Proxy: Chapter Ten

Chapter Ten

My father diagnosed me with the flu-- "one of the worst cases I've ever seen," he said, shaking his head with a kind of bemused wonder. I stayed in bed for four days, clutching my camera to my chest like a security blanket as I surfaced from various fever dreams of funeral flowers and cracked mirrors.

By the time I was back at school, I had almost convinced myself that it was all some kind of horrible waking fever dream. I had never had one of those before, but it made more sense than what I had seen. My other fever dreams had faded away to fuzzy, half-remembered fragments of images, but that one of the dressing room stayed with me, and I kept running into the sharp edges of it in my waking life. Maybe it was just because it was the first one. Maybe.

Sheena didn't have any more seizures while I was sick. "It's a good thing, too. I don't know how your father would get any sleep if he had to take care of us both!" she said with a laugh, perched on the edge of my bed with the books she'd picked up from the library for me. By the time we had to get ready for the Christmas card portrait, we were both in fairly good shape. I pulled on that burgundy sweater that Sheena had selected for me and smiled. It was as soft as I'd hoped.

"Looking good, Cori!" Sheena said from the doorway in the bathroom. "Do you like it? I thought you might like it, but I was just guessing..."

"I do. It's nice. Thanks, Sheena."

She grinned at me, dimples appearing in her sallow cheeks. "I'm glad. Here. Got you this too. I thought the outfit needed a little something to pull it together," she said, stepping into the bathroom and pressing something into my hand. I opened my hand and saw a little silver charm of a director's clapboard, hanging on a long silver chain. I traced my fingers along the cool metal of the chain, gently, as though I thought it wasn't real.

"Well? What do you think?"

"I love it," I murmured, continuing to trace my fingertips over the metal. Sheena held out her hand again, but she only took the necklace long enough to loop it over my neck and close the clasp.

"Great. We'd better get going, then. The photographer at Sears waits for no one!" Sheena cried dramatically as she led me downstairs to my waiting father. The day in the studio wasn't terrible, and I remember that I was surprised at that. We finished in under an hour, including the time that it took for my father to page through the proofs on the photographer's ancient computer and select the ones he wanted. Maybe we were easier to pose when we were just getting over our respective illness. It seemed like we'd passed over another test with flying colors.

I was allowed to think that, at least, until we got the pictures in the mail from the studio the week after that. I saw the thick white envelope in the mailbox and brought it in, placing it neatly at my father's seat on the dining room table so that he would see it as soon as he got home. Then I went to my room and started methodically working through my homework, finishing in time to go downstairs and work on my videos before dinner. But when I passed through the kitchen on the way to the living room, all thoughts of that vanished completely.

My father was on the cordless phone, practically screaming into the receiver while Sheena worked on dinner. "This is incompetence on your end, and I want my money back and a new session to fix this disaster! I need to send these cards out by Saturday, do you understand me? No, do you understand me?"

He paused for a moment-- not to catch his breath, but to gather it for his final blow. "You've lost my business for good. I've been coming to your studio for thirteen years, since before my daughter was born! And you've thrown it all away, you've thrown it all away by being a worthless, incompetent-- they hung up on me. Can you believe that?" he said incredulously, turning towards Sheena. "It's their mistake, and they have the audacity to hang up on me."

"Is it really that bad?" Sheena said mildly, too caught up in her cooking to get invested in my father's drama. "I mean, there has to be at least one you can use."

"They're all garbage. Completely unusable. I'll have to find us another studio," my father fumed, sweeping the pile of photographs into the trash can. "That is, if anyone even has any spots open at this time of year. I can't believe they'd do this to me."

"It'll be okay, Lonnie. Push comes to shove, you could always take some pictures of us. You take nice enough pictures."

My father's jaw tightened, and he nodded. "I suppose. But they'd better get me my refund." He stalked off to his study, and after a few minutes, I could hear the dull thud and whir of the treadmill. I wandered over to the kitchen island, taking a seat on one of the stools there to watch Sheena work. "What's for dinner?"

"Chili and cornbread," she murmured. "I thought it sounded good, what with this cold, wet, weather outside. It'll be a little bit before it's ready. Gonna go work on your movies while you wait?'

I shook my head, resting my head on my folded arms. "I don't really feel like it tonight." I was tired, and, more importantly, it would have required me to walk past my father's study, and it would mean that I was risking being pulled into his continued outrage over the photographs. The very thought of the possibility exhausted me.

"Oh. Okay. That's understandable. Everybody needs a break sometimes."

"Why is he so mad about the pictures?"

"I don't really know. He wouldn't show me. Apparently the prints are all messed up. He opened them up right here, and he hit the roof. They're just pictures, I tried to tell him, but he was already on the phone with the poor photographer..."

"We don't even really need to send out a Christmas card. I don't know why he's so obsessed with it," I said, my voice pitched low, as if my father might appear at any moment, drawn by my own blasphemy.

"It's just one of his quirks, I guess. He could always send out a New Year's card. I always thought those made more sense, personally. Hey, get the sour cream and cheese out for me, will you, Cori?"

I went over to the refrigerator and pulled them out, carefully scooping some of each of them into two ceramic bowls and taking them out to set them on the table. Sheena had already filled three other bowls with chili and was bringing them out to the table, calling for my father as she did. "Lonnie, dinner's ready!"

My father emerged from his study, dressed in a sweaty t-shirt and a well worn pair of shorts. He walked past the table, instead going to the cabinet and rummaging through it. I could hear the clink of glass against glass, then the thud of something heavy being set down on the counter. Something popped, and then a liquid poured into a glass. "Ray? What are you doing?"

He emerged from the kitchen, holding two glasses of wine. "I don't know about you, but I could use a drink."

"Lonnie, I'm not sure we have a wine that pairs with chili. To be honest, I'm not sure that a chili friendly wine even exists," Sheena said, her voice gently teasing.

"It doesn't exist yet. We won't know unless we try to find it," my father said, matching her joking tone, still holding out the glass of wine.

"Lonnie, I don't even think I want wine with my chili."

"Come on, Sheena. Live a little! That's what you're always telling me."


"Drink up, love. Don't you know, the American Heart Association recommends a glass of wine with dinner now?"

"I'm pretty sure they don't."

"Well, I'm a doctor, and I'm recommending it. Besides, it's not good to drink alone."

Sheena sighed softly and finally accepted the glass, taking a small sip. My father smiled and lifted his own glass of wine in a mock toast before taking a drink. "See? It's not so bad."

"It's good wine, at least," Sheena murmured, more to herself than either of us. She took little sips through the meal, and I excused myself as my father gently nudged her to finish her drink, so that he could finish his own. I took my empty bowl into the kitchen and rinsed it out before placing it in the dishwasher. I was about to walk back out and upstairs to my room when I paused by the trash can. Slowly, carefully, glancing over to the kitchen door, listening to make sure that Sheena and my father were still talking, I reached inside the can and pulled out the thick pile of glossy photos. I stuffed them under my shirt and ran back upstairs to my room, spreading them out over my desk to examine them.

I could see right away why my father was so upset. The first print that I looked at showed us posed in front of the wintry Alpine background, the three of us settled on thick cotton as a stand in for snow, dressed in our brand new outfits. We were posed perfectly, Sheena and my father framing me, each of them resting a hand on my shoulder. The perfect family. But it wasn't right.

Sheena's eyes were completely black, the inky color escaping from her eye sockets and curling up like smoke outside them. My father's face was almost completely gone, a sheer white expanse, like only that part of the photograph had been over exposed. The only thing left to see was the faint remnant of his perfect smile, too wide on that empty face. I looked perfectly normal, but that was like a sick joke, seeing this ordinary girl sandwiched between these two monsters. I didn't like looking at the pictures, but I couldn't stop. I wanted to find a reason, an explanation.

All the pictures were like that. I went through every print, until I saw those black eyes and ghost white smiles whenever I closed my eyes.

previous chapter next chapter