She had a memory of boy recently. It might have been a piece of music or something as banal as a bottle of vodka at the store, but whatever it was, it clung to the back of her mind, gestating. A bit later, out emerged boy, for the first time in many years.

Their first meeting: boy approached her in a nightclub, leaned in, and said,

"I think you're beautiful."

He didn't linger, instead stumbling away into the crowd.

They met again a few weeks later by accident, during one of her photography exhibitions. He opened by saying a few things to her about her work that told her he had given it more than a few moments of thought.  She figured: at best he was a thoughtful observer, and at worst, a stalker. It made him interesting, and it earned him a few minutes of her time.  He was pretty to look at, and had gentle eyes, which soothed her, but his erratic movements made her nervous.  She had a way of getting to the point, and in that fashion, she broke the ice by telling him he was lucky to have walked away from her weeks before. Had he stayed around expecting something ridiculous like a 'thank you,' she would have unhesitatingly thrown a drink in his face.

They began talking about the exhibition. This seemed to put them both at ease. Such exhibitions were a great way to cultivate her photography career in the circles where she was best known in the hopes of getting broader attention. While the pictures spoke for themselves, she still had things to say and was a great, unforgettable presence. She had cards to hand out and - potentially - work to sell. The photos were almost universally lauded for their audacious lighting, but there was more to it than that, and boy said as much to her.

Many of the photos were warmly lit outdoor scenes with earth scattered over pale skin and bright but decrepit interiors. She - perhaps without knowing it - brought elegance to decay. In her many portraits, ingĂ©nues and and well dressed gentlemen stared back into the camera, their eyes like dolls. They seemed occupy spaces long abandoned. Their eyes searched in vain for something old, something regretted, something unseen.

In fact, her work and process were both austere. Her darkroom, erected in the front living space of her loft, was a stoic, unassuming monolith with high walls and curtains. Between exhibitions, she spent all night in there or on the couch poring through negatives. Never was there a more fitting cryonic chamber for a soul like hers.

After the exhibition, boy called to chat now and again, and soon after, began to visit her. Each time she buzzed him in, he came upstairs with a bottle and a record, and they sat on her bedroom floor and talked about any topic that came to mind. Nothing happened between them. They exchanged furtive hugs at the beginning, but even those waned after a while. She sensed he was testing the waters with her, but that he would never do anything so long as she kept her guard up. Her walls, like those of her darkroom, stayed up and shut off from the world at large, so long as it was necessary. She knew she trusted him, trusted him like she hadn't trusted anybody in a long while, but something about him kept her guard from coming completely down, so they talked, and talked, and talked.

Boy was not special. He had no talents other than conversation and empathy. Looking back, it was clear she needed his empathy and the empty well of desire he hauled up those stairs each time he came up. It filled her.  They filled time with words like she filled an empty space for a photograph: gracefully, carefully, piece by piece, until something devastating had been created.

She spoke of her upbringing, of ghosts she saw as a child. She shared a memory of cold spirits filtering through drafty halls while she lay on the floorboards of a gunshot house as a child. She told boy about these things and they both took swigs of Skyy and leaned back against the side of her bed, and adjusted their legs, and crossed and uncrossed their arms. They leaned their heads back and stared up into space through the window in the slanted roof above her bed.

As a military brat, she became accustomed to ephemeral connections. She sensed how fleeting friendships were and how these homes came and went and how personal spaces never stayed personal for long. She thought, these rooms that become our own, that we stamp with our stains and scuff marks, that become the source of comfort, they are suddenly gone. She was often in a state of anticipating this removal of constancy in her homes, in her life, in her friends. It left these ghosts behind to wander the unfamiliar spaces, seeking a glimmer of the former life there and never finding it. These ghosts adorned her work.

It seemed the darkroom she erected in each home was the only constant, the only place she ran to that never changed, no matter the noise outside or the way people shifted and disappeared. This thought ran through her night with boy and consumed her with sadness and need. She let him touch her and kiss her, just one time, because she sensed it would all leave soon.

She never kept his number while they were together, so when he stopped calling and months went by, she grew resigned. She came upon what happened many years afterward, long after she left the country and quite by accident. By then, the memory of the loft was charred and unrecognizable in her mind, and the gulf of years was just too vast. It was too vast for her to even mourn him.


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