Indiana Jones, With Camera
Some believe a photograph steals the soul.
I am on the bed, hands tied to the headboard, belly down, ass up. He tells me to spread my legs wider and I do, burning my knees on the rumpled sheet. There is silence, the heat of his eyes on me, then suddenly the flashes, lightning without thunder, turning night to day.
I offer more, move the way he wants, sometimes move the way he doesn’t want, just so he will have to position me again. The flashes stop. He touches me with his hands, tells me with the hardness of them to hold still, right there. But when the flashes begin, I can’t help but move in the imagined heat of them.
“Governments can lie, politicians can cover up, talking heads can make nonsense of things,” he said to me when we first met, a lifetime and three wars ago. “The camera is the only thing that never lies.”
And since it never lies, I give it everything. My truth, my soul, laid bare for the taking. Every mark, every imperfection, every tiny blemish, now it’s all his. I hold onto the headboard and purr, arch like a cat in heat, dig down deep for patience, calm myself for what he will eventually give in return.
“You’re beautiful,” he breathes. His viewfinder never lies, so I believe.
Two years ago he was in Baghdad, riding in a Humvee, camera in hand. They were zipping along in what was believed to be a safe zone. The air was thick, the sun merciless, the breeze stirred up by their movement cooling them but in turn bringing more dust, another Catch-22 in a world where nothing was ever quite what it seemed.
One of the men was talking about his kid. He was showing the photograph of a little girl wearing camouflage gear. She was pretty, blond like her father.
“She’s Cinderella in the school play,” the soldier said. “Cinderella. My girl. Can you believe it?”
“She got her momma’s looks,” somebody shot back, his voice gruff but kind.
The blast came from under the front of the vehicle, throwing metal and bodies into the air. Shards of glass and bits of wire became missiles. Plastic melted in the impossible heat. It was all over in a matter of seconds, and then the fire started.
Somehow, he was thrown free. Pieces of metal pierced his coat and his shirt and found their way around his Kevlar. Someone’s gun went off, the ammunition cooking in the heat, bullets peppering everything that wasn’t already destroyed. One went through his thigh, and he went from his knees to his back.
He was still holding his camera. He held down the button – click click click click – and screamed. He kept screaming, even as they pulled him onto a stretcher, as they took his camera away, as they ripped open his shirt and started an IV and finally knocked him out cold with some heavenly drug. It wasn’t fear or pain that made him howl. It was anger that burned hotter than any fire ever could.
The soldiers got medals. Their wives got folded flags. He got the Pulitzer Prize.
The scars line his chest, almost invisible in sunlight. By the light of the moon, they turn into silver tears.
The pillow is smeared with mascara and lipstick, a caricature of my face. The belt is hard on my ass, his hand cool on my skin. He loves the marks, the redness against my pale body. He touches them, kisses them when they become too bright, rubs lotion into them in the aftermath.
Tonight he doesn’t kiss them. He takes a deep breath as he raises the belt, sighs when he unleashes it on my skin, slips the leather away like water flowing. Tonight he blends his own pain with my pleasure, falls into that rhythm – breathe, release, slip, breathe, release, slip – the one that takes him away from there, away from even here, and leaves white static in the spaces his mind once occupied. He sees me and only me, and when I bite my lip to keep from crying out, it isn’t from the pain.
He abruptly drops the belt. Something I have done, some little motion or whimper, has taken him to where he needs to be. He invites me to join him by spreading my legs even wider, moving in behind me, impaling me on the part of him that can say things the rest of him cannot.
His hands are on my breasts, his fingertips pinching my nipples, pulling me back into him. His teeth are on my neck, leaving marks. I squeal in delight and struggle to move away, and that only makes him move higher, deliberately marking me in the most inappropriate places, so that I will have to wear a turtleneck for the rest of the week, even though it’s summer.
The heat of my ass turns him on. He grinds deep, just to feel the warmth against his hips. Once he pulls out and kneels to kiss down the small of my back, to find the plumpness of one hip, to trace the line of his belt with his tongue. He moves back up, now harder than he was before.
“You’re beautiful,” he says again, and buries his face in my shoulder.
He pushes, pushes, harder, until I am braced against the headboard and my knees are coming off the bed. He becomes the pivot, my only point of contact. His motion is constant, his method is sure. I perch there, waiting, ready to take flight, as his whole body goes rigid and his mind goes blank and his hands, usually so firm and capable, begin to shake.
I tumble with him, screaming for the first time since we started.
He collapses over me, the darkness turned to light.
He laughs out loud.
It wasn’t always bad. Sometimes there were the good things. When he was in Afghanistan, there was the puppy who wandered into the barracks and then became a mascot, and later became the only way to get close to the really scared kids. The dog brought the wagging tail so the soldiers could bring the much-needed food. They named him Ration.
In Honduras, there were people who helped pass out water, though their own homes were flattened by the wind and they had nowhere to go. One of his photographs was of a woman holding two babies in her arms, children that were not hers, feeding them milk from donated bottles, singing a lullaby as tears ran down her old, lined cheeks.
That was one of his favorite pictures. It was also one of those he hated most.
“There is beauty in suffering,” he said. “The saddest part is that it’s so easy to find.”
He tells me to stay, and so I do. He moves away slowly, making certain I remain in the position he wants, and then the flashes begin again, lighting up the world. He is breathing hard and he curses once, and I smile because I know his hands are shaking.
This time I don’t move. I want him to capture me just as I am, open for him, weeping with him, fucked hard and left on the bed that has the marks of his knees. His handprints are on my hips. I can feel them, like hot brands straight from the coals. He suddenly kneels and bites down on the tender flesh of my shoulder, surprising me into a holler, chuckling even as he leaves his mark.
Some of him slides down my thigh and I drop my head to look between my legs, to watch as the flashes light up the silver trail.
“Perfect,” he says.
The boy was no more than six or seven, a child by anyone’s standard. He was like any other as he skipped up to the checkpoint, perhaps hoping for a quick game of catch or a little plastic toy the sergeant was known for keeping hidden away under the desk in the front office. The boy’s smile was huge, his teeth an almost startling white.
“Look what I got!” he said in near-perfect English, and held up the C-4 with both hands. In another world and another time, he might have been a happy boy holding up the Hershey’s candy bar he had bought with his own nickels and dimes.
The shock of a child with an explosive was the death warrant. The boy connected the wire before the soldiers could raise their guns.
He got one picture before the world went red. It was all he could do, he told the medics. He was so sorry. He couldn’t save anyone, but he could tell their story.
“Indiana Jones,” I say to him, as he unleashes a whip on me, not really hurting and not really playing, but doing something in between. He cracks the whip in the air but when he brings it down on my skin, it is little more than a harsh leather caress.
“Indiana Jones,” he says. “The man who gets what he wants, but it’s always a bit more than he bargained for.”
I shiver at the touch and shudder at the words, all at the same time.
His camera sits on the dresser, the wide eye shut under the lens cover. The case is covered in sand. The film inside is intact, complete, unexposed, a country’s conscience right there in our bedroom. Tomorrow he will take it into his darkroom and then bring it out into the light.
He will bring it into the light, no matter how much it hurts.
When he drops the whip, it makes a dull thud on the floor. He moves up beside me and wraps his arms around me, lets the tears come, and later, much later, he slides into me with a reverence that puts to shame any measure of war, or any search for peace.
Some believe a photograph steals the soul.
Sometimes, the photographer does.