, moving to the side of the room.
Removing the lens cap Mrs. Petrovich snapped two shots of DeeDee for posterity, before fastening the camera to the tripod. At five foot seven with a slim figure, DeeDee was lithe. At a young age she had shown a proficiency for ballet but due to her mother’s unsound financial investments they were often strapped. In other ways though DeeDee remained efficient.
Mrs. Petrovich took a group shot before focusing on Lily, the second woman from the left. She was a junior high school teacher from Japan and although her smile did not extend to the corners of her lips, Mrs. Petrovich continued to snap. Extra shots always came in handy. Panning right she snapped Martha, a Jamaican medical student who had completing her residency in New Jersey. At twenty eight, she yearned to return home to her family.
Mrs. Petrovich was thirty five, with peppered black hair. Currently single, she refused to reproduce even though her mother had assured her that she still possessed childbearing hips. At six feet two, she stood out in crowds but frequented sushi bars that brought in all kinds. Today, she wore black pants and a cream blouse. Both accentuated by a string of pearls DeeDee had picked out.
“Pretend you’re on the beach and you’re having fun,” Mrs. Petrovich said as she settled on a short Slovenian man she had pegged as Atlas. He smiled. Stopped. And then smiled again. Mrs. Petrovich exhaled and imagined herself rising to the surface.
“Do you want me to dim the overhead lights?” DeeDee asked from the doorway, her fingers hovering above the switch. “To create more atmosphere.”
Mrs. Petrovich shook her head. “No,” she said, slowly. “Move them around.” After four days of trying to get things right, she had memorized most of their names. She watched Nefertiti in a dashiki change places with Sita in a shalwar. The colors were vibrant: radiant yellows merged with burnt orange, browns and greens. They moved like earthen vessels. DeeDee watched as her features softened and Mrs. Petrovich said, “That’s better.”
DeeDee smiled, removed a bolero jacket and waited for the breeze. Some days she envied buildings their ability to retain heat. Today though, she glared at fresnels and observed shoes. Mrs. Petrovich’s combat boots seemed dated. A replacement would be needed shortly, she thought, watching Jamie, a chef from Brussels recoil. Perhaps tomorrow, before they left the city.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Petrovich watched Dominique, a travel writer execute a flawless turn. The woman was a product of a union between France and Germany, who enjoyed cooking and hiking. Looking at her supple figure, the photographer wondered if she had omitted having a Spanish lineage from her consent form.
Mrs. Petrovich glanced at her watch and noticed that it was already noon. “Take five,” she said, watching them go. Scanning the shots, she wondered, where all the time had gone. This was their final shoot. Mrs. Petrovich wiped sweaty palms on her pants and recalled various excursions: a detour that had led her to the Spanish steps, a rendezvous at the catacombs and a party near the Piazza Navona. Rome was indeed breathtaking, she thought. She only wished that Michael could have been there.
She watched Wendi, a Korean-American dentist scamper towards the door surrounded by admirers. Unlike them, Mrs. Petrovich questioned her easy-going smile.
DeeDee reached for her purse and headed towards the door. “Do you need anything?”
“A coffee. Some smokes.” Mrs. Petrovich put away the camera and reached for her arm.
“Just coffee,” she said, thrusting a few bills into DeeDee’s open palm.
“Sure.” DeeDee pocketed the money and waited, wondering how to breech the topic of last night. She was almost certain that the habit would be broken with time. But she was concerned about today.
“I’ll be fine,” Mrs. Petrovich assured her, smoothening the collar of her shirt. When she was gone, Mrs. Petrovich did a few stretches. In another life, she thought, we could have been sisters. Sita pointed out biblical scenes to Gene, in the other room, while others trailed behind them. Mrs. Petrovich turned off the overhead lights and watched as Sita returned alone a few minutes later. She appraised the scene as only another artist could, and removed a small note pad from her pocket that she filled with sketches.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Petrovich tried to remember what had appealed to her about Sita’s consent form. But nothing surfaced.
A hand brushed against her arm and she opened her fingers to receive the cup DeeDee offered; her thin lips suspended in greeting. DeeDee wore a fashionable navy skirt and white shirt. She was a petite woman whose penchant for water rivaled Mrs. Petrovich’s taste for cigarettes. The few times they had drank together, Mrs. Petrovich had been amazed at her ability to retain liquor.
“After this,” DeeDee asked, “Are you going back to the States?”
Mrs. Petrovich sipped her coffee and nodded. “There’s an opening at the Met.”
DeeDee cringed. “But, don’t you hate art?”
Mrs. Petrovich laughed and gulped down the rest of the warm liquid. “Like you,” she said, “I do what I must.” she said. Meeting the young woman’s frown, she averted her eyes. “Do you like it here?”
“Yes, it has its charms.” DeeDee exhaled. “I was thinking of buying a camera and taking some shots.”
Mrs. Petrovich embraced her. “Like my mother always used to say, it’s never too late to start.”
Hearing footsteps, DeeDee eased out of the embrace and feigned a smile. “How’s the coffee?”
“Great,” Mrs. Petrovich lied, smoothening a rumpled sleeve, already missing her.
DeeDee focused on the tripod and pushed back a lock of hair. Taking good pictures, she had always assumed, was about finding moments of control and exploiting them. DeeDee watched Mrs. Petrovich already knowing before she did that she was about to move.
“Places everyone.” Mrs. Petrovich handed DeeDee the empty cup and extracted another camera, tethered to her neck by a chord. Removing the tripod, Mrs. Petrovich pointed where she wanted them to go and they made shapes. First she experimented with a crescent and then a pyramid.
By the door DeeDee adjusted the lights as Mrs. Petrovich locked eyes with Trevor, a plumber from the UK with an appetite for chewing gum. Stifling a reprimand, Mrs. Petrovich bit her lower lip.
The experiment was supposed to promote multiculturalism and diversity. Words the Cardinal had insisted upon as he stressed its pro bono appeal. But Mrs. Petrovich wasn’t like their regular photographers who possessed deep pockets and often worked with more upscale designers. In the end, her mediocre savings could barely cover the cost of transporting her equipment, so other arrangements had to be made for DeeDee. Thank goodness for her prodigious portfolio which had been enough to convince them, even if it couldn’t assuage the feud with her mother.
As she continued Mrs. Petrovich felt the space between them diminish until she caught sight of an open palm, a tilted head and a jilted lover. That abstraction of bodies reminded her of a Rothke painting she had seen at the Four Seasons restaurant of the Seagram Building. Now standing on a ladder, she observed layers of texture. For the first time since her arrival in Italy, she could see beyond the ordinary exterior so that when arching hands embraced taunt shoulders, she discovered a community.
Check back on Friday, for part 2 of Faces in the Crowd.
And like always, thanks for reading and supporting!