Brenda walks her ridgeback tightly by her side, her hair dusky black with shades of light rolling out behind her, and inside the billowy mass a most beautiful face. Sometimes she follows me or I follow her with her ridgeback in tow. The leash on the African lion hound is taut and rigid, as if giving any freedom to the animal, even allowing it to stride outside its strict animal pacing extremely dangerous. Perhaps it waits for a lion to chase down or at best to intimidate the great cat. That natural raised line of hair that runs from head to tail, that distant, cold appraisal of its eyes is enough to ward off any curiosity about Brenda, though it’s apparent all the visible parts of her body are covered in tattoos.
She’s unusually beautiful, though I mentally erase the inked mottling of her skin. The disembodied images strike me as completely alien, a side of her turned inside out. Before we are intimate, I assume the well of imagery is endless and only she knows their full meaning. Lying naked on the bed, Brenda’s back becomes a swirling sea of blood-reds and blues merging into each other like the spines of an armadillo, long and elaborate, twisted and subliminal, dark and vibrant with deep coloring that subverts everything behind the images, the veins and once pure opacity of skin.
I’m amazed at the synchronicity of the images that cover her body, how they transform whenever we’re intimate, though I doubt whether she knows what they represent. Whenever she inks a new image, a distinct feeling of revulsion creeps over me, as though her body emits the complete opposite of her intentions to completely exteriorize herself to the world; that the world having created the first man and woman could return us to our first concept of being, that our flesh could be miraculously transformed by the coldest reaches of our thoughts.
But when she says hers is a quest for absolute beauty, that without a writhing tableau of moving imagery permanently imprinted on flesh we are nothing but inchoate beings, I struggle to understand. Everything exposed, she says, everything turned inside out, until nothing left of ourselves, but imagery more real than words or expressions, a complete evisceration of beauty and the ultimate transmutation of the soul, claiming this is proof that beauty has no more connection to the world than last year’s news or yesterday’s breakfast, that we are no more than symbols of a personal iconography.
Brenda does not understand that myth is more important than reality. It is the lingering shadow after the figure moves, the light left standing after a storm passes. It is nothing and everything as all things change and transform. Often there are only one or two moments in life when the soul’s real human image appears to the outside world, but it is wholly unexpected. Only the sharpest eye recognizes that moment of revealing. It may be through a photographic lens or a painter’s sketch or brush work, but the transmission is complete in and of itself, by itself from the true soul that longs for breath to show its reason for being. Even a series of photographic portraits can never reveal the true substance of a person, and that is the key, for all things are in transition, infinite and changing, and what manifests once may never manifest again, though when truth finds its revealed moment, it cannot be anticipated or avoided. It is forever the mark of human authenticity, but only for those who can sustain its existence in a wholly duplicitous world.
But this doesn’t dissuade me from seeing Brenda’s face as exquisitely beautiful beyond any monstrous images that cover her body. My eyes fix wholly on her face when we make love. I see her more classically molded, with jet-black hair that billows in the wind, a strong, sleek set of hips and thighs and breasts that are impossible to hide even under a jacket. They are round and full and her walk makes every curve more graceful. She smiles at me every so often from across the street when she walks her ridgeback, but glimpses of her body are brief and barely discernible in the light. It is in some way all about the dog walking next to her, then all three of us transform into one unit of inseparable power, all the while keeping the ridgeback in strict walking order so that the animal remains in perfect synchronization to our pace, as if one soul moving to one heartbeat.
But that sense of unity soon breaks down when we’re alone in the bedroom and the ridgeback eyes me with a languid, though alert eye, his head resting on forepaws and cocked at such an angle that I’m certain he would lunge at my neck in a moment’s impulse. And this is the peculiarity that just like Brenda there is a dual reality at work, something behind its façade that is darker and more nefarious than I imagine. And Brenda too, for whenever we make love I feel the darkness of her body struggle to envelop me like smoke around combustible substance. That I do everything to obfuscate her body from my senses to retain the purity I see only in her face is true; that below her neck is an underworld that yearns to absorb me. No, she insists my purity is inviolable, yet the inviolability of her face is always threatened with extinction by the rising tide of images that induces a strange chemistry over my senses.
She insists that I’m deluded, that everything is a mask and the sun is meant to burn us into submission. But when it lands on her face slightly turned toward the window of her apartment, when it slices across her mouth and eyes, open and craven for love, I’m transfixed. Another side of her emerges, a glimpse of her unadorned and real, unafraid of true nakedness. It’s then I loathe that dark sea lurking below and keep my eyes fixed on her face shining for me alone like a rising planet among black, amorphous shapes that have no substance. I fix my eyes solely on her face, as if it alone will save me from the gradual encroachment of images wrestling over her body below like shifting waves of darkness. I turn away quickly to counter the irreality of her self-mutilation that longs to take me into its grip and destroy my reverence for the world’s unadorned beauty as the shadow of her mottled skin begins to absorb the clear translucence of her face, a dark wave of impenetrability rising from her chest, gradually crawling over her collarbone up her neck in subtle, but distinct rivulets of dark, merging lines and nightmarish shapes that are taking over her face, her eyes, her mouth, the exquisite shade of her cheekbones. I struggle to hold back my revulsion, but it’s impossible, and all Brenda does is smile as her lips become more ghoulish, her embrace more like that of a bird of prey, her ridgeback eyeing me closely for the first signs of resistance, waiting to tear my throat out in fearsome revenge.