Chapter Eleven (part iv)

                                                   December 1972, Washington, DC

The lights went off and Carter started the projector for Maddie, its beam shooting like a searchlight across the room. Will heard the fan blowing.

“A few architectural bits,” Maddie said, and Will thought City of Light, City of Lights—which was it? When he looked at the close-ups, at Maddie’s strangely two-dimensional views of doorknobs and tombstones and water fountains, he didn’t have a clue.

But she had shifted things now. Quickly she had left off this gray-toned Parisian business and, after a brief stop at what she said was a Palestinian refugee camp with its large-eyed children and a sense of unending stone and dust, had gone much farther east to a world that seemed overwhelmingly green. Will was puzzled. Did photographers do this? Did they shoot sometimes in color and sometimes in black and white? It seemed self-indulgent, schizophrenic.

Maddie seemed to have read his mind. “I needed the color here,” she was saying. “There was no way else to show the lushness—the amazing lushness and beauty everywhere, and I wanted that because because the setting is such a contrast to what’s happening…

“This is a river we went down just before the floods came, and this is the village we saw.”

There was a black-and-white picture on the screen of a kind of shambling, low-pitched settlement. It was a picture taken at nighttime, and Will found himself peering into it, trying to imagine Maddie traveling by night and river and jungle. There were a few pictures of villagers and then she moved to a picture of Saigon and a hospital unit full of children with devastating injuries and burns.

Will was trying to see. But wasn’t he losing track? When was it she used color and when was it she changed to black and white? And what was this? Medical photography? There were stumps of arms that seemed rotted away. There were children’s breasts and faces shriveled to half their normal size and then the close-ups that were moving ever farther in. Will blinked at a raw scalp with hair growing in its center like a solitary clump of weeds, and at a child counting with a two-fingered hand—the hand then, the empty knuckles. He almost expected a pack of dogs rooting among bodies.

But in all of it—in the socket without an eye and the blood clotted to a wound like sap dried on a tree trunk—there was nothing familiar, nothing that resembled what he had seen in the news but instead, in all of the pictures, this flat-out, unrelenting surface. On the edge of the chair, Will sat with his eyes frozen open while the slides clicked on.


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