Portrait in Black and White
The Word: FRAME
Julia turned onto her side, where her head didn’t hurt so much. Before her, family photos in white frames hung in a cluster. Photos from different eras, scanned and resized, in harmonious black and white, all in white frames on the dove gray wall. So very elegant. All that black and white. She and the designer both agreed. But now, there was nowhere she wanted to rest her eyes. oh, for a patch of blue.
That photo. Of her with her grandfather in the early Seventies. Reduced just to its pictorial elements–couch, the moire of the family room paneling, the collie’s darks and lights. Her grandfather’s face brightened so his features were clear. What had been in real life a small square snapshot in the rusts and golds of the early Seventies, his dark face, copper brown, the caramel and white of the collie, the golden swirls of the woodwork.
In black and white it reminded her of a news photo. Have you seen these people? The warmth had disappeared. Those rich browns, those golds. When she was that girl in the picture, she’d taken all her photographs in black and white. Wound her own film onto the spools, developed them in the bathroom, printed in the highschool darkroom.. It was how she saw the world, high contrast, black and white. Taking no pleasure in the golden browns and coffees and yolk gold. She’d liked white subtitles against stony Swedish beaches too, and rainslicked Noir boulevards, and the preternaturally pale movie stars. Dietrich and Garbo.
She’d made a mistake to let these prints be made. A crime. That party dress with the cut lace collar her mother had made for her seventh birthday was burgundy, not black. Her first formal gown turquoise with gold thread on white silk. And there, at her first house after college, lying in the backyard under an apricot tree—the grass long and green and stitched with flowers, her long hair was newly red, the flowing hippie skirt the saffron of the fruit. Or there–the chalked nursery school pavement, Kayla in her favorite dress, flying as she hopscotched, barefoot—but the dress, just dots and movement, no rainbow. Her chocolate curls now licorice.
What had she been thinking, when she’d allowed the decorator to create this room, its gray walls and white furniture, white duvet, and black and white photographs.
She certainly hadn’t realized she’d be dying here.
Towards the center of the cluster of photos, a toddler in Fifties garb held a clutch of plastic keys. She could still remember how enticing they felt, smooth and a bit soft, pastel as Jordan almonds, eminently biteable. The little rounded Peter Pan collar, the smocking across the bodice—all of her clothes had smocking then. What color? Sky blue–even as a tiny child. Her hair like buckwheat honey.
She really had been born in another time, hadn’t she? All that smocking. Eisenhower was president. His bald head replacing Liberty’s on the silver dime. Their TV resided in a wooden box, with vents into which she’d secretly smuggled love notes to Mighty Mouse. The young decorator had marveled at that picture, the way Julia herself had once marveled at photos of her mother in Forties lipstick and padded shoulders, or her father in Depression overalls and bare feet.
She hated all these black and whites. How could she have allowed it? To take the color away, so that they would all go together. The mishmash of all that life, turned into her teenage aesthetic ideal. All drama but where was the life? Life was not an art object, it didn’t hang together—ha. Her head hurt, but she couldn’t help it, she could never resist a pun. But life didn’t have to create a unified whole. Some moments were overexposed and others, badly composed. It was just like her to let a decorator redesign her life so it looked good in white frames on a gray wall. Like death in life. Like a newspaper morgue.
Well, she wanted her grandfather’s coppery arms back. Her daughter’s rainbows, the gold and turquoise of that Indian brocade, the flowerdappled grass. She didn’t care if it looked like a mess. It was a life, in all its colors. Just for a little while more, until all the colors were gone. And give that girl her sky blue dress, and keys like Jordan almonds.
Part of a semi-weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”
Next week’s word is: TABLE