19 Manhattan Photographs from 1977
The line of her mouth is firm; it bears the memory of having flowed, beautifully, and still contrives to a terse pen-and-ink prettiness which is never quite to disappear.
The figure is squat, white-bearded and -mustachioed, as Santa Claus might be were he crossed with The Absent-Minded Professor. The hands, well-manicured, are spread: a crumbled crust of bread is offered to the darting beak which pursues it from his forearm, to another from his thigh, a third from his lap. Passersby stare: “The pigeon man,” they whisper. He goes on, gently smiling, offering the food, offering himself. The birds take what they want and give rapture in return.
They stand, fingers brushing, sharing the gentle intimacies of unexamined love, of newly discovered and -discovering lovers.
The eyes are wide, and starkly blue. They open into fright, balanced on a pale yellow tremor which flutters across the iris.
Standing before the gravestone of someone not-quite known, the wind whipping at his face, at his hair, tossing it into a frenzy, whipping the cloth of his coat behind him like a tail springing from between his legs. He stands there and lets the tears come, little tears, little sighs against the lashes of the wind.
She is an old woman. She smokes Camels and carries the Farmer’s Almanac. Thin and long, clad in a green chiffon party dress, yellow mary-janes, a triple strand of paste pearls; hair in pins, an artificial daisy by her ear… She stands, reflecting fantasies in the mirror of Cartier’s window.
Her eyes catch the full moon and gleam its chaste and icy mystery from them.
They watch each other from opposite benches: a young girl, barely sixteen, her bubble-gum adolescence careless and coy, blond-curled and red-nailed; a somber Quixote, gray crew-cutted, blue-suited, bow-tied, patient, tacit, smiling. They look at each other curiously, wondering, wondering: Should they meet?
Her hands have lost the battle for Youth to Time, while her face has assumed the lineaments which supersede softness and precede slackness.
She is a little girl, fourteen perhaps, with a small, evocative mouth that teases a half-smile. All very simple: the floss hair, muted in its brownness, the folded hands and undecorated eyes that look very, very far away.
Getting lost in an East Side World, the gleam, the refraction of images in black and low-cut creme. Ice-cube rhythms, glass meeting glass, smile meeting white-frost lips. Chic, cool, distinguished: polished like zircons in a silver-plated setting.
These are the treasures of youth: a red, white and blue belt with an Uncle Sam buckle on it; a bagatelle-in-plastic ring rattling on the middle finger. Will they be put away, saved, to look back upon and savor; or lost, even from memory, to disappear with the youth that made them precious.
She is small, but not fragile-looking, with eyes from a romance novel and a slight face draped and circled by misbehaving black falls. She looks gentle and soft, but there is a sense of illusion surrounding that look: The smile is missing, there is resolute sadness behind the eyes.
He stretches across the seat, scratching his chapped hands against the red face; his legs extended, gnarled, winter-white, swollen and brittled by cold. Amid the snowflakes, he sleeps.
Black-garbed, swan-necked, spare as a sapling in its first winter. A petulant profile, the dark eyes filled with half a tear and half a dream, half empty and half full.
They are, almost all, over forty. The suits should have been out of style twenty years before, but they are worn as proudly as the mismatched ties and white socks, the toupees or delicately combed thinning hair.
They stand in a series of corners and edges, no pairs, many clusters, many units, wooing women wearing the prom dresses they first wore twenty years ago.
She sleeps with a pout on her face; as though resentful at being denied the realm of her waking senses, she has chosen to brood to her subconscious.
His face, though brushed in Renoir contours, lets through the capacity for harshness impressed behind the Impression.
Her face has been composed by Tchaikovsky: plaintive, with high, shadowed cheekbones and a slightly turned-down mouth. Age will be unkind to it, the skin will whiten and the now-soft lines will define and tighten against the bone. It will still have music, but the score will be by Schoenberg.
MAN: Over 30.
WOMAN: Over 30.
TWO BEARERS: Any age. Capable of carrying the Woman in her coffin.
Setting: A bare stage with a platform and a palanquin.
Time: Any time
AT RISE: There is the SOUND of WIND. Discovered is a platform, with a lidless palanquin. At either end, a BEARER stands, dressed in black. Behind it, a MAN stands, also dressed in black. HE looks down, slowly, into the palanquin, shakes his head and looks up.
Why is it the Living always carry away the Dead, but the Dead never carry away the Living?
(HE looks into the palanquin a long
moment, reaches inside, withdraws a
flower and steps back. The BEARERS
lift the palanquin. The MAN nods to
them, then turns away; and, solemnly,
THEY start off. As THEY move, a
WOMAN, dressed in a white gown, rises
from it and reaches back toward the
MAN. The SOUND of WIND rises.)
Why is it the Dead always reach toward the Living, but the Living never reach toward the Dead?
(SHE continues to reach with growing
urgency as the BEARERS continue to
carry her off. The MAN turns toward
them as THEY exit, then looks at the
flower, cradles it gently, and exits via the
opposite side. The SOUND of WIND
rises further on the empty stage.
END OF PLAY
Bio: Evan Guilford-Blake writes plays, fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction for adults and children. His plays have been produced internationally and won 42 competitions. Thirty are published. Noir(ish), his first novel, was published by Penguin. Holland House will issue American Blues, a collection of his short stories, in October. He and his wife (and inspiration) Roxanna, a healthcare writer and jewelry designer, live in the Atlanta area.
The story “My Father’s Robe” can be read here
Flash fiction “Balloon” can be read here
Copyright © 2010 Questions – previously published in Free State Review
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