Al Bruno III
This Town is a cluster of homes and businesses that mark the point where the highway begins to stretch across the open desert. The Town is slowly fading; the population growing older and dying off leaving their homes and dreams behind. I live in a trailer park near the scrapyard that employs me.
The woman that lives on the other side of the trailer park is a middle aged widow living off her husband's pension, but the money she receives barely covers her rent. She lives on a diet of fast food and reads tabloid magazines by candlelight. To make ends meet she sells her body. Her name is Muriel and I'm her last customer on the nights I can afford it. Our physical intimacies are just a ritual, she knows I'm there because I'll pay dearly for not having to wake up alone.
One night it was too warm to sleep. We sat on the bed in the dark smoking cigarettes and talking. I thought to myself how beautiful she looked as a shadow, her every feature softened. It was only when she inhaled on her cigarette that the orange pinpoint of light revealed the toll time and her husband's cruelties had taken on her.
Somehow the conversation turned to personal photographs and she said, “No pictures, burned all there was after my Mamma passed on and I told Joe I didn't want no wedding photos either. I don't want anything to do with any of it. I don't like the way photographs look. It's not that I don't like the way a picture makes me look. I know I ain't no beauty queen. What I mean to say is that I don't like the way pictures look.”
In my long lost university days I had studied psychology and this sounded like a case of paranoia but bitter experience had taught me never to judge, never to be sure. “Why did you burn your mother's pictures of you?” I asked.
“By the time I was sixteen I was staying out all night, drinking and screwing around. It didn't matter what time I came home, my Mamma was waiting up for me. She always knew who I was with and she always knew what I was up to. She would yell at me but she always yelled at me, and sometimes she slapped and pushed. It was that way ever since I was twelve. I used to tell myself she was jealous because...” Muriel paused, I could hear how much she wanted me to believe what she said next, “...I was beautiful then.”
“I was maybe twenty-one when the cancer took her. I started going through her things, deciding what to keep and what to give away or sell. I started to find photos of me, not in an album or a frame, they were just stashed all around,” Muriel lit another cigarette and shook out the match, “all the photos I found of me were ruined. She marked them up with some kind of a pin.”
“What did she do?” I stubbed put my hand on her shoulder but she pulled away.
“She poked out the eyes. I didn't know why, I thought maybe she was crazy or she hated me more than I thought,” Muriel explained, “I don't know what came over me but I held one of those ruined pictures up to the light and stared through the holes. I saw something through them. I looked closer, held the picture right up to my face. The holes were like windows. I saw where I was when the picture was taken. It was the old playground off Sixteenth Street.”
“How?” I asked.
If Muriel heard she ignored me “It was the same with every picture I found, they all showed me someplace I had been but everything looked spent and tired. I searched and found more photographs I never knew she took, some really new. She hadn’t gotten to a few of them. So I poked out the eyes. When I looked through the holes I was suddenly watching the past. It was like I had gone back in time and I was four years younger and heading out of the house to raise a little Hell. I saw every minute of it, even the things I had been too drunk to remember before. It was like a memory but brighter.”
I was shivering, I told her she could stop now if she wanted to.
A tone of annoyance crept into her voice, “I don’t know how it works, maybe I don’t want to. But now I’ll never know if she was just a shitty mom or if she treated me the way she did so I would run wild to spite her. I'll never know if I was just a puppet.”
“So you burned all the pictures,” I said.
“Just in case someone ever wants to try and look through my eyes. My life may be shit but it's mine,” she got out of bed and threw me my clothes, “get dressed, you can't stay here. Not tonight.”
There was nothing else to say; I pulled on my pants and shirt and walked back to my trailer with my boots in my hand. The ground was cold and rough under my feet. I thought to myself of what Muriel's life had become, of what it might have been. Instead of going inside I sat on my front steps and looked back to Muriel's trailer and thought of all the glossy magazines she had strewn about every room. I wondered to myself what I would find if I thumbed through one- would the pages be pristine or would the eyes of choice celebrities be poked out?
But I never asked or looked for fear of having to spend all my nights alone.