Photographs

By Laura Schiller

Based on: The Weetzie Bat series

Copyright: Francesca Lia Block

When the little girl came on, with her roller skates and her bat backpack and her tilted purple eyes, introducing herself as Witch Baby, Vixanne did not know what to do.

"Let's see if you're as good at running away as your father was," she said loudly, putting up a grand façade of evil and bitterness – or was it a façade? – for her blank-eyed companions. She was angry – nervous – unsure of herself for the first time in years. Here was her daughter, child of her blood, skating into that dank basement lit by a fluorescent TV screen as if she had been doing it all her life. Called there by some invisible tie, to escape the pain and disease and violence of the world, just like all the lonely, candy-addicted women in this ramshackle house.

Vixanne did not know how to be a mother. She would have felt ridiculous giving this little stranger a hug, asking her about her life, how's school, who are your friends – not that any child of hers was likely to have friends. So she gave Witch Baby a blonde wig to match the club, shared the candy, let her stay to immerse herself in the flickering Technicolor world of a Jayne Mansfield movie marathon. She watched as those violet eyes, so like her own but wider and brighter in that pale little face, began to close like flower petals at night. And then, very carefully, as if the child were made of porcelain, Vixanne lifted her up and carried her to her own bedroom to sleep.

How strange, and yet how ordinary. What could be more natural than a mother putting her child to bed? And yet the bed was heart-shaped with scarlet satin sheets, and it was Vixanne's own bed and she had to sleep on the couch, and it was three a.m., and it was the first time she had held her daughter close since her birth (October 29th, 1989, Kaiser Hospital, midnight).

Witch Baby. Did her father and his family call her that? Was it simply a nickname, or was it a biting reminder of her difference, her outsider status among those smiling, movie-making, vegetarian blondes with consciences as clear as their average-colored eyes? Or had Witch Baby chosen her own name, perhaps in defiance or pride over her own uniqueness?

Vixanne sat by the edge of the bed and watched Witch Baby sleep, her eyes buttoned up tightly against her round cheeks, squirming restlessly under the satin sheets, anger and fear and loneliness draining out of her bit by bit. How long had she been alone in L. A., searching for her mother on those tiny wheels, searching for the place where she belonged? She was a brave child, and a stubborn one.

Had she known that her mother was a witch? A broken woman who lashed out with pins at the bodies of voodoo dolls, who lured her followers with her beauty and spelled them into an enchanted waking television sleep? What had she been told about her father's one stolen night with that dark siren, his disgusted remorse and flight back to his sweet blonde lover? Had she been brought up to hate Vixanne? So many dangerous questions, and she had no idea where to start.

The next day at one p.m., Vixanne woke up alone on the old couch with her back knotted into painful kinks. Her drones had gone back to their other lives, to cook for their husbands or clean rich men's offices or sell popcorn or whatever they did. She hauled herself off the sofa and went upstairs, feeling the creak of the wooden steps drag at her bones. The door to her room was open. The bat pack and the little black roller skates were gone. The bed was empty, blankets tangled like a tornado site. On top of them was a small stack of photographs.

Vixanne's first reaction was to punch the wall. She looked down at the blood on her knuckles, so red and shiny, as if it belonged to someone else. Witch Baby was good at running away. Just like her father, witth his false name and feverish green eyes and the memories he had left behind, like sharp shining bits of broken glass all over the house. Now his daughter, their daughter, had run away as well and Vixanne was more alone than ever before. Well, of course. What did you expect?

Then she sat down by the bed an picked up the photographs. Max had never given her anything when he left. They were the cheap instant kind, black and white, yet they had the compelling edge of an artist's work. Each image told a story. There was an old homeless woman, wrinkled as an old apple, shaking her fist and shouting at the sky. There was a young man, so thin he looked nearly transparent, arm in arm with a taller, more solid man with an identical face. The shadow of the taller man had wings.

Vixanne touched the pictures with almost reverent hands. Now she understood. Witch Baby was like her – a black sheep, one whom all the darkness of the world strikes with a double force. But this child didn't hide in an old ruin and blind her eyes with movies. She faced the pain, confronted it with her camera, captured it and forced it into the open as works of art.

I knew it, she thouht, blinking back the tears that would smudge her mascara and perhaps even make her melt, like another wicked witch. I knew I was right not to keep you. You don't belong here. You've grown so much stronger than I will ever be.

The photographs were a gift. Snapshots of her dughter's fiercely beautiful soul, fragments of the journey of her life. This is who I am, they said. Remember me, as I will remember you.