It’s tiny, only two inches by four, with scalloped edges in the old style. At its center is a couple. He is seated, on a low, cement-capped brick wall in front of a brick and wood house. She is standing, leaning back against him. His arms circle her, hands locked. Most of his left arm is hidden by her body. His right arm accentuates the curve of her left hip. Her left leg is straight. Her right leg is extended forward, its knee slightly bent, pulling the hem of her seersucker shorts tight on her thigh. Her right foot is turned out, as if for balance. It’s not a nice photo. There’s something wrong, though what, exactly, is difficult to pinpoint at first.
Judging from the overall look, the photo was taken in the late forties or early fifties. His head is forward and swiveled at an awkward angle, his mouth just below her right cheekbone. There’s something predatory here, confirmed by the hint of irritation or perhaps perturbation that unsettles her expression, and by how her upper body leans a little away from his. Yet her right arm resting on his thigh, and the fingers of her right hand playing on his wrist, seem easeful if not dismissive.
The eye nearly overlooks a third person in the photo, a woman, seated on a jutting sill near the entrance to the house. Behind her, venetian blinds are visible in two of the three windows. The middle window sash is raised all the way. The right window sash is lowered all the way. The left is raised just enough to accommodate an air conditioner shrouded with a dark vinyl cover – odd, as the clothing of all three asserts that it is summertime, and hot.
II. Flipping Over
There’s writing penciled on the back.
Well man, as you can see,
the lover is still making out.
Since theirs no one to take
care of Poor Boopie as Marty
calls her, I’m taking over this
miserable job. Be good man.
The cursive is evenly spaced. The spelling error is common. The downward slant of the lines makes it seem as though the writer, possibly the man in the photo, was seduced by gravity.
Only three elbows are visible. The standing woman’s left, which is deeply bent, and then her right and his, which because they rest so closely together are echoes of each other. It’s worth noting the arms of the third woman are drawn back so her elbows aren’t visible at all.
Angular part of the arm.
Angularly shaped item.
Angle. Bend. Crook. Crutch. Fork. Hinge. Etc.
Ancon. Latin, noun, from the Greek, ankon, noun, elbow.
Archaeologists in Leicester, UK, uncovered metacarpals, metatarsals, and phalanges dating from around 1500 A.D. and typical of ancon sheep, sheep with chondrodystrophy, caused by a recessive gene that disrupts development of long bone and consequent cartilage. They have normal bodies but abnormally short, crooked forelegs with an elbow-like appearance. They likely experience their joints as painful and were valued because they could not jump fences.
VI. The Nature of Things
1. Time is fluid.
2. Identity is positional.
3. Scissors cut.
4. Kindness is its own reward.
5. There is really nothing funny about pain.
Move the third woman from the photo to the other side of the fence. Give her this farm. Give her a husband who poses disparaging opinions as truth. They have been married for thirty years. They have grown children, moved away now. They raise goats, hens, cattle, and ancon sheep. Often the eyes of their ancon sheep go from vapid to frantic. One day this happens while the woman is there to see, and at last she does see. That evening, roasting meat scents the air. The table crowded, his mouth full, her husband has little to say.
Susan Tacent’s work has been published in journals including Dostoevsky Studies, the Keats-Shelley Journal, DIAGRAM, Michigan Quarterly Review, and decomP. Her interview of Charles Baxter appears on Tin House’s Open Bar. Several of her book reviews appear on The Common Online. Visit Susan Tacent’s blog at https://susantacent.weebly.com/.