he strip of flesh between the open edges of the kimono was
still visible as the flames gnawed in uneven scallops. The
pale angles of thighs, the dark smudge of pubic hair,
the endearing little hollow of the navel, the spreading fullness of
the breasts disappeared behind the satin folds, and embroidered
pansies lingered in front of him. Her face had gone, chewed by
the encircling band of black and the thin buttonhole line of fire.
The neck was still there, though, and her hair: ragged sprays of
curls scrolling her throat and touching what was left of the
shoulders. There were no arms now.
The loss of the hands had been the worst part. He’d
grabbed the tongs and was just about to do something when the
flames began so delicately to consume her fingers. He loved
those hands, the elegant upholstery of flesh over bone, the way
the little fingers struck outwards by themselves, the slight
puffiness around the wedding ring that he himself had put on the
third finger of her left hand. All had crumbled and disappeared.
Geoffrey Hastings sat back on his heels on the hearth rug
and drew another photograph from the stiff cardboard pages.
He remembered the time in London on his honeymoon when he
had bought the album. Half-crazed with her smell, her touch, her
glimpsed nakedness, he had felt overwhelmed with the need to capture and confirm with his camera, using light to make desire
and pleasure permanently visible on paper. Walking the streets,
seeing the sights, Vanessa on his arm and all the time consumed
with a passion to be in his studio at home in Dublin to take the
photographs that he could already see in his mind. Buying the
album had been a distraction, a consolation for having to wait,
a symbol of the act still to be consummated. He had pored over
the choices: embossed leather, carved wood, pressed metal,
velvet, and finally settled on this one, a half-circle volume that
opened into round pages. Mother-of-pearl cover, ivory wateredsilk
endpapers, the hint of moon and ocean the colours of her
flesh, swirling and incandescent.