The Rock Lady
My name is Allen Pierson. I have a grown son and a dead wife. Following Carol’s long illness and eventual demise, I searched for new endeavors to occupy my time away from work. I began to take photo excursions to thwart the empty hole in my life.
Following a cool autumn day just before Halloween, I was startled by the results of my most recent outing. Under the red glow of the darkroom bulb, one picture contained something very odd. It revealed a young woman, caught in profile, partially hidden behind a huge boulder. I felt certain no one had been in this photograph when I shot it, but there she was nonetheless. The image on the paper was one of a pretty girl—very pretty and young enough to be my daughter.
* * * *
And damned if she didn’t exist. The next day in an ice cream joint eating lime sherbet in a cone, I saw her sitting three tables away. Her reality jolted me. No ghost. No mirage. Flesh and blood.
Had I known the consequences of this pivotal moment in my life, I can only speculate if I would’ve had the willpower to act differently. I finished my cone and walked to her table. “I’m sorry,” I stammered, “but I believe I know you.”
“You think so, huh?” She said it with a friendly smile that revealed perfect teeth to compliment her dark hair and green eyes.
I plunged on. “Yes. You’re my rock lady.”
She laughed, her gaze locked onto mine. “Your rock lady? I’ve been called some funny things before, but never that.”
Her hair bounced with a natural curl. Her eyes were brilliant and riveting making me first think of glass then of emeralds. The greenest eyes I’d ever seen, offering an ocean of desire I could only dream of. Of course, I fell in love instantly. “Can I sit down for a minute? I’m dying to tell you about the rocks, which I hope aren’t just in my noggin.”
Tilting her head as if observing some new curiosity, she seemed to be thinking it over then glanced at her watch. “I have to go, but you can walk with me if you like.”
“Sure. That’d be great.”
We walked toward a park. I wondered again, what this encounter meant. Maybe it wasn’t the girl in my pictures after all. Maybe I was just being a stupid middle-aged goose.
She clutched a book to her chest like a schoolgirl while we walked. “So what about me and your rocks?”
“You don’t remember being my photo subject yesterday? Outside of town?” I said as casually as I could, matching my steps to hers.
She stopped, looked at me inquisitively, and then laughed again good-naturedly. “I’m sorry,” she said with a little gasp. “I’ve never been anyone’s model. My last pictures were not very flattering.” She looked away momentarily and then back at me coquettishly. “Yet you say you photographed me? You devil.”
A child lurks inside most men, alert to an opportunity to cast the drudgery of routine aside. Pushing ahead, feeling rakish, I told her, “I’ve never had a more pleasing subject, nor one I wanted to shoot again more desperately.”
She told me her name was Michelle Masterson. She was twenty-five years young. She claimed to be finishing a graduate program while working part-time. Sure, she had a face and body to die for, but there was something more. I took her for a science student rather than a student of the arts. The eyes seemed so wise.
Carol had been a brain of sorts. She was a high school teacher, but all that knowledge hadn’t helped when the big C ate her alive. Knowledge, that’s what it was about Michelle. Knowledge lay behind her tempestuous eyes with some strange insight only she could know.
Meeting Michelle and the seemingly impossible photo of her was like a conduit to a younger time when my youth was in flower. It told me to pursue this will of the wisp. Since my wife’s death, I had sheltered myself from the outside world through my camera. As we spoke, I felt the thread of familiarity between us grow stronger—a look more sensual than a touch, a tone more meaningful than words.