After we came home from the hospital, Lee spent the afternoon in bed sleeping off the anesthetic. I spent the afternoon making signs. She didn’t look so good, even if there wasn’t much to look at. The doctor bandaged her eyes and gave her blackout glasses to wear, so you couldn’t tell where he’d operated. But the skin of her face was thin and waxy, and there was a spray of broken blood vessels in each cheek. Like little red hairs. Little red hairs with split ends. I didn’t like them, and I didn’t like the waxy sheen of her skin either. She had to lie down. The drugs she was on were heavy and still working through her system.
“What about now?” she asked as I turned off the light. “How do I look now?”
“You’ll look fine soon.”
Bandages poked out from beneath the glasses, and I wondered if the tape would hurt when it came off.
“I feel good about this, James.” She was so high. “Do you feel good?”
I stood by the door and said things I thought would put her at ease, compliments and assurances and other don’t-worry bits of relationship noise meant to manage her fear. Lee didn’t reply. She just lay on her back, head articulated and throat bared, posed as if she wanted me to touch her, to make her understand I still wanted her by stroking her thigh or tracing her lips with the edge of a fingernail, to let her know no matter how the surgery turned out, I’d find her attractive. But I didn’t. I might have hurt her, and she was already asleep, besides.
Before the surgery Lee’s eyes were dark coarse gray, like pigeon feathers. Afterward they lightened up, the crisp color of an overcast winter afternoon. A bright severe gray. They were sharper after. She was sharper. When I mentioned it she told me her eyes hadn’t changed—she would know, how could they, you don’t know what you’re talking about—but there were times when I caught her looking at her reflection and saw the confusion on her face.
Her photographs improved, we didn’t argue about that. That was why she went to the hospital. Lee was on contract with an agency called Emerge, shooting commercial real estate and hotel development properties, but she hadn’t always been about these empty corporate spaces. We met back while I was at Saatchi & Saatchi and she was looking for steady work. I hired her for a L’Oréal pitch. Her images were good—glistening with texture, lipsticks and blushes so sultry you wanted to chew the colors up and feel them slide between your teeth. But we didn’t win the business, and she took the rejection hard.
I bought her a drink to console her, to tell her how good I thought she was. Lee was fresh in New York, had barely left Houston behind, and didn’t know her way around here yet. After our third round I pushed the brown hair off her face and kissed her deep, as if trying to suck the bad feelings out of her with my mouth. I remember the doubt on her breath, warm and sour.
She started at Emerge once I left for a smaller agency in the Flatiron where I handled similar accounts and made more money, selling marketing concepts and logo treatments to mascara brands and fragrance manufacturers and hair-dye companies. Around that time, Lee moved in with me. Sometimes we’d talk about marriage in an abstract way, the way you do when you’re thinking about submitting an RFP but aren’t sure you need the business. With me and her, there were no timelines. No next steps.
But when it came to her career, Lee was dead serious. She used to say she moved to New York for a reason, and it wasn’t the ample living space or lush backyards. The tartness of her tone always made me laugh, especially since she’d already begun to make a name for herself with her photos. Her clients liked her composition. She’d focus on details others ignored. Little things the clients thought lent their eggshell conference rooms and lime-rind lobbies something extra.
There was a hazy quality to her early work. Blurry edges. Softness. I liked what she did with the Gillies Site outside Santa Ana, a complex of six sea-glass colored cubes whose developers dreamed of leasing to real-estate agents or insurance brokers or satellite-office types. She shot the buildings so you could see the reflection of the empty parking lot in their exteriors—fresh blacktop, sun-dappled concrete abutments, grassy medians sprouting baby maples and oaks. You could see what those buildings would become, imagine them full, productive. Gillies loved those pictures. So did Emerge.
No one knew she was going blind.
Lee kept that to herself. She didn’t want pity or sympathy or anything else that Marshall, Emerge’s chief creative, thought might pass for understanding. At work Lee’s boss was tan and together, prone to wearing heels and structured blazers, sharp-tongued and indiscriminate about whom she criticized. But her private life was a mess—ugly divorce, rumors of a drinking problem—and still Lee felt she couldn’t give Marshall any excuse to think less of her. There was a line of photographers at Lee’s back, waiting for her to stumble, looking for any opportunity to supplant her in the agency’s pecking order.
She started to wear contacts to hide her troubles, but they dried out her eyes, and when the pain of the lenses scraping around prevented her from doing her job, she’d replace them with glasses so thick they reminded me of airplane windows. Floaters clouded her field of vision. Sometimes she saw flashes, electric bursts, and those gave her migraines, and sometimes her migraines brought on the flashes. Whenever she caught a cold, she’d develop sties, these weeping red lumps that would tent the skin of her eyelids. Even when her face was normal, she refused to put on makeup, although she knew it was expected of her. The fear whittled her down. She lost so much weight that year, I could make a cuff of my thumb and fingers and circle her shin.
I’d come back to the apartment and find her in the dark, lying in bed, mouth screwed shut, the air heavy and greasy and smelling of unwashed bed sheets. After ten hours of selling clients on shots of mascara and smooth brown knees, I didn’t have the strength to draw Lee out of herself. Sometimes I’d make her dinner, and sometimes after we ate I’d massage the knotted gristle that lined her spine, and, on occasion, she’d talk about how worried she was, how the thoughts raced around inside her head so fast her forehead felt hot. I’d tell her she was a good photographer, but Lee said she wanted to be great, not good. She said good was sad.
We discussed medical solutions—I’d put her on my health insurance after we moved in together—and she saw doctor after doctor. One of them claimed she was at risk for retinal detachment. I didn’t know how true that was because she didn’t go back to him, and it didn’t matter anyway. He wouldn’t operate. None of them would. She wanted to correct the degeneration with lasers or injections, but the doctors told her she wasn’t a good candidate. They said her retinas were the wrong shape, or they thought lasers might score her corneas, and the surgeons who might have chanced it were out of network and we couldn’t handle the cost.
The bad news wore me down, too. We almost stopped touching each other, and when we did it was listless and left me dull below the waist, my penis dangling flaccid between us like a stupid question neither of us wanted to answer. She only slept one night out of every three or four, dreaming in bed beside me, damp and tense and tearing at the sheets. I held her from behind and whispered to her that everything would be okay. What else could I do?
But her eyes got worse. She got worse. The anxieties she felt about going blind fed insecurities about her photography, and the insecurities she felt when her photos turned out poorly fed her anxieties about going blind. The energy of her earlier work devolved into a murky tension, light spots surrounded by dark, as if her camera lenses had grown cataracts. After a string of shoots like that, Marshall complained, and that was when Lee really panicked.
This isn’t you. There’s no feeling. This could be anybody’s work. It’s so generic, so flat. Look at this. The sink. The Splenda. That Keurig. It’s the way an office kitchen looks on the day after tomorrow. Ten years after the plague kills off America.
I asked her to show me her images before she sent them in, offered to hire her an assistant, told her maybe she’d be better off teaching theory at SVA or Pratt or ICP, and sometimes she’d whimper that she wanted to shoot, not teach, but usually she’d just shake her head. I started hanging out with some of the brighter young women at work. When my team went for drinks, I’d stay too late and get sloppy, and sometimes I’d talk too loud and make Lesley or Sylvia or Marianna nervous with the weight of my stare. When I stumbled home, Lee wouldn’t even ask me where I’d been. I thought she’d given up, but she hadn’t. She called more doctors.
The day she finally found one, it was like she hit the lottery. The doctor left her a message on her cell saying she could have her surgery, that whatever danger there was of permanent damage had subsided, that sometimes that happened if you waited long enough. Lee played the message for me sitting on a stool in the dive bar around the corner from our apartment and cried on my arm. She cried when she signed the release, too. I took a cab with her home from the hospital. She didn’t cry after that.
That afternoon—the afternoon of her first operation—I spent the time she was asleep making signs. I worried she was so dazed, she’d try to pick the contacts out of her eyes when she wasn’t wearing contacts anymore. So I made these signs and taped them to every mirror in our place. The doctor couldn’t say if what he’d done had worked. He told me she’d need some time to recover before he’d know for certain. I had so much anxiety I crunched up a couple of baby Aspirin and washed them down with gin, but it was writing those signs that numbed me out the most. I spent the whole afternoon with a Sharpie and heavy-bond cardstock.
NEW EYES, they read.
“It’s too much. It’s too brassy,” Lee said.
“You wanted blonde,” I replied.
“Yeah, I know. But I don’t feel blonde.”
“Give it a minute. I’m sure it’ll seep in by morning.”
“Into your scalp.”
“And then I’ll feel blonde.” Laughing, hiding her lips behind her palm.
“You won’t remember feeling any other way.”
She’d colored it for me, for this party I’d invited her to, and stood in front of the floor-length mirror in our bedroom, examining herself while I dressed for work. The dye had a coppery tint. It gave her hair a matte pastel hue and set her eyes off in a way that made you wonder if there was any green in them. There wasn’t, but that’s what a good hair dye will do. The hair, the eyes, the tapered chin. The reference was Edie Sedgwick. She didn’t look like Edie Sedgwick at all, but that was what they told her at Emerge.
“It’s not flattering,” she said.
“Yes it is.”
“They wouldn’t know. They sell pictures of disempeopled office parks.”
“That’s not a word.”
“That’s what they’re called: ‘office parks.’”
“You write a response to the next brief, then.”
“What does that even mean?”
“It means a hair’s breadth from lifeless.”
“Why not people-less? Person-free?”
“Because it’s not actually lifeless. It’s a hair’s breadth from lifeless.”
“I don’t understand the point.” I smoothed down my collar and adjusted my belt.
“That there’s the impression people have either just left or are about to arrive.”
“The suggestion of anticipation. That’s what they want.”
Months after the surgery and some success in selling her photos, and still she acted like one wrong move and she’d be tossed out of Manhattan. Shoulders hunched, eyes downcast. Quiet voice. Lee carried herself as if she owed debt. I don’t remember exactly when she began to stand up straight. Sometime after this. After she started tanning at Solaris, that spa in Soho. Maybe after the first round of microdermabrasion.
“Do you think they’ll like it?” Two thin fingers tugging on a strand.
“I wouldn’t put too much thought into it.” I buttoned my jacket. “It’s hair. It’s dinner.”
“With your boss.”
“And twenty vice-presidents.”
“Will they recognize me?”
“Do you want to be recognized?”
“Funny.” Mouth open, chin raised. Eyes half-lidded and fixed on her reflection. “Will I remember you when I feel blonde?”
“I don’t know, Lee. No one can say for sure.”
They didn’t recognize her at the party that night. Not that they knew her well. Two of them told me she looked like Edie Sedgwick.
Later on, every morning, some variation on this routine:
Lee would stand by the bed with her back to the mirror, head turned over shoulder, three fingers of each hand under each of her freshly tanned ass cheeks. She’d lift her flesh and release it, watching as her ass cheeks bounced, the skin quivering for a moment before going still. Then she’d place her hands on her hips, right index finger tapping the girdle of bone at her waist. She’d exhale. Then she’d bring her hands back to her ass, focusing on the mirror behind her. She’d lift. And release. Watch the bounce. Again. And again.
The scars were hardly visible.
She’d turn to face her reflection and lay her palms flat on her lower abdomen, fingers parallel and pointed at her feet, thumbs held horizontal at a smooth latitude midway between her navel and pubic bone. Then she’d force her hands into her stomach as if suffering cramps and lift her elbows without moving her palms. Her genitals would stretch, the waxed hair above her pudendal cleft would go thin and sparse, and her dark-tanned skin would turn momentarily pale. White. The color of fish belly. Then she’d remove her hands and release the skin, let her arms fall to her sides, and stare at her stomach. And then she’d place her hands back there and pull at herself again.
If you wanted to see the puncture marks, you’d have to know where to look.
She’d turn to the side, regard herself in profile, and raise her left arm overhead. She’d leave her left elbow crooked behind her head and press her tan right hand to her tan left breast. She’d pull her left breast up and to the right, searching for scars or stretch marks or other imperfections, and the skin below it would glow white. Fish belly.
“You’re so brown,” I might say, pushing myself up the mattress by my elbows, wiping the sleep from my eyes with fists. “What time is it?”
I’d watch her eyes flicker in the mirror as she’d release her breast and turn to the other side, all without losing sight of her reflection. She’d raise her right arm over her head and place her tan left hand on her tan right breast. Then she’d pull her right breast up and to the left, her eyes crawling over her skin. She’d spend hours that way. Lifting, pulling. Again. And again.
“This just feels right,” she’d sometimes reply.
After the third new campaign sold as soon as it was pitched, the creative directors began to glance nervously at each other whenever she dropped by the office. “Like they’d forgotten I could do this,” she said, exasperated. “Like they didn’t know who I was.” To show how exasperated, she twirled a tan finger around a tan ear. Lee put effort into herself now, so I could understand their confusion. A glamor package: ash-blonde hair tied high at the back of her head; toned brown skin; vampish nails; heels; blue-white teeth so brilliant they made her look like she was from Miami. Suddenly, attitude. Then she started turning them down. That was when they really began to love her.
“I told Marshall it doesn’t make any sense to do a twelve-hour turnaround in Santa Fe if Westing’s already in San Diego and available over the weekend. Especially for another Reprobate Fields job. The margins aren’t there. They’re not going to pay, and Marshall knows it. Leo Burnett’s got corporate. Repro’s not going to switch, not for national, so for what? Another catalog shoot—four-thousand-square- foot open-plan, a never-renter, same as it was in Lansing, in Dayton, Bangor, New Haven—gaaah.” Eyes flickering with realization, brown finger rising to tap her lower lip. “Why not just use the last shoot I did and not tell them? They’ll never notice. Send me five percent. Two percent. Whatever. I’d send them photos for first right of refusal.”
My boss asked me about her, what her contract was like, whether she could freelance for us. I told him she was exclusive to Emerge. He said that was unfortunate, and I knew why. The surgeries—or maybe it was the recoveries, the days in bed, her stomach twisted up in an opiated tangle, skin so swollen it shone—lent her pictures a precision they hadn’t had before. Word got around. Her new images were directed, evocative. Thrilling. She’d grown, and she knew it. The accidents in her early work turned out to be minor stylistic flourishes overall. The new clarity showed her talents ran elsewhere, to a craven, explicit quality that mystified Emerge and that the clients loved. Whatever it was, it booked hotel rooms and made office sales. The clients began to ask for Lee’s style, although they didn’t know what to call it. (“The glossy ones”; “the nasty stuff.”) I told her I knew what it was and Lee said, “Porn, right?”
You could see it in the muscular edges of glass conference rooms, the sensual curves of empty Aeron chairs, the wiry, springy suggestiveness of close-cropped virgin carpets. The way she shot the McCarthy Complex dripped with it. Innuendo at every angle. There was a photo in that series that when I first saw it made me swallow—the pliant, pebbly skin of a gray plastic desk, her lens nearly resting on its surface, capturing the diffuse refraction of the blue–green fluorescents overhead. That desk made you want to skim it with your palms. Made you want to rub yourself on it. In the background, an elevator, doors open, its going-down light illuminated and spilling redness over the top half of the frame. I could almost hear her breathing heavy when I imagined her taking the shot. If she did that for an accounting firm in Hudson, Emerge wondered what she might be able to do with the new Marriott at Palm Beach International, the just-built Holiday Inn Express outside McCarran. The Hyatt Regency Marshall knew they’d have dibs on when it went up in Fort Worth.
“That’s not anticipation,” I said, looking at the prints she’d spread across the kitchen table, kitchen floor.
“It’s not. It’s something else.”
“What would you call it?”
“An expression of need.” Chest rising. Falling. “Disempeopled desire.”
“But that’s not possible.”
“But it is.”
“You need people to get that kind of thing across.”
“Don’t be so narrow-minded.” Arms folded underneath her breasts.
“All right, whatever. It’s very alluring.”
“Lurid, you mean.”
“Office furniture can’t be lurid.”
“Yes, it can. Apparently.”
“What does Marshall think of it?”
“She doesn’t know what to think.” Biting her tongue.
“She must have said something.”
“The feedback is confused. But the clients keep asking for it. So.”
“What does the rest of the office call it?”
Powerful stuff. Tactile, tangible. There’s a depth that wasn’t here before. These pictures are so hungry, it’s uncomfortable. You can feel it. Look at this office, the switchplate, the double-paned glass, that molding—it’s not safe for work and it is work! Maturity, real maturity. So much more than catalog shots, Lee. Very contemporary.
Red wax pencil in her brown right hand, signature loops in the upper left corners of prints she liked. The ones to be submitted. I asked which were her favorites, but she didn’t respond. I told her I liked the Tucson Federated—something in the calm, cool expanse of noonday drywall evoked both flat lust and an echo of regret. But more the lust, right? She pushed an ash-blonde sheaf of hair off her long brown neck and looked up, somewhere past my head.
“What do you think of my chin?”
Lee started leaving pamphlets around the apartment. I’d thought she still preferred the mystery of it, having her touch-ups without mentioning them. That’s what she called them: “touch-ups.” But they weren’t touch-ups. They were surgeries. Breast augmentation, lower body lift, laser sculpting. Each leached the color from her severe gray eyes, turned them faint and milky, and now when she spoke to me her voice had a crackle to it, like a broadcast from some great distance picked up on a transistor radio. More than once I came home after a pitch or presentation, a long day of conversations about brand positioning and competitive analysis and KPIs and identifying stakeholders, wondering who I’d find in our apartment.
At first I didn’t say anything to her except when the delay in her small talk—the nothings she’d still say to me after work, before bed—made it obvious she’d taken painkillers. Was it my place to? We were together, yes, but not married, and there were boundaries I felt I couldn’t cross—relationship terms and conditions, iron-clad NDAs. I sought advice about what to do from some of the smarter younger women at work. One night over gin Sylvia said she found Lee’s willpower attractive. I told her I didn’t know who could find Lee’s will to shoot empty office parks attractive. She explained that sex in all things was what made them covetable, that everyone in advertising knows sex sells, but that sex sublimated—into gleaming computers, textured cubicle walls, translucent push-pins, rock-hard office furniture, silky-looking conference-room televisions—was what gave Lee’s photos their sophistication. I told her Lee’s photos made me lonely. Sylvia told me to appreciate how good everyone thought Lee’s pictures really were. They’re hot, she said. Admit it, James.
But Lee’s work turned my stomach. So did her body. Sometimes her skin was raw or too tan, or I’d spot scars I hadn’t seen before and I’d yell at her why, what are you doing this for, this isn’t you. She’d say how would you know, or it feels good and it’s a help so what’s the difference. But usually she’d just ask for a job, and I wouldn’t see her for days. During her absences, I’d pick up the literature strewn around our apartment, open and highlighted, waiting to be read.
Nightstand, page nine: “…employs precision lasers in a controlled burn to terminate thousands of old or damaged cells below the epidermis… depending on length of individual treatments, downtime may be required during recovery….”
Mantle, page seven: “…encourages collagen production by exposing unsightly areas to ultrasonic energy… tighten creping jawlines, throat skin, sagging knees… restore youthful vitality to breast tissue….”
Hanging on the fridge, under a magnet, page one: “…reposition drooping, baggy eyelids through this popular surgery… smooth and tighten underlying muscles… redrape excess fat… bruising and swelling usually peaks at day three….”
So sprays of broken blood vessels everywhere, all over. Like little red wires. Little red wires with frayed ends. They made me sick, and I told her that. Lee told me nobody grows up wanting to shoot commercial real estate and hotel development properties. She said if you wanted to do it well, you had to find a way to love it.
The next week, Emerge received news that they were to win a photo award for the Sequoia campaign. Lee had shot the office park, a squat shard of concrete Emerge’s creative team had labeled the “Bad Idea in Barstow,” but Marshall was going to accept the award on behalf of the firm. Lee couldn’t even make the awards ceremony, because Marshall sent her to Phoenix for a shoot that would take place over four days, including the night of the show.
Lee flew out to Phoenix on Thursday evening and was still in the air when Marshall’s assistant called my cell. For Lee’s sake I tried to be polite, asking the assistant how he was and if he was looking forward to the awards, and he said actually that was the reason for him reaching out. Emerge, he explained, needed a few of Lee’s high-res shots. Marshall was giving a speech and wanted to use Lee’s photos as a backdrop. Don’t you have them already? I asked. He said yes, but not all of them, and the creative directors were in a frenzy about having a variety, needing the full edit, wanting to show the crowd something they’d never seen before.
I said okay, when I hear from Lee, I’ll ask her to check in. The assistant said, well, we’re on deadline. The awards are on Sunday, and all materials need to be in for review by ten tomorrow, and if it’s not too much to ask, could you see if you can find the photos? That’s a lot to ask, I told him. It’s after hours, and I’m home already, and I don’t use Lee’s home computer when she isn’t around. She wouldn’t appreciate me sending out her raw images. The assistant laughed and said it was fine, that of course Lee trusted their vision, and then reminded me there was a reason she’d given them my cell number. I said this wasn’t an emergency. He said no, this absolutely was. Could I please find the Sequoia folder on her computer and drop it onto the shared drive? It’s just a little thing. It’s almost nothing at all. I thought about that for a moment, then told him I’d do what I could.
The folder sat on the desktop of her machine, highlighted in red, as if Lee had been expecting trouble. When I dropped it onto the drive, her machine began to copy 1,341 files. The dialog box said it would take about an hour. That was a lot for one of Lee’s edits. It worried me, so I stopped it from copying. I didn’t want to check, but I felt like I had to. I didn’t want to send Emerge anything inappropriate by mistake. So I looked through it. I saw what she’d been shooting.
Sequoia lobby, shot from a low vantage. Lee must have been kneeling or else standing with the camera at waist level. In the foreground, she’d captured the round outer edge of the receptionist’s desk, dark wood finished with steel accents. The curvature and angle and bent brushed metal made it appear obscenely swollen. In the background, a single high-heeled pump, black patent, overheads reflected in the toe. Lee’s, I think.
Close-up of a scar in a bathroom mirror. Grainy, out of focus. A low-lit, tawny quality to the image. The scar was in the shape of an M. The skin above and below it was brown. You could sense the shape of her breast from the way the tissue curved in the picture. The edge of her nipple darkened the top of the frame.
Jut of her chin in profile.
Microwave: black, gleaming, empty, new.
Bathroom sinks. Quiet, sterile. Calm.
Black desk phone gleaming, cord yet to tangle. Post-it over the keypad. NEW EYES in Sharpie.
Her nude hips and thighs. She shot a few of them lying down, camera on her stomach, focusing on the twin tan peaks of her legs. The way it was framed, the image drew your eye to the summits of her knees. Pressed together. In the gap between her thighs, Sequoia’s nondescript cubicles.
Earlobe, ash-blonde hair, tendons in her neck.
Sequoia’s entrance—a wooden pentagon surrounded on all sides by matte steel. Below, concrete sidewalk glittering, as if they’d ground sequins into the cement.
Manila envelopes scattered across a beige plastic desk. Some of them scrawled on. The writing sometimes precise, more often erratic, and always in Sharpie. NEW EYES.
Naked left foot.
Curve of lower stomach, sinewy obliques.
Close-ups of fluorescents, lights tinted a pale seafoam.
Elevator interior, view of the brushed steel doors. Her reflection. A diffusion of color, her body represented in a haze—yellow, brown, black, brown, black. Tapering into nothing. The line of the car’s door cutting the haze of her in two.
Bathroom mirror, reflection of her naked brown body dusky and out of focus. Post-it on the mirror where her head should have been. Sharpie. NEW EYES.
Clean white wireless mouse thrust between her legs, hand blurred. A metal and plastic appendage inserted into her vagina, the curved head of it poking out between her thighs. Rouged skin puffed up around the mouse’s edges.
Nude right thigh and buttock straddling a personal printer. Buttock clenched, thigh muscles straining. Deep dimple at the base of her spine, hips thrust forward. The suggestion of grinding. Paper crumpled and wet beneath her.
Tongue pink as raw tuna pressed to the screen of an iMac. Trail of spit below it. In the reflection on the screen, Lee’s face. Cheekbones flushed. Eyebrows raised. Pupils wide, black with lust. Post-it stuck to the left side of the screen. NEW EYES.
I deleted the file. I didn’t return their calls. I didn’t return her calls, either.
Lee hired a car back from the airport and walked into our apartment browner than usual. The desert had given her skin a weather-beaten appearance, and the sun had bleached her hair even whiter. Still, she was a tanned blonde vision. Her eyes were clear and gray. There was a reference, but I didn’t want to place it. Joshua Tree hippie? Bronzed athlete? Aged porn star?
“So you’re upset.” Bending over to drop her weekender by the kitchen table, allowing a view down her shirt.
“I could have sent those to your office.”
“Those are my set ups.”
“They almost had the entire file.”
“They wouldn’t have cared. They’ve seen worse.”
“They’d have seen everything.”
“They’ve already seen everything.” Arms quivering, pushing down the handle of her luggage. “Besides, they’d have edited. They couldn’t embarrass themselves.”
“Really, Lee? I’ve met Marshall.”
She went to the kitchen sink and leaned in. Washed her hands. I looked at the side of her, her long profile curved, bent into a question mark. Every angle of her body was hard, sharp, constructed as though to maximize desire. I thought about the conversation Sylvia and I had that night I took her out for drinks. I could almost taste the gin I’d drunk with the girl, stinging and medicinal, at the corners of my mouth.
“Those are my set ups,” Lee said again. “Then I take myself out of them. That’s how I get them to look the way they do.”
“Like you leave behind a residue.”
“More like an impression. An imprint.”
“That’s how you want to be remembered?”
“It doesn’t matter what I want. It’s what’s best for the photos.”
“When did this start?”
“I don’t know when.” Rubbing her neck, leaving wet fingerprints on her skin. “After the eye surgery.”
“Your photos were fine before.”
“They weren’t, James. You know they weren’t. I wasn’t trying.”
“You were trying. You were going blind.”
“I was forcing it. I found a way to make the work personal.”
“Office parks can’t be personal.”
“I don’t believe that. I know you don’t, either.” Shoulders thrown back, spine arched. One brown hand on the lip of the sink, the other on her hip. “Don’t look at me like that.”
“This is that important to you.”
“If you could use a camera that way, would you stop?”
“Why?” I shook my head. “Why do this to yourself?”
“It’s not about me.”
“How could you do this to us?”
“It’s not about us,” she said. “Look. See me.” Lee pointed at my chest. “Really see me. You aren’t seeing me.”
She was right. I didn’t see. But then I saw. I glanced at the mirror mounted on the kitchen wall behind her and caught the look on my own face. Flicker of gray. A startled pigeon taking wing.
NEW EYES. I meant it as a warning. She took it as guidance. It turned out to be a prayer. Standing there in the weird light of her return home she reached for me and placed my hand in hers, as if imploring me to understand something I still didn’t get, tongue creeping from her mouth and running along her upper lip. Lee’s face was wide and forgiving, blank as one of her clean corporate spaces, and I felt myself stiffen, my cock stretching the waistband of my underwear, the head of it poking at my fly and straining toward her. She’d just washed up, but that didn’t matter. Her fingers crackled with static electricity, like she’d been rubbing herself on virgin gray carpet in an arid office park, some vacant zone that even in stills communicated a lust so strong you knew Lee had only uncovered what had been there the whole time, a sense of anticipation so powerful that any clients she presented to would be forced to write a check the instant they laid eyes on her.