Elizabeth Ellen


In the museum she was careful not to think of the man once. On the third floor she became separated from her party and stood a long time before a small black and white photograph, a self-portrait by a young woman whose name she did not recognize. She made a quick walk around the room hoping to find other works by the woman but there was only the one: a single image of the artist upside down, her face and breasts exposed and consuming the frame of the picture. Nothing else in the museum was as interesting. The artist’s blonde hair and pale skin were illuminated in a manner resembling Hollywood stills she had seen from the 30s, Carole Lombard or a young Dietrich, maybe. The title of the photograph was long and contained the word “angel” and the woman felt in agreement reading it. It was hard to imagine the artist otherwise. Next to the photograph was a small box containing a brief biography, a few words detailing the artist’s death, her fall from a New York building at 22. The woman paused on the word “fall.” She scribbled the artist’s name across the museum brochure along with words for a poem that would not be about him.

This was on the seventh of July. Three days earlier the woman had followed her dog into the closet for the duration. She had brought with them supplies: Milk Bones and Swedish fish, a bottle of water and three mini bottles of various brands of liquor: Crown Royal & Red Stag & Bailey’s. She had explained to the man several times her disenchantment with holidays and now there was the added grievance of her dog’s anxiety.

She was reading a book about teenagers in a small Texas town. Once you remove yourself from all social networking sites, she had told him, you realize pretty quickly you were never not alone. The man had not disagreed. The man had sat on his couch and read a book last New Year’s Eve while she had spent the evening taking photographs of herself in varying states of undress in the snow and sending them to him electronically.

She was considering the construction of a pool. She had dreamed its existence taking up the entirety of the backyard. In the book about Texas teenagers they disrobed on diving boards, swam unclothed. The woman knew a handful who would. She imagined their bodies illuminated by the pool’s light while she sat on the side smoking with the dog.

She set the timer, positioned herself naked the length of the diving board, her back arched into the nothingness between board and water. She was careful not to think of him. She held her face blank, expressionless; a state she had practiced, meditating on the word “fall.” Beneath her in the frame two teenagers were visible. He was unable to recognize himself in them either. Only the dog offered flashes of familiarity, panting and anxious in the grass out of focus. He stared a while longer, reopened his book.

Elizabeth Ellen is the author of Before You She Was a Pit Bull (Future Tense) and Sixteen Miles Outside of Phoenix (Rose Metal Press). She will publish an anthology of her work - Fast Machine - through Short Flight/Long Drive Books before the end of the year. 

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