It was as if my legs had been cut away, and when I went out on the beam twenty minutes later for the photograph to be finally taken, I had to bite my lip to stop the shaking in all my limbs. The photographer did not even notice there was now no one on my left, that a space existed where a spirit had been before.
It wasn’t until many years later — after I had finished college and gone into practice, after I had married and divorced twice — that I found out. It was in the fifties in Dallas that I met Barker in a bar. I almost didn’t recognize him until I heard him speak. He was a mere distillation of the pugilist he had once been. He had gone back to boxing in the forties and had become the fall guy for promoters of better fighters. Now he was a bit addled; his vaguely surprised face was wide and broken.
Over a whiskey, he told me what the ambulance men had discovered, what the workers had been told the next day, the day I had chosen not to return. Santini had not been Santini after all. Well, in a way that wasn’t true either. He wasn’t Robert Santini, but she was Sarah Santini. Santini was a woman. Robert was the brother who had died with her parents, and Sarah had used his name to get the job.
When I went home that night to my Dallas townhouse, I dug out the necklace, now tarnished by age. As I held it in my palm, I remembered Santini’s eyes, remembered her touch, remembered how I had felt. And I finally understood.
Which is why, I think, I get angry when I see that photo — iconic they say — hanging in people’s offices, because nobody sees what is not there.
Because nothing is ever there, not really.
Every time I see that photo, I step off the edge of memory and fall into the abyss of time.
Into everything that is not.
Into everything that was not and never can be.
At least not in this world.
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