She is posed in the center of the frame, left leg kicked up behind her body, fingertips pressing against the wall for balance. If you zoom in on the photo and focus on her fingers, you’ll notice that her nails have been painted a dull pink, the color of a pastel Easter egg pulled out of the dye too soon. Her dress is white with red flowers, though the lighting turns them a grapefruit red-orange. She always reminded you of citrus. The first time you visited her apartment she offered you a clementine, and her hair often smelled like lemon drop candies. Now what comes to mind is grapefruit juice, the tart taste, how it reduces the potency of certain medications.
In the photograph she pulls at the strap of her shoe—one of the gold high heels she’d worn to dinner that evening. You shared stale bread drenched with olive oil and tomato pulp.
You didn’t expect her to come to Barcelona, not with you living at home in New Jersey and her at school in London, your relationship sinking, submerged in the Atlantic Ocean around Latitude 30. But you were going to Barcelona to visit family, and she’d hinted at your making a stop at Heathrow, presumably to eat Cadbury Crème Eggs and lock arms by the Thames. You told her if she wanted to see you, she could come to Spain, something you knew she’d never do. But she did—met you in Terminal A of the Aeroport de Barcelona, gave double kisses to your great-aunts, held your hand while walking down subway steps.
This picture is a reenactment. She wasn’t posing to begin with; it was a practical act, the removing of footwear, its beauty utilitarian. But by the time you’d extracted the camera from your left pocket, the shoe was off. You asked, then, that she put the shoe back on and assume the same pose, so you could capture it. She obliged, but the moment was lost. Before, her head had been down, light brown hair hanging over her face; this time she looked into the camera and smiled. Inspecting the photo later, this upset you, not only the artificiality of the pose and smile, but because now there is no mistaking that it is she, her. Before, you could pretend she was just a girl, face masked, concentrating on a simple action. No hidden meanings, no rite of discalceation at temples, just the taking off of heels after an evening walk past street performers who stand on pedestals emulating statues of Greek goddesses.
Step Two: With the selection tool, draw a box around the body to isolate her from the rest of the image. Choose Edit>>Crop to eliminate the background.
The only thing you cut out is the top right edge of a blue couch. You are not in this photo. There is not a single picture of the two of you together taken during this five-day European jaunt. Tieta Rosa-Maria did not take a photo of you two together at your grandfather’s childhood home in Cantoni. None of your uncles never took a photograph of you and her in front of the La Rambla street performers during your evening walk. You didn’t throw a euro coin into a hat or a guitar case to thank the mime for his ideal stillness. There are no photographs of the two of you cheek to cheek, the paleness of a forearm reflecting the flash from the camera as you hold it in the air, pointed down at your faces smashed together into a pillow and propped up on the headrest. She insisted on sleeping on the blue couch alone. You’d already been cropped out of the picture.
There's a story you recall from your childhood about a camera that would take pictures of things that had not yet happened. Most often these pictures were disturbing: a portrait taken of a person is developed without the person in the frame, indicating that he or she would not survive the coming weeks. It is almost as if this photograph were one of those, a moment of prophesy captured long before the trip to Barcelona, in some other room the year before, or perhaps the year before that. Instead of her hand holding the wall for support, it could be your shoulder. You could be looking to your left, watching her flex her calf muscle as she reaches back to remove her shoe. This picture, if taken a year before, might have been a warning. The frame of things to come. Even if you had ignored all the other signs, you’d have had this photograph to let you know that she didn’t need you by her side; she would hold herself up.
The image will shrink in size from 1488 x 1984 pixels to 972 x 1432.
Step Three: Using the Extract tool, draw a line around her face, taking the time to carefully outline every hair wisp. In doing this, you may remember another picture, gala016.jpg (1488 x1984, taken 05/12/2004), in which you are featured prominently, your hand on the waist of her dress made of glittered fabric the color of antifreeze. At the evening’s end, you moved that hand from her waist to her hair, traversing it, removing hairpins as you went, each toss of her head releasing the scent of hair spray and pomegranate.
Using the Fill Bucket, click on the area you wish to retain. Pressing the “OK” button will remove her body in that dress, the shoe, the walls of the hotel room, Barcelona, the month of June. The background will cease to exist. You will be left with the floating image of her head parted from her body, hair cascading like serpents. At this moment, you are Perseus. At this moment, she is the one turned to stone, she is the one caught looking back and turned to salt, a sleek white column outside the falling cities. Before, she was a hazel-eyed girl from the suburbs of Philadelphia with a name and a phone number; now she is mythological.
This is not what you had planned.
Step Four: Open up every item in the folder labeled Every Woman You Have Seen Since She Left You, created 01/28/2005. In this folder, you will find a photo of every woman you have come in contact with since late January.
Some of these pictures are crisp and clear: high dpi, large resolution, 32 bits/channel. The pharmacist in scrubs the color of mint-chip ice cream, delivering anti psychotics to the mental health unit you worked in. The Audrey Hepburn in pigtails who bought you a rose and a White Chocolate Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup on Valentine’s Day. The Long Island princess who sleeps next to firefighters. The majority of the photos stored here are blurry (girlbehindretailcounter001.jpg, girlbehindretailcounter002.jpg, girlbehindretailcounter003.jpg). Furthermore, there are photographs concentrated with blurs of colors accented by lens flares and water droplets. They are pictures of patterns, beautiful and colorful, but without any form. These fractals represent an endless ideal, the purples and reds of sensuality and heat swirling to create a perfect vortex. Staring through the center of the centrifuge, you might see a rendering of a romanticized Joan of Arc with a pixie cut, Venus on a Half Shell, a twenty-first-century Myrna Loy.
Step Five: Using the Lasso Tool, draw a rope around her skull, then choose Edit>>Copy to place her head on the Clipboard. You can paste her face on anything. There is an infinite supply of her now. At one time she existed only in a photograph in a Catalan apartment with an ironing board in the kitchen, and before that, she existed as a 118-pound container of apples, ancient Egyptian curses, and orchestra swells that would toast you an Eggo Waffle some evenings after ten. Now she exists in duplicate, triplicate, quadruplicate, infinity. Her face will remain on your Clipboard until some other girl, whose lips and eyes you can’t even imagine or begin to vector-draw at this moment, takes her place.
Step Six: Paste her head into every photograph in every image in your Every Woman You Have Seen Since She Left You folder. Select her head and move it into position, overlapping and masking the face of the original woman. Rotate. Rotate. Her forehead is too large. Shrink. Her jaw line is too slight. Stretch. Manipulate until her head on this new body could almost be perceived as normal, although the schematics of head- to-body ratio as well as facial structure can never permit this to be absolutely perfect. Her head will never fit on a shield. She will turn your hand to coral.
Step Seven: Click Layer>>Flatten Image. This will fuse the layer of her face to the background of the photo. Once this is done, she will become synonymous with whatever image she was pasted into, her face the face of every woman you’ve seen since she left you.
She has become a part of everything you see, and therefore everything has either been ruined or remedied.
Step Eight: Click File>>Save. Make sure to save over the original document. You have no need for it anymore. barcelona010.jpg does not exist. Barcelona does not exist. You have new memories of her now, ones that require neither her participation nor her consent.
Now the rats of Philadelphia are scattering and diving into the Schuylkill as Broad Street burns. The seal tanks in the National Aquarium at the Inner Harbor swell and crack from the heat. Casa Batlló becomes Casa dels Ossos, the House of Bones. You are the one looking back, and she is the one frozen in place, her skin and hair made of pixels, shining granules of light that resemble table salt.
Brian Oliu is a native of Hunterdon County, New Jersey, and an MFA candidate at the University of Alabama. His work is forthcoming in the New Ohio Review. There are times when he thinks he is a computer. Say hi: email@example.com.
© 2007 Swink, Inc.