He took the photo of her during a photography workshop in his village when he was fifteen, she thirteen. He said, move your eyes slowly, left to right. (He tried it on me once, long afterwards, but I moved my eyes – light blue, inquisitive – too quickly.) She let her gaze sweep slowly across him from horizon to horizon. The photograph shows her eyes like cat eyes, in a liminal state both blind and transcendent, as if frozen by horror or the witnessing of a miracle. He framed the photo in an old window frame: two squares gripped by thick white wood. In one square was a mirror; in the other, the photo. He hung it in the living room of his tiny apartment.
The night I saw her we were at the premiere of an experimental film in el Pochote Cineclub. She was tall, beautiful like my mother had been in her twenties and thirties, with high delicate cheekbones and a fine neck and natural grace. Her hair was braided; she was wearing long earrings. She sat in the seat directly in front of me. The film started. As it played, the projector clicking in darkness, I realized who she was. The realization crept up in the dimmed theater, an ache low and rising, until it overpowered me, made me sick with anger that bordered on lust. I wanted to grab her braid, thrust my face into her neck. When the film finished I rushed out, twisted away from Jorge’s concerned grasp, and ran home to our apartment. When he arrived I was packing.
“Don’t do this,” he said. I screamed at him about the conversation we’d had, on a night when we were first getting to know each other. I’d lain my head on his lap and we’d talked about past lovers. He’d told me things: I have only loved one girl, who grew up in my town. We went through things other people can’t understand. We were best friends. I always loved her, but she didn’t love me.
Is it the girl in the photo? I had asked, my face arching up to meet his. He’d said no so casually, so dismissively, that I never thought of it again. He never lied. He did not have the disposition for it: could not even accept it when the señoras at the market accidentally gave him back too much change for the mangos.
He took the photo off the wall, carried it outside to our small concrete terrace, and hurled it to the ground. The mirror shattered into a dozen silvery fragments of Oaxacan night. He tore up the photo. There, he said. There.
A weight lifted. We got married. Years later, I saw her in a dream. In it he embraced her lithe body, drew it towards him, with a firm confidence so unfamiliar it made me, watching, feel like a child. I joined them, kissing, and when I woke up flushed in our fluffy bed I no longer felt betrayed, but embarrassed for having intervened in the lives of strangers.
It was not until seven years after the torn photo and shattered mirror – the lifting of a curse, the end of a trial period – that I understood my error. We were walking up a snowy abandoned road in Ohio. The night was silky raven blue. The shadows of branches crisscrossed us, our interlinked arms. I felt a new adult understanding of murkiness, an acceptance of the constant overlapping of past with present, love with love. In life, I had lost the clean relief of the break; I retained it only in stories. We traipsed across the rough snow of the yard, stood for a moment beneath the full moon, crawled together under the quilts in the bedroom. My sleep was warm and dreamless.