S was the sound that echoed in the gallery. The well-heeled guests with modern haircuts talked sidelong to each other while they studied the photographs. Moving between the company, quickly at times, was the artist—dressed in obligatory black denim jeans and Converse All-Stars. The unkempt quality of his dyed hair was as intentional as the stubble on his face. When he spoke, the gallery sounded with familiar keywords.
I feel like Hockney understood this when he did Pearlblossom Highway. He was just trying to make the next logical step from Portrait of an Artist—of course he needed the 670 Polaroid to do it.
Anna Beth watched as her much older boyfriend, Castro, punctuated his sentences with expressive hand gestures. Leaning against the far wall next to the wine table with her hands behind her back, she picked at the fractured white paint coating the hammer-board walls. Little flakes accumulated at the heels of her wing-tipped Doc Martens.
I think my pictures expand on Hockney's cubism—and Dadaism, come to think of it. And I've tried to be more compassionate than Dada, too.
The couple talking to Castro moved on to the wall with the nude portraits. The husband held his wine with crossed arms as Castro continued.
For these, I had to use color film. I mean, for me, the intimacy of the pictures depends on the audience seeing all of her red hair.
Anna Beth looked around before she reached over for a glass of wine. The taste was adult and rich on her tongue. She held the glass at her navel for a moment before bringing it back to her lips for a more determined gulp. Dressed in a plaid cotton skirt, pale-green tights, and a clean white blouse she wondered if the couple would recognize her. Her hair was braided in a tight tail with simple pins to hold her bangs back. Castro ducked his head sheepishly when he raised his arm to wave. The couple turned around to look at her. Anna Beth averted her eyes and held her wine behind her as she waited for the moment to pass. On the other side of the gallery a couple was feeling the blond wood of a picture frame. Nobody was going to recognize Anna Beth for the framing work she had done. With a second glance towards Castro she noticed that the wife was still looking at her. The woman wore tiny black spectacles that concentrated her stare. She raised her glass to Anna Beth as Castro's animated hands gestured to the husband.
The gallery owner approached the wine table with an aluminum dish and a wooden serving spoon. Anna Beth slid her empty glass into the group of other empty glasses, hoping to go unnoticed. Barry smiled as he plunged the spoon into the casserole.
I won't let people bring cheese to these things, not anymore. I can't stand the thought of wine and cheese in an art gallery.
Anna Beth produced a quick little smile before she went back to picking at the flakes of paint. Barry pulled a plastic cup from the stack next the coke bottles and dumped a glass of wine into it.
He's taking everyone over to that wall, Anna Beth remarked. Barry shook the spilled wine
from his free hand as he sipped from the plastic cup.
Ya, he's sold three already. Anyway, I see some people over there that I need to talk to. But before I leave, I toast you with this shitty wine.
The pleasure of the wine had finally come on. Anna Beth looked around for Castro, expecting him to pop out from behind one of the partitions like a shooting range target. From her purse she pulled out her cell phone to check her messages. Hi honey. When you come home can you remember to bring trash bags, they're really hard to find. Also, can you bring toilet paper? How's the show going? OK, we love you. See you when you get here. Less hesitantly this time, she reached for another glass and poured it into a plastic cup. Dopishly grinning, Castro appeared and strided over to the wine table.
Are people talking?
Cool. I just sold two more to that couple over there.
The black and white of the snake handler and one of the nudes. Have you seen Barry tonight?
Ya, he was just here.
That art dealer from Houston that bought my stuff turned around and put it up for auction, so now Barry's trying to buy it all back.
I think I need to get going pretty soon, said Anna Beth. I need to buy some things before the stores close. I'm going to leave first thing in the morning. Are you still planning to come down?
Ya. For sure. I really want to get some shots. I just need to tie up a few loose ends around here and I'll come down. I promise.
Anna Beth turned her cheek to Castro as he bent down to kiss her. The gritty stubble brushed against her skin and was even heard, deep within her ear. In intervals, she sipped from her cup as Castro floated around the crowd. She can't hear the questions being asked. S was the sound of whispers, as well.
I think it's important to leave your creativity behind when you go into the darkroom…
The Gulf Coast neighborhood looked like Hiroshima. The avenues and drives were clearly defined by the detritus. Insulation clung to splintered lumber like cotton candy. Laughing Gulls perched on the timbers of broken houses surveyed with Hitchcockian calculation as Anna Beth drove down her street. When she opened the door of her sun-kissed Acura the smell of sewage was immediate. Her house had survived—in as much as the broken parts could be rebuilt. Her step-father was on the roof scrubbing the shingles and plywood with a foaming brush. The rope wrapped around his waist was tied off on to an exposed piece of the roof's frame.
Hey Beth! What do you think? The place looks good, doesn't it. Annie's inside, I'll be right down.
OK. Do you need any help getting down?
No, I got it.
Reality was the sound of the gas generator that cranked and hissed on the side of the house. Inside, air rushed through the house from the ventilation fans. Anna Beth found her mother vacuuming water—illuminated by two directional work lights.
Hey pumpkin! How was the drive? We've almost got all the water out of the house. Don't worry, I've got your room all made up for you.
In the morning, the sun came through the broken window and rays streamed through the heavy air of Anna Beth's room. The little jagged triangles of broken glass that remained in the aluminum frame refracted the light. On the sill was a smooth rock shaped like an ostrich egg. After breakfast, Anna Beth returned to her room to change and noticed another rock in the window sill. It was dark and kidney-shaped. Just before dinner, she discovered a piece of black sand-polished glass next to the rocks. At the table, Anna Beth asked,
How come I haven't seen any of the neighbors? Some of the houses look OK.
Jack said, The McKenzies went out to their ranch and I haven't heard
from them. The Bardoles were here day before yesterday. They said they were just going to take the insurance money, so, I guess that's it for them. The Klines stayed here but, I don't know, something must have happened cause I haven't seen them in a couple of days. It's pretty much just us.
When's Castro coming? Asked Annie.
By the next afternoon, Jack and Anna Beth had moved on to the siding. She was working on the low sections of the house when she noticed a golden retriever coming towards her.
Hey Dad, look, it's Cosmo.
Cosmo's wet hair exposed his ribs. Anna Beth rubbed his muzzle and noticed the white hairs of his chin.
I'm going to see if the Klines are home, OK?
Cosmo loped behind Anna Beth, stopping at times to stare.
Come on, Coz. Come on boy.
The Kline's house faired the best of all. The storm curtains had saved the windows and the corrugated roof was only dinged in places. Their boat had ended up in the side yard, however. A lightning bolt-like fracture had split the hull lengthwise. The sun lit up the berth of the vessel from an opening in the deck. Through the crack in the hull, Anna Beth saw a form pass through the shadows.
Mr. Kline, is that you?
The rummaging noise stopped briefly.
I've got Cosmo here.
A pair of eyes appeared in the cracked fiberglass. They seemed too close together to be an adult.
Robbie? Is that you Robbie?
A kid with sandy hair crawled onto the slanted deck and looked over the starboard rails at Anna Beth. The breeze caught his matted hair during his long stare. He flinched as the tips gently whipped his eyes.
Robbie, are you scared? Come here. Remember me, I used to baby sit for you. I'm Anna Beth, remember.
Cosmo sat down in the shade of the boat as Robbie jumped off the side. His torso looked like an antique birdcage with a sheet draped over it. The joints of his arms and legs bulged like a camel's. In his hand was a little blue stone.
I saw the stones you left on my window, they're really nice. You got them on the shore, right? Where're your parents?
Robbie firmly rubbed his thumb over the stone. With his other hand he stroked the back of his neck a few times before throwing his arm towards the house.
They're inside? How come the windows are shut? Robbie, are you alone? Can I talk to your parents?
Robbie shook his head.
Are you shaking your head because you're alone or because I can't talk to your parents? That's not any clearer is it…just tell me if you're OK. Are you OK?
OK. We're right up the street if you need anything.
Robbie took the stone and winged it at the boat. The sound startled Anna Beth. As she turned around she saw Cosmo trotting away from the shade. Robbie put his foot into the crack and climbed up onto the deck where he sat, watching the fading sun.
A blue stone and a pink piece of glass lined the sill Monday morning. Castro still hadn't shown up. After breakfast, Anna Beth went down to the shore to look for Robbie. On the beach, she saw Cosmo running in and out of the surf. When she got closer she found Robbie breaking the branches off a piece of white driftwood. In the distance, people were fishing off the jetty.
I really liked my rocks this morning, Robbie. Is this where you found them?
Robbie pointed to Cosmo who was thrusting his chest-deep body through the grey water.
Does Cosmo help you find them?
The boy smiled and nodded.
I bet he digs around and you find the stones. Am I right? How are your parents doing? Do they know you're down here?
Looking down the beach, Robbie stared for a minute before raising his finger.
Are they down there fishing? Do you want to walk down there with me and talk to them?
Robbie shook his head and ran, suddenly, towards the jetty. Cosmo dropped his stick and followed. Anna Beth waited while the barefooted boy charged down the damp sand to the rocky break—his prints dulling and then, invisible. At the end of the jetty, Robbie and Cosmo filled in with the fishermen.
On Tuesday morning there was a note below a disc shaped rock on Anna Beth's bedroom window. Pleese help me find some stonnes. It was written on the back of an old Safeway receipt. She noticed that the name on the faded paper was Brandenburg. In the kitchen she heard Castro's declarative voice. When Anna Beth walked into the room Castro leaned over to kiss her cheek, careful to keep the camera slung around his neck from swinging into her.
I was just telling Jack about this kid down at the beach.
Robbie? What about him?
I was taking some pictures of him and he started grunting at me. I thought he was trying to be cute so I kept photographing him. Then he grunted so hard his voice cracked. Then, he threw a fucking rock at me.
Why were you following him, Castro! Can't you tell when someone's a mute?
Anna Beth ran down to the shore but didn't see him. She found an old musette bag full of little stones and a box of dog biscuits. The collection in her window sill didn't grow for days.
Each morning Castro went down to the shore with Anna Beth to look for Robbie. As a gesture of his guilt, he left his camera behind each time. When Castro went home it was because Anna Beth had asked him to. On Friday morning she found a large stone, shaped like a water drop on her sill. Through the new glass window she saw Robbie and Cosmo sitting in the neighbor's yard. The boy looked different in his shirt and shoes. Next to him was a duffle bag. Anna Beth went outside with a glass of orange juice and offered it Robbie. She sat next to him and listened. Listened. S was the sound of unbroken silence—like a static infused in the destroyed landscape. S was the sound of water, lurching and pulling, in bars, against the shore. She ran her hand through the boy's hair trying to bring something back to his sunken eyes and head. She asked herself how she didn't notice the starving boy and his dog. Robbie moved in front of her. He put his hand on her knee. A little cut on his wrist had become necrotic. He opened his palm and reached up as if to cup her breast. Instinctively, Anna Beth knew he would reach for something else, she just couldn't imagine, what? He put his hand, thumb up, below her breast and held it against her ribs. He listened. She realized that the new stone in her window was shaped more like a heart.