The dressing room is the size of a church in Paris. The girl is blonde but her man has her wearing a wig today. It is black and seeps its tendrils along her shoulders like oil. Her man, the photographer, is in the corner. He wears a velvet robe, which is red, with a silk cuff, which is black. She poses on a chaise lounge as he tells her what to do.
She is his wife.
“Don’t move,” he is saying. “Like that.”
He moves the lamp and the light reveals her age. Her thin, onion skin folds around the eyes. She is perfectly white. He will pick up his utensils – brush, powder, Scotch tape – and set to work. He will spend an hour on one cheek – making it perfect, making it smooth, making it the way he envisions it should be. She won’t speak the whole time. She knows better.
He won’t worry about the other cheek because it is not visible in the photo he is composing. It doesn’t even exist. You ask him.
Then he bends her limbs as if she were made of rubber, and she really is just like rubber too — putty to his every whim. Her body arches to catch the drifting sunlight, to get that perfect shot. (If he misses it in the next few minutes, if the moment passes, he will have her wait just like that until the next day, and he knows, when he sleeps, she won’t move.)
Her eyes always have that look of terror, as if she was screaming on the inside. There’s nothing he could do about that. But it’s fine. That’s what he wants.
He positions every single one of her bangs, every strand of hair, one by one. This took him all week, and he did it with tweezers, hair spray, and magnifying glass. He smoked a cigarette out the corner of his mouth and the smoke burned her eyes, but she dare not cry, dare not ruin the make up which had taken him so many years to complete, or else start all over. Or else, or else, she can’t even think of it.
“Now, that’s good. I think we’re ready.”
Over to his machine – the old camera, where he tucks his head inside the canvas blanket, and readies the hand-held flash, and muffles from below his cavern for her to stay steady, that this is the moment, and then bang, the luminescent explosion, the smell of sulfur, the moment is captured. She waits. It may be he will want another one, for safety. Sometimes he takes two, and she dare not move until she knows.
This was written in Paris by Tobin Dalrymple, September 2013.