Ann Lightcap Bruno
Three Takes on Brassai
Loverís Quarrel, Bal Des Quatre Saisons,
Lappe, Paris, c. 1932
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.
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.
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
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