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Ann Lightcap Bruno

Three Takes on Brassai

Loverís Quarrel, Bal Des Quatre Saisons,

Rue De Lappe, Paris, c. 1932

Gilberte Brassai

1.

The boy is younger than the girl, his face still possessing the sweetness of a child, with long lashes and tender cheekbones. His coat is too big, like heís dressing up in clothes that donít belong to him. And she is so French with painted mouth and the crafted curl, although thereís something about her that reminds me of the flapper photographs of my grandmother from the same year.

They quarrel because they cannot think of what to say, and so she smokes, her cigarette tipped between experienced fingers, a flat look on her face. No one drinks. In the mirror, we can see fragments of other people in the cafť whose conversations rumble. There is a middle-aged woman in the corner playing tipsy music on an out of tune piano. There is dissonant laughter, and the girl does not think about it but the boy hates the hilarity surrounding them.

I like to think that once on the sidewalk outside, where there is drizzle and night, they share a groping kiss of reconciliation beneath the streetlight. They kiss because it is Paris and they are young and they donít know what else to do. But in the light of day it falls apart once more. She returns to an old flame. He puts his fist through a wall and breaks his wrist. And years later, many years, he sees the photograph in a souvenir shop and buys it, although he cannot remember her name.

The reality is that the photograph was posed. They probably meant nothing to one another at all, just two faces Brassai wanted to juxtapose for the sake of art. Still, I like to think they kissed.

 

2.

He was an aspiring conga player. Before me, his women had been tiny things, little bird girls he could feel big around. When it started up between us, I felt large and old, but he was beautiful and it was alive for some time.

A year or so in, we went to visit his friend who lived in Brooklyn. His friend was newly in love with a beautiful dark girl with my own name. There is a picture of her and me, one that I no longer possess (I burned everything from that time in the week before my wedding). Our arms are around each otherís shoulders, and my face is already growing pasty and thin, although the end will not come for another two months. The pose is stiff, although she was kind. I could tell that she knew he no longer loved me.

It was February. We took the subway into Manhattan and walked the sidewalks as a bright snow fell. For most of the day, he and his friend walked ahead of us, talking about people they used to know, as she and I lagged behind. She was joining the Foreign Service and wanted to marry the friend so he could come with her to other countries. At the very least, her mother would lend her a diamond so she could pretend.

For dinner we went to an Ethiopian restaurant and knelt on the floor and scooped up the food with our fingers. I remember liking this part, laughing, seeing him laugh. Afterwards, we walked to the subway. The friend and the girl with my name were hand in hand in front of us, and when I tried to take the conga playerís hand, he pulled away. "Donít," he said, "turn me into someone Iím not."

I moved out in April, after I learned he had found himself another bird girl, one who taught him how to salsa after hours.

Some months after, I showed up at one of his gigs, hair done, red lips, black dress, because I knew the other girl would be there and I wanted a bit of a scene. But all I did was pull a pack of cigarettes out of my small purse and smoke, because I wanted to show him I was someone else. I hadnít smoked while we were together. I knew how though, taught to inhale by my college roommate who told me to breathe in and then gasp like my mother had just walked in.

When the band took a break, the other girl stayed with her friend and he came over to my table for a minute or two. I canít remember what we said; Iím sure it was nothing. I do remember inhaling though, and holding it, and then breathing out, off to the side, then flicking ash with the tip of my unpolished nail.

 

3.

Here is the intersection of shade and absence, angle and arc. Take note of the diagonal lines of nose, fingers and neckline, how they direct each figure away from the center. These lines lead the eye to the world beyond the frame. After all, it is the part that lies beyond what we see that interests us most. Speculation is the ultimate task, after gathering up the pieces from the image itself. And so we step back from the texture of wool and hair and skin, away from the air thick with smoke and noise, away from what we think we know. Indeed, we are too close to the picture to know and see at the same time.


Ann Lightcap Bruno, a native of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, teaches English at the Wheeler School in Providence, Rhode Island. Her writing has appeared in such publications as Worcester Magazine, triptych, The Rambler, and Providence Monthly.

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