A While Ago

I made this photo a while ago on a day in Mexico when a stop for coffee with Anne Marie Vivienne and Chris Michel turned into a mini photo shoot with participants oblivious to the intrigue they held for me or others.  Fast forward to my workshop with David Hilliard at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center and the exercise of sharing a photograph with a writer for them to create a story.  It is an excellent experience to collaborate,  share passions and talents in the pursuit of bettering one's skills.   I am fortunate to have been matched with David Chambers who was taking the workshop led by the immensely talented Pam L. Houston.  David Chambers has kindly agreed for me to use his words with this picture.  It is such a gift to see the imagination another artist brings to your work, and I am grateful to have gone through this process again this year.

Never Charged Her Rent

David Chambers


Manuel should be here any moment, so I can stop pretending to listen. The chair’s for him. 

I never meet with tenants, but she used to work for the company, begged to talk to me one more time. She knows she has to move.

“No,” I say when she pauses for a sip. This is her second coffee. She’s talking damnation now, my damnation, talking righteousness as if the edge of her cup, catching the light, were some halo over her head. Thank God there’s a table between us.

“No, no more time.”  

    Late twenties she was when I gave her a job, gave it to her because she looked like Leticia Calderón, you remember Calderón from television, short blond hair, big smile, big chi chis. I had her answer phones.  I let her have an apartment in one of the old buildings, to keep her nearby. Didn’t charge rent. At the office, she lasted only a few months before I had to let her go.  She was a drinker.  

She cried. She blubbered. “Roberto, I have no money and my family won’t take me back.” So she and I made a new arrangement. I’d visit her a few times a month, but she could keep the apartment. I never charged her rent. Later, even after she started looking like this, I let her stay. All she had to do was clean the hallways and the lobby. Like everyone says, I’m a generous man.

Look at her. Dumpy. Lumpy. A bag of smelly laundry. And that head of hair, like one of those stringy haired dogs from Tibet or Mongolia. 

I watch her take another sip from the cup we both know is empty.   

“You have to be out today.”

        Behind her, Manuel comes through the door. “Join us,” I call. “Sit here.” It’s taken him and Luis longer than I thought to empty her apartment. He’ll drive her stuff wherever she wants.

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