Mrs. Willis knocked on the door of apartment B57 on floor twelve of the Statin W.C. Rider building - which was famous because three days after it was built, someone jumped out of the window of the fortieth floor and incidentally landed on a sixty-seven year old widow and killed her on contact. She had been carrying seven yellow balloons for her nephew's birthday party. But that’s another story.
Mrs. Willis pressed her face to the door leaving only a millimeter in between her rouged cheek and the wood, listening. She heard an object get knocked to the floor, perhaps a book or something for it didn't break open like a vase would. A voice that shook a lot, like a singer's vibrato, called out, "coming, coming!" Quickly, she leaned away from the door, straightened out her coat collar, and checked her breath on the back of her manicured hand. It smelled like lemon drops which she was always constantly popping in her mouth. Bustling footsteps walked about in a chaotic manner and another thing fell to the floor, hitting the ground with a delicate pip pip sound. She wondered what it was that could make a sound such as that. The doorbell turned.
"Mrs. Willis?" The middle aged man said in no direction in particular. He held out his hand way too high and too far to the left to be comfortable for her to grasp, but the five foot woman reached up for it. He shook it vigorously with both his hands. His ghostly green eyes looked into space. "I'm so glad you could make it," he finished. He took one step back. "Please do come in."
He turned slowly, very slowly, and began to walk to the other side of the house. Mrs. Willis was impressed with his ease in his apartment. He seemed to know where every piece of furniture was, how far away he had to be to lift an arm up and have his finger tips the perfect distance away to gently brush them against the wall, and when to pull his hand away so as not to touch a painting or portrait that hung up. He had a lot of canes leaned up against the corner of one wall, probably only for use outside in the unknown world, Mrs. Willis thought to herself. The kitchen, to her surprise and admiration, was very simple and extremely neat and clean. It almost sparkled. Mr. Delphy slowed his pace and reached his hands out.
"Excuse my slow pace, Mrs. Willis," he began, stretching both his hands out. "As you came in I rushed out of the dining chair and I'm afraid I might have misplaced it. I always tuck it in you see, so as not to trip."
Mrs. Willis rushed forward and pushed the dining chair in, out of his path. "Please, allow me," she said in a satiny voice. "You do keep your house so neat and wonderful, Mr. Delphy! It's so cozy!"
"Oh, do you like it? I'm so glad. It's my own little universe in here, I suppose." He led her to a quiet room with deep cream colored walls and a large window that looked over the city. A tiny plant with rosemary growing in it sat on a tiny table in the corner. A thick white rug almost as big as the room hugged the wooden floor. She slipped off her high heels and felt the rug, the pieces of cloth coming up between her toes like blades of woolly grass.
“Welcome to my studio,” said Mr. Delphy. He flipped a bright light on in the corner. "So what is it you do, Mrs. Willis, if I may ask? Ronda mentioned that you are an interior decorator, was it?"
Mrs. Willis blushed.
"Oh, it's just a little hobby I started out...did Ronda say that? What a darling! She is the one who recommended you though after all, and so far she seems just on point. She didn't show me any of the photographs though, although of course I wouldn't ask! One's curious though anyway naturally. Women like me though, see them more as...as a work of art!"
Mr. Delphy scrunched his nose a little bit and then carefully reached down for a black camera bag that laid delicately on the floor. Mrs. Willis studied him conspicuously, looking him up and down, noticing the way he handled his cameras, switching out the lenses with fingers as soft and nimble as a child’s. He wasn’t all that short, as Mrs. McCullins had mentioned at lunch the other day. (According to Mrs. McCullins, the portraits he took of her were “simply a dream. Worth every penny!”) But he did somehow resemble some kind of human weasel, as Mrs. Tanner had divulged, although she had worded it somehow much more becoming. It had surprised Mrs. Willis that the heavily Christian, walking moral compass, Mrs. Tanner, had payed a little visit to Mr. Delphy herself. He had, in the last few months, created quite a reputation among the wealthy ladies of the small town. He was in fact, the perfect candidate for someone who wanted themselves captured forever in time, but not to be seen by its creator. Not to mention his expert photography. Pictures that would make one faint; The lighting on the woman’s cheekbones like soft feathers of heaven. The shadows falling across the skin as if in a methodical dance. The facial expression, the stories captured in their eyes. One woman, a quiet, shy Mrs. Kennedy had said that Mr. Delphy was a genius at catching “the moment” rather than just simply a fantastic photograph. Of course no one ever saw the photographs except for the person in the actual picture. But then again, Mrs. Dean had given her portrait to her husband for his birthday. At first, apparently, he was beside himself with jealousy and rage, screaming at her that she was “indecent.” When she had begged him on his knees to accept it, that it was just for him, and that Mr. Jeffrey Delphy had been the photographer, he laughed himself silly, kissed his wife, and hung the portrait up in his secret den.
“Please,” Mr. Delphy said, pointing to the couch. “Try and make yourself comfortable Mrs. Willis. I’m just trying to figure out which lens will best suit the mood for you.”
“Please, call me Charlotte.”
Mr. Delphy smiled with his eyebrows and nodded. “Of course, Charlotte.” His eyes looked vacantly straight ahead at the wall while his fingers felt around for the right notch to slide the lens in properly.
Mrs. Willis looked at the little man in front of her and felt a heavy pity for him. Poor thing. His eyes always looking, searching, wandering. Lost. She had heard from Mrs. Kennedy that he had lost his sight in some kind of fire freak accident, although she didn’t necessarily know how that could be so. Fire and blindness didn’t necessarily go hand in hand in her mind. Another woman from work said that he had lost his sight a week after he had been born. Standing before her now, he looked so helpless and weak. A frail man, single, never married, alone, no one to love him, to care to wash his dirty clothes or socks. She felt a terrible urge to ask him straight out, to put the gossip to an end and get a juicy story that would make her feel both sympathetic and superior, but she stayed silent.
“Charlotte. I know this is the uncomfortable part, but you can undress now.”
Mrs. Willis nodded, and then realized her action and whispered a quick, “Yes, yes of course.” She stepped off to the corner a little so that his back was to her, giggled nervously at the ironic absurdity of her shy actions, and then began to unbutton her silk blouse.
“Don’t be nervous,” she thought to herself. She thought of Mrs. Kennedy and Mrs. Tanner and Mrs. McCullins and all the women at her bridge club who had spoken so highly of Mr. Delphy and of the results of their special, artistic portraits and photographs.
Mr. Delphy was, in a hush hush sort of way amongst the respected women of the town, known as the best nude photographer that ever was! Women loved him: He was discreet, humble, tactful, low-key, trust worthy, confidential, and polite. The perfect person to feel comfortable in capturing their bodies at their ripened ages; Their bodies which were dear to them. Not to mention the slightest bit of danger and sin that they found in the “art.” It was just enough to make them curve their lips with lust and fire, but just little enough to make them not rush to the confessional in tears. It gave them the little bit of moxie they so needed. Besides, it was no sin to have the pictures done by him for he saw nothing! Surely their husbands couldn’t get that upset, for technically, no moral wrongdoing was precisely performed.
“Please, Charlotte, when you’re ready just make your way over to the couch.”
Sliding her pencil skirt down over her large hips, Mrs. Willis raised her hands to her throat, fingered her diamond choker, and then decided to keep it on. She did, however, in a last decision of power and mockery, take off her wedding ring.
“Are you there yet?”
“Yes,” she answered. “How shall I sit?”
Mr. Delphy walked over to the couch and kneeled. “Excuse me”, he said, a bead of sweat falling from his forehead, his breath coming out heavily, his eyes looking into space. He reached forward slowly. “Mind putting my hand on your left shoulder, Charlotte? That a girl. What smooth skin you have, like a twenty year old dame.” Mrs. Willis smiled triumphantly, thinking of that vitamin E miracle cream she had just purchased.
“Ok, Mrs. Willis. Here’s the uncomfortable part, but the pose is everything. Everything.” He gently touched her neck. “Lengthen it as much as possible. It always adds so much more charm.” He tilted her chin a little bit to the right. “There now. Perfect.”
She studied his face as he did this. The feel of his scratchy fingers made her recoil ever so slightly. He did, after all, look like a weasel. Mrs. Tanner’s assessment had been correct. She wondered if he had ever been with a woman. His large paunch rested on the couch. She looked down at it, at his rounded nose and yellowed teeth. His ears stuck out like large lily pads. He wasn’t in any way attractive. He was balding. He was looking twenty years older than his actual age. She obeyed as he told her to gently lay down to the left. She felt his hand graze her upper thigh, placing it slightly over her resting leg. She wondered if this was the closest contact he ever had with women. She pitied him. He placed his hand on her waist. His breathing got harder and she blushed a little. He asked her if she had any pets and she couldn’t help but start ranting about pom-pom, her poodle she had so generously saved from the shelter. She always made sure to emphasize that she had adopted rather than gotten a pure breed. That she was charitable and big-hearted. His hand slid to her breast and pushed it up a little bit, resting on her arm. Back to her legs now. Her thighs. Pushing them back a couple inches, and then forward a couple inches. When he slid his fingers on the arch of her foot she couldn’t help but feel a little wanton rush of blood to her head. What would her husband think now? she thought. She hadn’t been touched by him in this way in over ten years.
“Almost have you perfect, Mrs. Wi - Charlotte.” His hand tilted her chin, perked up her resting breast again, and fluffed her hair.
He then slowly stood, walked back slowly, adjusted the light, and FLICK. The first shot. Flick, flick. He moved about gracefully, aiming the camera directly at the couch. Sometimes he went to the sides of the wall, walked exactly three steps, turned and shot. Then counted another two steps, turned and shot. He had the entire room mapped out perfectly. After about thirty FLICKS later, he adjusted the loose, sweaty hair that had fallen in his face, straightened up, smiled, and said: “All done! Perfect. Just perfect! The best yet I think. I just know it!”
He walked her to the door.
“I’ll have them ready in a week. You can come by then and pick the ones you like the best, although I’m sure all of them will turn out magnificently.”
“Wonderful Mr. Delphy. Thank you so much!” She kissed him on the cheek and then walked to the elevator and then to the curb, waiting to catch the next cab. As she raised her hand in the air she realized she had forgotten her wedding ring. She rushed back to the elevator, and once again came to apartment B57. She heard classical music coming from inside, playing rather loud. She knocked. She waited. The music kept going. She knocked again. She waited. She began to get nervous. She couldn’t possibly go home to her husband tonight without her wedding ring! She tried the door. Click. It slowly swung open silently. She walked inside.
“Mr. Delphy?” she whispered, ashamed for walking in like this. She wandered toward the studio, thinking she could possibly just pick it up and take it without his noticing she came back.
When she got to the studio, Mr. Delphy sat on the couch she had just left, a book in his hands. He jumped up when she entered the room and let out a little gasp. His eyes found hers directly for a moment and then wandered around the room, crazed.
“Hello? Who’s there?” he barked out, dropping the book to the floor as he stood, edging toward the corner where his spiked cane leaned against the wall.
“Oh, Mr. Delphy! I’m so sorry to barge in. I knocked ...but the music....and...I just forgot my wedding ring!” She rushed to the corner of the rug and picked it up. “I’m so sorry to barge in.” She walked quickly to the book. “I didn’t know you read braille Mr. Delphy! Good for you!” She picked up the book, curious to see what it looked like inside. She turned it open to the first page. It read:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”