She was everywhere. You couldn’t escape those eyes, the wide moon of her face or the creamy cleft spilling from her scoop or keyhole necklines. I was astonished to enter her home and find that the countless framed photographs crowding every inch of wall space were all of her.
I was there as a representative for the auction house I worked with. All I knew was that Luda was a classical music composer, and she claimed to have an original Ivan Aivazovsky seascape that she wanted to consign. I saw no sign of art collection but there were Russian artifacts, fabrics, and dishes.
“Sit down, sit down,” she said, sweeping her grenadine talons across a seat of fading damask to clear a space for me between stacks of albums. As she bustled about in the kitchen, making tea, I leafed through one of the folios and saw it was also full of Ludmila. Polaroids, fuzzy old Kodaks, contact sheets with pose after pose and nothing crossed out. Luda, blowing glossy kisses at the camera. Luda waving from balconies, gardens, small boats. Luda in summer dresses, hair piled high. Luda, thighs stuffed into pantyhose, head back, hips forward, legs parted, coy eyes.
Luda returned with a beautiful cobalt blue teapot, steaming her oversize glasses. She smiled when she saw me looking at her. She wasn’t the slightest bit embarrassed that I had found the mawkish, suggestive pictures.
“Oh, how time goes by,” she said. “Look, wasn’t I beautiful?”
She squeezed some lemon into my tea, then handed me a plate with a mound of snowball biscuits. I took a few. They were nutty and sweet.
Later, I had to tell my husband about it. “She can’t resist herself,” I said. “When I was leafing through her photographs, she had to see them, too. She had this glazed, satisfied expression. Almost as if she was looking at old photos of a lover.”
Dave munched nonchalantly on an apple. I loved sharing my daily conundrums with him. He always had an interesting explanation to offer up as a possibility.
“Her face lights up when she passes a mirror,” I explained. “The whole place is like a shrine to Ludmila.”
Dave asked a few questions about the time frame of her Soviet childhood, when she came here. I didn’t know enough about her to say. “Maybe she worships herself because they weren’t allowed to worship anyone else,” he said.
When I told him about the floor to ceiling snapshots, hanged or pinned or taped, plastered in bedroom and hallway, stuck to the fridge, with Luda in this sweater and that, he had another idea. “It sounds like kenophobia,” he said. “A fear of blank spaces, or more officially, a fear of emptiness.”
In art, the concept was called “horror vacui.” Something had to occupy every available space.
“It was kind of like hoarding,” I said. “But the only thing she saves is her self.”
Dave asked about family. I said she was married but I saw no signs of anyone else there. Then he asked me if she was on Facebook. Out of curiosity, I Googled her and came to her Instagram and YouTube channels. I couldn’t believe what I saw. She had eighteen thousand posts, each one a selfie of her purring at the camera, her ankle and shoe, her ear lobe and earring, her brushing her hair. A few were at the piano, but none of the videos were of her music. They were of her putting on makeup or holding up some scarves or perfume.
Dave shook his head in disbelief after scrolling. Even the celebrity reels were less narcissistic, not to mention that many young starlets at least had something to show off.
“Luda takes pictures of herself,” he said, “to keep from disappearing.”
writes, edits, publishes, and teaches small fictions, from Toronto, Canada. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Trampset, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Bending Genres, Unbroken, JMWW, Cleaver, New Flash Fiction Review, Litro, The Dillydoun Review, and others. Her work has been nominated for Best Microfiction, Best Small Fictions, and four times each for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net.
Lorette is the founding editor of The Ekphrastic Review, a journal devoted to literature inspired by visual art. She is also an international visual artist working with collage and mixed media to create urban, abstract, pop, and surreal works. She has collectors in thirty countries so far. Visit her at: www.mixedupmedia.ca
⚡ Two Must-Read Books by The Queen of Ekphrasis, commentary in MacQ-9 (August 2021) by Clare MacQueen, with links to additional resources
⚡ Featured Author: Lorette C. Luzajic at Blue Heron Review, with two of her prose poems (“Disappoint” and “The Piano Man”); plus “Poet as Pilgrim,” a review of Pretty Time Machine by Mary McCarthy (March 2020)
⚡ Fresh Strawberries, an ekphrastic prose poem in KYSO Flash (Issue 11, Spring 2019), nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize