In the Dark Light of Angels
An Excerpt


     It’s too early at Antietam National Battlefield for the arriving buses. The fog has not completely unveiled the black marble obelisk or the stone color guard, nor lifted from off the tall grasses grounded to the gentle slopes and, so it is, the shape of the battlefield is shrouded in serenity before the touring surge. I lean into the stone wall, snap a few photographs of the Sunken Road, then turn and snap a few photographs of my father who is setting up his 8x20 banquet camera. It’s my job to document the documentary photographer, my duty, to record William A. Goodell and hand him the equipment he needs. My father peers up over the camera’s extended bellows and stares unblinking at the thirty-five millimeter Nikon. He smiles furtively. “Please, Holley,” he says, “no candid shots.” My father likes to be posed with his darkcloth draped around his shoulders like a Roman cape. He’s a big man with a prophet’s white beard. Dark eyes that darken still when angered or frightened. I nod and let the camera strap go slack around my neck. I stand and I wait.
     We broke camp at a Comfort Inn at seven-thirty this morning on the edge of Gettysburg, one and a half hours away from where we now stand. Though Gettysburg is the crown jewel of my father’s sabbatical project, and the last major site we need to document before we can head back to Baton Rouge and then, for me, off to Salt Lake City, Utah, the Comfort Inn was not comfortable. My father was not convinced that the ventilation system was properly working in any of the three rooms we tried. It was too late to change hotels without reservations because Gettysburg receives two million visitors a year and so, on any given week, rooms quickly fill. The manager was at a loss for words, having never before had a customer complain about the stuffiness in more than one room, and so my father gave up. He could convince neither him nor the cleaning crew hovering in the hall, that there was a problem with the entire building. He could not explain the smell he smelled other than say, “it’s musty in here.” What he could not express, and what I myself could only guess, was that there’d been too many guests who’d slept in these rooms built in the age of air-conditioned efficiency; meaning, windows could not be opened, rooms were not aired out and so inevitably my father’s claustrophobia had flared.
     An air purifier system was brought in, set on the desk and plugged into the wall. It looked like a portable humidifier. For all we knew it might have been. My father looked at the filter. The manager apologized once more before quickly shutting the door, and I had to convince Dad that he’d not die in the night.
“The filter looks dirty,” my father said as he sat in a nearby chair. “Would you mind checking it.”
     I took a closer look, even turned the machine over, but quite frankly saw nothing unusual except dust around the wire mesh. “It looks fine,” I reported. “Some dust. That’s all.”
    “Just turn it off. No telling how long it’s been since it was last cleaned.” He continued to stare at the purifier until I found a good movie on the Super-station. The Terminator. The first bullet blast sent my father from the chair to the bed where he propped himself against the pillows and settled in for the action. He self-consciously looks over at me. “There’s no sense in photographing if I don’t feel well.”
     I assured him that it was alright, and we watched the movie, two adults submerged into child-like diversion. Terminator Two came on next and we watched it as well. The television flickered on this way all afternoon, and when we had our fill of violence Dad switched the station to the cooking network and we watched chefs easily chop, blend, and sauté until it was time for bed. I changed in the bathroom, a nightshirt and shorts, brushed my hair, brushed my teeth, flushed the toilet, and made my way back to my bed. I was turning down the sheets when I noticed a pubic hair on my synthetic comforter. I stared at it for a long moment, curious and detached. I rolled it between my fingers. It was a simple reminder of the most private attachment, hair, body, and flesh. Her flesh. Her body. Her hair.
     “What did you find?”
     “Oh, nothing. A piece of fuzz.”
     All at once, I was as flushed as a lover, and as embarrassed as a child. I snapped the hair away from my fingers, pulled down the sheet, got in, and turned off the light between our beds. “Good night, Dad.”
     “Good night, Sweetheart.”
     I said my prayers and then began dwelling in the loving of her.


.

NOAH © Patricia L. Meek

 

Website copyright 2011 Patricia L. Meek
Photography by and copyright A. J. Meek