Friday, October 10, 2014

The Black Photo

'Guess what?' I said. 'On Thursday at school they're going to take your photo!'
'No!!' said Kiki. 'I don't want them to!'
I stopped brushing her hair. Kiki loved being photographed more than anything. 'Why not?'
'It's mine!' she said.
I kept brushing. 'So, you'll all be in a group and they'll take your photo. We'll be able to send it to Grandmama and Eckie...'
'I don't want to!' she said with a desperate look. 'It's my black photo!'
The sun wasn't up yet. She was talking nonsense, with that other-worldly edge. At least that was what I told myself, because it was too early to allow the truth to occur to me which was that there was never a single shred of nonsense to a single word she had ever said. But, a 'black' photo? Her recent string of odd, esoteric comments was also blurring the edge of my judgement. For example, the night before:
'Which restaurant are you going to mama?'
'To 'Aux deux amis''.
'Oh. When I was a man I used to go there.'
Maybe the black photo was something ancestral. I wondered at it for five seconds then hustled her off to school.
Wednesday came. She was eating pasta in a tutu. 'They're going to take your photo tomorrow.' I said without thinking. 'We'd better wash your hair.' 
Her face crumbled and she started to really cry. 'But it's mine the black one! I don't want them to have it!'
'I don't know what you're talking about honey,' I said. 'What's the black photo?'
'It's my black photo! Nanny Chris gave it to me!' 
I suddenly remembered the beautiful Eisenstaedt postcard Nanny had given her when visiting the month before, of ballerinas in an old Paris studio. She had bought it for Kiki as it reminded her of the room where she had recently had her first ballet class. There, she, Grandad and I had brought Kiki to the creaky attic room of the magical old dance school deep in the Marais with all the ballerinas and tap-dancers and tango couples twirling behind tall white windows. The three of us had huddled together under the low wood beams to watch her and the other pink ducklings flutter from corner to corner, teacher scrabbling to get them to point their toes. Nanny Chris had bought the postcard for her the next day, and Kiki had been carrying it around ever since in the bottom of a shabby book bag, showing it to everyone she met before clutching it hard against her chest. 
'The black and white one? Of the ballerinas?' I asked. 
She nodded, tears dripping in her bowl. 'It's mine!' 
'But what's that got to do with school...?'
And then it dawned on me. She thought they were going to take it away.



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