FIRST
PLACE
Gemini Magazine
2010
Flash Fiction
Contest
$1,000 PRIZE
LINES OF
FORCE
by S.J. Cahill
She sat in her robe and waited while he
adjusted the legs of the tripod, slender stick
legs like those of a great blue heron. Now he
began doing camera things, fussing with film
and lenses, apertures and shutter speeds
and light meters, and she felt the room
closing in. As always when he photographed,
he became cold and analytical. The qualities
that once intrigued her had lost their
fascination.

At the party where they met, he’d been
staring at her, his obsidian eyes calculating
and intense, as though seeing through her
clothing, so that when he approached she
expected a pickup line and waited to cut him
down. But he handed her a sketch, pen and
ink on a bar napkin—a drawing of her. He’d
shaded her neck to a long graceful flare and
her throat had become a pedestal for the
bone lines of her jaw, for her forehead and
nose. He had made her beautiful. In two
minutes with a ball point pen.

“With the camera and better light,” he said,
“natural light, we’ll discover your lines of
force.” She studied the sketch, waiting, but
he handed her a number, even then not
asking her name. “Call during the day, early,
for the morning light.” And she finally had,
but within three months it led to this.
Because here she was now, waiting to
undress.

“Black and white today,” he was saying. “A
chiaroscuro mood recreating you in dark and
light with an interplay of shadow, life
extending to a world beyond the frame.”

Once she’d been enchanted by his voice,
swept up in the flow of its husky pulse.
Although he seldom spoke to her directly, he
lectured while he worked, talking to himself
to create the emotion he sought to find and
capture. Today he spoke of forms that
would not be contained, like bent springs
filled with tension, spoke of shapes that did
not move but refused to be imprisoned.
Today he moved his hand and pointed—an
imperious gesture—and indicated where she
was to stand.

“Now you must be very still,” he said, “and I’ll
add energy and motion to the work. A simple
woman transformed into an idea, more than
you have ever been in life.”

“Oh
really,” she said. “Aren’t you something.”

But he was too absorbed. Ranting now,
manic almost, about beauty being a
standard set by the elite, talking about the
painter Serrano and his work—the crucifix
immersed in urine, the so-called Piss
Christ—about Mapplethorpe and the Dung
Virgin, about overthrowing paradigms, about
artists and freedom and rules.

But his work would not be interpreted in that
way, he said. His own work was art and
transcended moral labels. What he was
doing here would set new standards. Using
her lines of force, he would echo the nipple
shape in the curve and shadow of her
breast, capture the texture of her flesh and
hair, her nobility. And could she arch her
back a bit?

In the beginning she had loved it when he
talked about amateur photographers not
knowing the difference between journalism
and art, never achieving a point of view,
never finding a way to capture the mystery
and explore the special character of the
individual subject. Back then she would have
shrugged off her robe and said, “And what
special character do you find in me?”
Coquettish, flirting. But no longer.

Because today he was directing her to
different poses, his voice abrupt and
impersonal, his hands cold against her skin
when he positioned her arms and adjusted
the angle of her hips. Because he no longer
was seeing her, but rather, searching for the
myth he wanted her to be. Lately she’d been
wanting to tell him that these images of her
were temporary, only celluloid mirages, tell
him that was the way he’d begun making her
feel.

But still, she missed the passion, the way it
once had been. And even now, she waited
for his touch, ashamed to feel her need, and
wondered how she could refill the hollow
place of missing joy.

“Today we’ll cross the line between the ideal
and the real,” he declared. “The line between
truth and illusion.”

But when he adjusted the lens and focused
the shot, she saw that he’d turned the
camera and changed the light, and she would
be only a silhouette. The camera clicked—a
tiny sound and burst of light that froze the
moment—and her lines of force were gone.


S.J. Cahill lives and writes in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.
He has been a Ralph Nadding Hill Contest finalist and his creative
nonfiction has been published in North Country Journal. He has
received writing grants from the Vermont Studio Center and was a
three time resident. "Lines of Force" originated while Cahill
attended life-study classes with visual artists. Currently he is
working on a novel and a short story collection. This is his first
fiction publication.