Before I could respond, my cellular phone rang.
I heard slow, evenly paced, mechanical ticking.
"Hello?" I repeated.
When I didn't hear an answer, I snapped the phone shut. In the last two weeks I'd been getting hang-ups at least once a day. No one ever said anything, but I always heard the same monotonous ticking noise. Pressing my foot on the accelerator, I sped up.
"Does your father know you took those contact sheets out of his studio?" I asked Lilly.
"Dad gave them to me. He's letting me help him choose a shot for a new montage. It's a huge cliff and in the crevices will be my face."
"But that doesn't mean he wants you to show them to Cooper. You know how private your father is about his work. Iago Witherspoon doesn't even see his unfinished work and she owns the gallery where he shows."
"I'm not showing Cooper unfinished photographs. Just a contact sheet. That's different."
I didn't think it was, but kept silent.
Lilly examined the rows of tiny images of herself. "I really like modeling for Dad, but I don't think I'd want to do it for anyone else."
I, too, had enjoyed being one of Robert's models, but it had been almost six years since I had posed for him. At the time, I didn't realize why I had stopped allowing him to photograph me. I'd only known I had not wanted to be part of Robert's landscapes anymore.
But in retrospect, it was obvious: subconsciously I knew something was wrong -- I had stopped posing at about the same time Robert had started having affairs.
"Cooper doesn't understand why I'm not bashful in front of Dad."
"What did you tell him?"
She shrugged. "That Dad's always taken pictures of me and it would be weird if he stopped just because I was grown up. It's not like the photographs are sexy or anything."
Even when Lilly entered puberty and became shy around boys, she was never embarrassed in front of the camera.
Although Robert had garnered a reputation for commercial and artistic photography that was on the edge of the erotic, his compositions of our daughter were always in marked contrast to the rest of his work: They were infused only with love. At first he'd melded her soft baby features with rolling hills and cloud-filled skies, and as she grew older, the landscapes changed to reflect her emerging personality.
"Listen, why don't you leave that contact sheet with me," I suggested. "Wait till you can show Cooper the finished collages -- he'll understand them better when they're completed."
In response, Lilly pulled her camera out of her knapsack, held it up to her eye, and focused on the road. I heard the click of the shutter closing and the sound of the film advancing. It was the same way Robert avoided subjects he didn't wish to discuss.
Although Lilly's looks mirror mine -- with the same dark wavy hair, oval face, small bones but long limbs -- her personality is more similar to Robert's. Intuitive and gentle, they also share a love of photography and a dislike of confrontations.
"I'm serious about this, Lilly; it's one thing for you to share what is yours with Cooper, but it's not okay to share something that is your father's. I don't want you to take those photographs with you."
But Lilly had aimed her camera at the changing landscape and was no longer listening. It infuriated me as much when she withdrew with the camera as it had when Robert had done it. I looked at her profile out of the corner of my eye, the high forehead, the full lips, and the stubborn pointed chin.
There was a time, when I was married to Robert, that I began to resent his cameras and devotion to them. No wonder I would have the same reaction to Lilly when she used her camera to distance herself from me.
Copyright © 2000 by M.J. Rose. For permission to reproduce this excerpt please contact the author at http://www.mjrose.com
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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