Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Illusion of Bliss

The photographer pointed towards the dark open mouth of the tunnel and started walking faster. The bride followed, picking up the long tail of her shiny white wedding gown with both hands, trying to avoid the grass and the dirt and the mud that threatened to soil it. The groom followed, imposing in his rented black tuxedo. He was a tall, thick man with closely cropped hair that revealed a big white head in the shape of an egg. His eyes were pressed together, trying to avoid the sunlight, and his hands were restless, fixing a button on the tuxedo now and then. The bride was also a thick woman, shorter than the groom. Her arms were fat strong pink pillars that glowed with color in contrast with the white gown. She wore high heels under the thick layers of white fabric and they clicked and clacked as they walked down the paved path towards the tunnel. The photographer, who was ten feet ahead of them, was wearing jeans and a crumpled brown jacket. His black hair was unruly and greasy, and some strands of it clung to his forehead. He carried a black tripod and several large cameras were hanging from his neck.
"Over here… just follow me… this is the perfect spot…"
The bride turned to the groom and frowned as she whispered: "I hope so… because my gown is about to be ruined…"
The groom shrugged and pointed to his shiny black shoes. "This is all rented you know. We’ll have to pay extra if we bring it back dirty…"
She shook her head, as if the comparison was ludicrous. "I’m talking about my gown… whatever… let’s just go and take the picture…"
The photographer stepped into the dark tunnel and for a moment the shadows closed in around him. There was a homeless man leaning against the curved inside walls, staring up at him with eyes of vague hope.
"Spare some change?" the dirty man on the floor said, barely raising his hand in a demonstration of low expectations.
The photographer shook his head and kept on walking. Inside the tunnel, it was very dark and there was a strong smell of urine and mold that permeated the walls and the floor. At points, the ground seemed slippery with fresh mud and he hoped the bride would not slip on the tricky surface. At least not before his job was done. At the end of the tunnel, the sun was shining brightly and the light seeped inside like a shower of golden rays brightly caressing dark opaque clouds of green haze. The photographer approached this entrance and started to set up his tripod. He had done this many times before. He had heard about this spot from other photographers. It was a place he would have missed if he didn’t know the park well. Behind him, the bride was making her way through the darkness of the tunnel.
"Spare some change?" the homeless man said again, looking up at the frowning woman with the long gown in her hands. The bride just looked away, avoiding the hobo’s eyes, as if that mere contact could get her dirty in some way she couldn’t describe. She felt the slippery mud under her heels and walked more slowly. Without turning, she called to the groom:
"Be careful in here… there’s mud… I don’t know what we’re doing here…"
The groom, who was right behind her, also ignored the homeless man who didn’t even bother to raise his hand this time.
"Well… he claims it’s the perfect spot…" and a smirk flashed across his face. Then his foot slid across the moldy moisture and he just barely managed to remain upright. He stepped faster towards his bride and put his right hand on her naked shoulder. "We really have to be careful here…"
"I know… that’s what I’m saying…"
Once again, they both almost slipped and managed to stay standing by holding on to each other. The photographer called to them just then.
"We’re almost done… come and stand in front of the entrance… right here…"
The photographer stood close to the open half circle of light and mimicked the position he wanted the groom to take, with his back towards the wall and his eyes looking to his bride before him. The groom understood the instruction and went to find his place. Here the floor was drier and it was not so difficult to maintain his footing. Still he walked slowly. He turned his back to the wall and faced his bride who looked up at him, still holding the tail of the gown in her hands.
"You’re gonna have to let go of that…" the photographer said, "just let it flow behind you…it will look really beautiful in this light."
The bride hesitated for a moment, then opened her hands and arms and the gown dropped behind her. The photographer walked over and pulled the tail back, creating a curve that flowed towards the muddy floor.
"Hold each others’ hands…"
"Now we’re getting really romantic…" the smirk crossed the groom’s face once again as he reached up to hold his bride’s hands.
"Shut up…" she said with the frown that had never left her face. She could smell the strong stench of urine all around him and she tried to breath as little as possible.
The groom held both her hands in his and looked towards the photographer. "Like this?"
The photographer looked through his lens at the portrait that was slowly forming before him. "Yeah, almost right… let me just get the light here…" He set up a small light behind him quickly and turned it on. Then he came back to his camera and looked through the lens again.
"Ok, almost right… now just look at each other…"
The groom smirked once again and the bride looked at him with impatience.
"You’re both in the right position… just relax your faces… look up at him, with eyes of admiration…"
"Yeah right…" she said and the groom giggled slightly.
"Just do it… for a moment… it’s a single moment that will last forever… look at him… remember how much you love him… look at him with that love… right now…and you, look at her with all the tenderness that you feel for her…"
The groom looked down at her and his eyes softened and she looked up at him and her eyes widened. And just as she saw something strange in his pupils, something that maybe she had never seen before, the flash went off and there was a loud click that echoed through the tunnel.
A voice came from the other side, a rough raspy voice soaked in bad alcohol: "Yeah… look at him…like you love him…"
The photographer clicked once, twice and one more time. "Keep it up… just a little longer… you’ll be glad that you did…"
She shuddered and looked at him again but the strangeness was gone. He was upset about the homeless man talking. He wanted to do something.
"One more and we’re done!" there was one more click and then the photographer sighed loudly. "That’s it! We got some good ones."
The bride released her groom’s hands immediately. He stepped back and turned towards the homeless man. The bride placed her hand on his shoulder and whispered: "Let it go… now’s not the time…just let it go, you will ruin everything…"
He shrugged his shoulders once again and waited while the photographer put away his equipment.
The old raspy voice came from the dark entrails of the tunnel once again: "To happiness. To bliss!" The groom turned towards the darkness but the voice was lost in the shadows. The bride examined her gown for any signs of mud or dirt. The photographer methodically folded his tripod while making calculations in his head.
"Let’s get out of here…" the groom said, trying to avoid breathing as they started to walk back from where they came. The bride’s heels clicked and clacked as they once again walked through the slippery dark tunnel. "To the happy couple…" the hobo whispered as they passed, sipping the last drop of whiskey from his metal flask. Soon it would be time for him to make his way back out into the world once again. For now, the tunnel was cool and it kept him away from the sunlight. For now, that was all he really needed.

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