Orson returned to his studio apartment. He could not see her immediately. He meant to go up to her, confront her, and ask her to leave. He cared for Lonnie, and he didn’t want to lose her. He could go after Lonnie later and beg her to be with him.
Bessie seemed to be in the bathroom. Orson waited for her, but when it was so long that he almost drowsed off to sleep, he went up to the bathroom door and knocked.
“Are you in there?” he asked.
There was no answer at first, but it was then followed with a meek, “I will be out right away.”
Minutes passed and there was still no answer. Worried that her despondency might get the better of her, Orson went to the bathroom and tugged at the door handle. He was surprised to find that it wasn’t locked.
He opened it and felt ashamed of himself for doing so. “I’m so sorry,” he mumbled, “was just worried.”
But his words were lost on her, who was sitting on the commode, with her back turned towards him. She was moving slightly and he assumed she must be weeping. He went up to her and was just about to place his hand on her back, when he was arrested right in her tracks.
There were three dead lizards on the floor next to her, their severed tails still wriggling desperately. A fourth was in her hands, and she was munching on its belly like it was the newest candy treat in town.
She sensed him standing behind her, and looked back, still chomping on the putrid lizard flesh, its green bilious blood oozing out of her pouty lips, with her eyes now a reptilian shade of green.
Orson recoiled and puked in the sink right behind him. The sight refused to leave his eyes, even though he had them tightly shut now, and he puked till he started gagging on his own vomit.
When he finally managed to open his eyes, he looked at himself in the bathroom mirror, and in it he could her standing right behind him. He turned, wanting to tell her that this was over, that he did not want a reptile-chomping predator in his house, but then she smiled.
It was the first time he saw her smile.
And it had a much stronger effect on him than her tears had ever had.
The next thing Orson remembered was being in bed with the most beautiful woman he had ever encountered riding atop him. His vision was still blurry. He saw her insanely white teeth, bared in a bewitching smile, bobbing up and down with her silver hair moving in the rhythm.
His eyes closed again.
+ + +
Days later, maybe weeks, he did not quite know, he began to sense the confusion in his head. He forced himself to think straight, but his thoughts didn’t obey him. It was as though someone else was guiding him with a leash fastened around his nostrils. Even his thoughts weren’t his own anymore.
But there were moments of clarity. And in one such moment, he had a fulsome glimpse of her.
She was sitting by the window, looking demurely at something outside. She was oblivious to his presence. In that pose, she looked like a Renaissance goddess come to life. Her expression of stoic sorrow lent an aura of grace to her appearance.
It awakened the photographer inside him again.
By instinct, he remembered that his camera was kept in the bedside drawer and he took it in his hands. Suddenly, the years of conditioning his eye to detect esthetic brilliance took over his senses. He just wanted to click her; this was the chance. This would be the candid photo to outclass all other candid photos.
He switched on the camera and its shutter opened. There was a slight noise, but it went unnoticed. Then he put his eye to the lens and saw. It would take a moment to focus, and he waited for the right angle.
He was just about to click.
But in the very nick of time, she turned and saw him.
He expected her to be angry, wild as she had been these days, but he was surprised. There was no anger; there was only a very pained look on her face—the kind of expression one has when they realize they only have a few moments of life left in them.
Through the lens he saw that ultimate look of agony. It was as though someone had stabbed through her heart. She attempted once again to stop him, but it was too late.
The flash blinded him for a moment.
Then, with a trained reflex, he looked into the screen to see how his work had figured. It was a wonderful picture. He had captured her pain at the right moment. It was his Mona Lisa in a photograph.
He looked up to congratulate her. But he could not. The window was open, the curtains were flying, the lilies were still in bloom, but she wasn’t there on the chair.
+ + +