Exposure

by Leslie Walker Trahan Read author interview September 16, 2019

The girls are playing a game. They’ve found a box of photos in their mother’s closet and now they’re in the bathroom, leaning over the counter and peering into the mirror.

They pull out scenes from their mother’s life like candy from a jar. Here she is at their age, with an open-mouthed grin. Here she is as a teenager, her face shiny and her eyes hidden. Here she is with a man, and another, and another. She looks at them with wide eyes, her hand covering her mouth. She looks at them with soft, closed smiles. She looks at them with her mouth wide open and all her trim white teeth on display.

There is the sound of a man’s voice in the hallway. They pause their game. Who is that, they mouth to one another. They hear their mother’s voice, too. It must be the man she was talking to outside. They saw him earlier through the cracked blinds. He stood on their front porch with his hands in his pockets. Their mother was laughing. She was sitting on the front step with her hands on her knees.

The girls ignore the noises. Their socks slip on the linoleum as they hold the photos next to their faces. The photos’ edges are bent, and when the girls look at them in the light, they see their own crowded fingerprints like scars across their mother’s face. They turn their heads to one side and then the other and say, I think I have her eyes, her mouth, her chin. They squint and imagine themselves with brown eyes. They push their palms against their heads and try to make their hair flat.

The noise from the other room gets louder. The girls hear cabinet doors opening and cracking closed. They hear their mother’s airy laugh, her voice like a bubble drifting upward. They hear a pop and the circular sound of liquid filling a glass.

They listen until the noises in the other room stop. Then they emerge from the bathroom, leaving photos strewn across the floor. All the lights are on in the kitchen, and there is a tall bottle on the counter. They see their mother and the man outside the patio door. The man’s back is to the window, but they can see their mother’s face. She doesn’t see the girls. She is looking at the man. She is leaning toward him, her hands clasped in front of her. She laughs and throws her head up to the sky, revealing her long, pale neck. She shifts forward in her seat, and shadows shift and migrate across her body. When the girls look at her, they see the fierce mask of a wolf.

The girls are tired, but they don’t want to go to bed. They go back to the bathroom, to the photos on the floor. They look at the photos again and make faces at themselves in the mirror. They practice opening their eyes wide and covering their mouths. They practice smiling with their mouths closed. They practice showing their teeth, opening up as wide as they can.

They fall asleep on the floor of the bathroom, the photos scattered by their side. They dream of wild creatures. They dream of their mother digging holes in the sand, her nails blackened with dirt. They dream of themselves hiding in trees, covering their small bodies with piles of leaves.

About the Author:

Leslie Walker Trahan lives in Austin, Texas. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Spelk, MoonPark Review, and The Forge. You can find her on Twitter @lesliewtrahan.

About the Artist:

Stacy Guinn is an Illinois-based photographer whose work explores the transience of life and the traces of emotion we leave behind in places, clothing, and forgotten possessions.