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Found Photo

January 28, 2009

When you live with something long enough I guess you get used to the odor and then it’s no odor at all, it’s part of the room, maybe it’s just a dead mouse behind the wall and there’s nothing to be done unless you want to take a hammer to the wall one hot, grey afternoon when it feels like ants are crawling up and down your legs, getting right into your underpants.

So here we are, all dressed up and left all alone in the shaking woods. Why did they leave us out here like this, all alone? Drive away in that brand new automobile we helped them to buy? Sure, Pop’s lost a bit of his left leg, the diabetes chewed his foot right up to the shinbone, but that’s no reason to throw us out here without so much as a drink of water. A smell, sure, but not a stink. And weren’t they the ones always pushing sugary things at him anyway? He never was one to say no.

When you live with something long enough it’s really no odor at all.

We knew it had to come off when even the dogs wouldn’t go near him.

Thinking helps to pass the time.

He never did talk much, and it’s especially hard to be sitting here on a bench in the absolute dead center of nowhere with a one and a half-legged man who won’t say a word. Thank the Lord they didn’t drive off with the crutches.

When you live with something long enough I guess you get used to it.

So here we are, left alone in the woods by our own children, and not a soul to help us, and not a drop to drink. My mouth must look like a flattened mattress by now. Or an old and faded photograph.

It’s all part of life, I guess. You bring them into this world, you do your best to make a life for them, and then they have to up and leave you one day, go off on their own. I just never thought it would be like this! It’s like there’s a dead mouse behind the wall and there’s nothing to be done unless you want to take a hammer to the wall one hot, grey afternoon when it feels like ants are crawling up and down your legs, getting right into your underpants, out in the woods, all alone, thinking to pass the time, sitting on a bench with a one and a half-legged man who won’t say a word.

An old and faded photograph has an odor, but not a stench.

by Peter Cherches and Holly Anderson

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Process notes

They had collaborated once before, about eighteen years earlier, but the piece they wrote then was published for the first time only recently. That publication led to an invitation to submit to the present collection. They agreed that it would be nice to work together again, and they started tossing ideas back and forth via email. Time constraints wouldn’t allow the two of them to get together in a room and compose a piece from scratch through give and take, as they had done before. They’d have to work differently this time. One of them suggested that they each write independent sections of a prose piece, or intertwined sentences, with different typefaces to differentiate the two voices (though they would not identify which typeface matched which contributor). The other wasn’t happy with that idea, didn’t want the individual contributions to be so clearly delineated. This one suggested a process whereby each would submit a piece to the other, a piece the first writer felt was unfinished, perhaps, or just not up to snuff, and the second would work with it: edit it, change it, complete it, rewrite it, whatever seemed appropriate, whatever seemed in order. The version completed by the second writer would be the final version. The writer who started the piece would have no veto power and no rights to further edit or rework it. The writer who suggested this method saw this as an exercise in trust. Two writers with different but compatible voices and visions would have their way with each other’s pieces. They would not reveal which of them started which piece. The other writer was skeptical at first, felt that their individual voices would be flattened or neutralized by the process. But the writer who suggested this method didn’t see it that way at all. This writer believed that the process could unleash a compelling third (or third and fourth) voice, a product of the two. The other ultimately agreed to this approach. The two writers submitted old, long-abandoned (or shunted aside) pieces to each other, and they went to work. Two pieces, by two writers. (Look for the second piece to appear later in this issue. —Eds.)

  1. January 31, 2009 at 8:38 am

    What an amazing photograph, and the two lives/characters you’ve supplied give it such a credible backstory.

    I also like the reversal of the Hansel and Gretal story too, parents being abandoned in the woods by their children. And yet these parents seem to have retained the innocence of children.

    It’s a very affecting and thoughtful piece.

  2. February 1, 2009 at 7:51 am

    I thought of Hansel and Gretel too. It’s bleakly funny and pathetic, yet the people in the photo look quite stoically cheerful!

  3. March 20, 2009 at 10:06 am

    Yes, Hansel and Gretel with no prospects of that gingerbread house, no hungry witch just the simple photo facts. In a way, its as if the house/witch were all made up in the first place to wile away the ‘lostness’ while the pair waits and grows into their place in the woods. The story does this great tattoo around the man’s distance, the woman’s honest accounting of the ‘how we came to be wherever it is we are’, poignant/wonderful.

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