Rumaging around on my hard drive looking for something I always run into the oddest stuff. Such as this short short story I wrote what, maybe ten years ago, experimenting with form. It’s called “Photo Reduced” and while it hasn’t appeared in print anywhere, it’s still all rights reserved, all wrongs avenged, blah blah blah.
Two little girls astride a stuffed bear in the middle of Lincoln Park Zoo.2
Ice cream rings3
around their mouths; smears of chocolate on matching short sets.4
The bigger one laughs5,6
at the photographer.7,8
The little one, puzzled, stares off in the other direction.9
1. Chicago, 1961. When Lincoln Avenue was the whole world, and animals all lived in cages.
2. Where did this poor bear come from, and where did it go? It smelled of mildew and dust, and the glass eyes were clouded. The upper lip curled over yellow teeth. A back like a board, the fur like splinters.
3. Mondays and the restaurant closed: my father spent his free time feeding us. Ice cream and cotton candy and long paper strips with candy dots in precise rows. At home there was more food waiting: pasta fazul, minestrone, short ribs, fried bread, sausage and peppers, bruised bananas.
4. Imagine my mother at Sears, Montgomery Ward, Goldblatts, sorting through piles of little girl pinks and pale greens, polyester sticky to the touch. Imagine her there at the zoo in a sundress and sandals, cigarette between her fingers, nails painted the same blood red as her mouth. Imagine her someplace else entirely, dim and cool, smelling of beer.
5. See me: the smarter one, the clever one. The one who knew when to laugh.
6. See me: the one who will survive.
7. It is real laughter; I can see that much about my child self. But what was I laughing at? Surely not my pacing father. I see him in a short sleeved shirt and bow tie, his hands crossed behind his back. Surely not.
8. The photographer is not memory and declines to be imagined. His camera: a box that stood on three legs. In 1961, fathers and uncles and sons and strangers held the cameras, wound the film, flashed. Mothers and daughters and sisters learned how to hold their heads up, how to smile, when to laugh.
9. A baby still. Her cheeks round, her fine hair drifting around her face. Scowling, unsure, on the verge of tears. She rocks in place, at odds with the world, already and always.