PICTURES OF YOU (chapter 1)
The bright midmorning sun obligingly poked its golden head from behind the schools of scurrying clouds just as Eva Jordenson lifted the camera to her eye. It had been the first time she had done so since she had left New York the previous evening. In fact, although her camera had been her ever-present, ever-faithful companion of the last few years, she had been unusually neglectful of it during the ordeal of the last month. It had been in the middle of a particularly difficult and challenging assignment that she had received the news of her husband’s illness. She had dropped everything to be with him.
The taste of bitterness was strong in her mouth as she let her mind wander back. Yes, she had dropped everything to be with him, as she had always done during their brief three years of marriage. It had begun as infatuation; she had met Stu while she was at college and had immediately fallen for his breathtaking good looks, his undeniable charm as a ladies’ man, and his apparent success in the business, owned by his family, which he had entered directly from business school andhad managed to turn into a multimillion-dollar enterprise within a few short years. Stu had swept Eva off her feet, both figuratively and literally, and she had remained thus until the shattering day when she first realized that it had always been, and would continue to be, Stu’s habit of sweeping attractive young women off their feet
Now, as she gazed through the view finder at her surroundings in this small airport in Belo Horizonte, she wondered if Brazil would take her far enough away from the multitude of emotions she had suffered with these past weeks. Would she ever be able to shed the mantle of guilt that threatened to dominate her future for years to come? She had badly needed to get away, to escape the overpowering atmosphere of mourning which had filled each day since Stu’s death. But was she strong enough to free her mind from its burden, as she had done to her body by boldly ignoring the indignant protests of her late husband’s family and making use of the reservation which Stu had originally made for himself aboard the Pan Am jet to Rio de Janeiro?
The flight from Kennedy had been long, though uneventful. Upon her arrival at Rio’s Galeão Airport, Eva had risked life and limb by taking a taxi across town. Never again would she voice one word of complaint about New York taxi drivers; the harrowing ride here in Rio, seemingly run-of-the-mill from the looks of the other drivers on th road, had certainly diverted Eva’s mind from her private battle for a few minutes. It was with a weak though heartfelt sigh of relief that Eva had stepped safely from the taxi at Santos Dumont Airport, knowing that no amount of fear of flying could equal the tension in the brief ride she had just taken.
Once she had boarded the Trans-Brasil plane, it hadbeen a comfortable shuttle from Rio to Belo. A full-course meal had been graciously served, along with a glass of native Brazilian wine, which, to Eva’s mildly though by no means expertly trained palate, was as rich-bodied as any she had tasted. The wine had begun to dull her senses when she was brought gently back to earth by the cafèzinho which had topped off the menu. Never before an admirer of espresso of any form, Eva had found much enjoyment in this rich, sweet, very strong black coffee.
Thus, she had emerged from the plane at Belo in a most composed manner, one which continued to grace her as she put in her request at the appropriate desk for a driver to take her on the last leg of her journey. It had only been during the leisure moments, as she waited with her traveling bags and camera equipment at her feet, that her mind had begun to sink into the quicksand again. With as much determination as she could muster, Eva forced herself into serious contemplation of the sights around her. Many of the other passengers who had disembarked with her had already left the terminal. Of the others who remained, she found herself gazing at a diverse gathering of people, most of whom seemed completely at home, relaxed, and satisfied as they awaited their own contacts. She released the shutter several times, advancing the film to the first frames, and was grateful for the hum of the ongoing conversations which would effectively cover up her photographic activity. No one gave the slightest sign of objection to, much less recognition of, the camera before her. She photographed a group of children who were seated with a stunningly attractive mameluco woman, her proud Indian features blended exquisitely with the white pallor of her smooth skin. Each of the children would have made a portrait by and of himself;each child varied in skin tone, hair color, and clothing from his companions, yet each seemed as contented, as loved, as the next.
Eva shifted her sights to the building itself, extending her zoom lens to capture the architecture of this building which, like so much of the city around it, was relatively young and indicative of the prosperity which had come to this region of Brazil as a result of its vast mining interests. She photographed the small, well-stocked, open-fronted airport shops carrying their wide sampling of Brazilian goods. The attractive rows of silver, pewter, and leather goods would certainly add a flavor to her photojournalistic effort, as would the stalls of hand-loomed tablecloths, bedspreads, and straw goods.
As the camera’s eye led her back into the central terminal waiting room, her view swept past, then promptly backtracked to focus on two individuals, a man and a woman, who were deeply engaged in a conversation by the airline desk. The woman, obviously an airline employee in her crisply tailored, properly insigniaed navy suit, presented a striking image of sophistication and confidence, her blond hair pulled back into a knot at the nape of her neck, serving to further emphasize her beautifully made-up features, laid open for the world to savor. For Eva, however, the major focus was elsewhere, as she zoomed in on the figure next to the stewardess. It was male from head to foot, more male than Eva had ever been aware existed. Standing at his full height momentarily as he shifted position to more intimately converse with his companion, he reached to well over six feet. His thick head full of casually groomed black hair showed the slightest, and most dashing, hint of gray at the sideburns, adding several years to his overall appearance, which was that of a man in his mid-thirties. His skin, tautly drawn over high cheekbones, bore evidence of a life under the sun,though whether in business or in pleasure Eva had no way of knowing. His dress was as casual as his features —lightweight, tan trousers molding to his lean legs and thighs, a cream-colored shirt, open at the neck to reveal short tufts of black hair on a chest which, from the firm lines emerging suggestively through the thin fabric, promised to be as broad and strong as any woman might wish it. His jacket, a matching tan to the pants, and tie were nonchalantly draped over one arm, which in turn was draped around the stewardess; his other arm rested in a relaxed manner on the high desk next to him. The overall picture, as Eva preserved it in her mind—for she found herself totally unable to function as a photographer with this man in her sights—was one of masculinity, strength, and sureness, peppered with the barest hint of arrogance which a particular tilt of the chin can betray.
Subconsciously, Eva had held her breath as her eyes remained frozen on this stranger. Now she slowly exhaled as her total impression merged into one powerful image. Then, slowly and silently, that one powerful image raised his dark eyes from those of his companion and turned them toward Eva. Through no conscious decision on her part, Eva, who had been observing this compelling figure entirely through her view finder, lowered her camera and allowed her green eyes to meet his challenging gaze, which, in a split second’s time and with barely a flicker, widened to take in the whole of her. As if in retribution for her previous examination of him, of which she was positive he had been unaware, his eyes scrutinized her seated form, intimately examining her shoulder-length curly hair, its brown sheen sparkling wtih red highlights as the sun hit it through the skylight above, and her graceful neck and straight shoulders, whose span was broken only by the spaghetti straps of the sun dress, which she had so wiselychanged into at the airport in Rio, having arrived from New York in warmer clothes more appropriate to the month of January in the Northern Hemisphere. So penetrating was his continued gaze that Eva became thankful that her sundress was loose-fitting, leaving the only evidence of her near-perfect figure to be her shapely legs, pale as they were compared to those of the few women seated nearby. His gaze had awakened something totally strange within Eva, something of which she was only beginning to become aware when she was jolted out of this most disturbing visual interchange by a firm tap on her shoulder.
“Jordenson?” inquired a short, rotund man.
“Yes!” Eva responded with a jump, feeling her cheeks flush as she pivoted her head toward the thickly accented voice which addressed her.
With an affirmative smile, Eva quickly stood up and shifted both her pocketbook and her camera onto one shoulder as she motioned with her hand toward the bags which the driver simultaneously had spotted and was already lifting. Looking back, she checked to make sure that nothing had been left before turning to follow the driver to his taxi. It was only at the door that she paused to look at where the oddly unsettling man had been standing. There was trace neither of him nor his female admirer, which Eva was sure this woman must be. No doubt they were on their way to some intimate café, mused Eva, as she made a rational attempt to dispel the germ of discomfort this man’s gaze had sent her way.
As the taxi began its journey, Eva settled into the back seat by the window, determined to view, if only in passing, this city, whose beauty and modernity would contrast greatly with the beauty and antiquity of the towns that she would be seeing shortly. With a professional ease, her camera captured many of the sights,new structures and old, graciously planted and cultivated gardens, inviting parks and plazas bounded by tree-lined avenues. Then, as the city was left behind and the highway stretched ahead, Eva permitted herself to sit back and relax. So much had happened to her life in the past few weeks. Had she been told last month that she was soon to be a widow—no less chasing some precious gem in South America—she would have laughed hysterically. Now she could laugh just as hysterically at the reality of the situation. Actually, it was Stu who had planned the trip to Brazil, a trip to be taken for pure enjoyment and, perhaps, a little enlightenment, though, Eva had pondered cynically at the time, with Stu it was always precious little of the latter and a whole lot of the former. And, as if in confirmation of this fact, Eva had not been invited. Stu had claimed, upon her objection, that the hills of central Brazil were no place for a woman. She had heard the same argument time and time again during the past three years, only to learn that what Stu had really meant was that his adventures had no place for “this” woman. It was, in fact, this repeated sentiment that had prompted Eva to go into photography. She had always been a fairly strong, capable person, and she felt stifled by the confines that Stu had established soon after their marriage. Although she was not accustomed to the kind of wealth Stu possessed, she found no inherent satisfaction in taking it for granted. She had been brought up under the old work ethic, and, even though her family had lived well, both her parents had worked, and she had done so too whenever possible during vacations and the summer. They all enjoyed working she had learned to derive satisfaction out of doing something well, be it in school or at work. Thus, when it became clear that Stu had envisioned a wife who would conform to the image of a wealthy socialite, she had balked. Photography wassomething she had taken to naturally. Studying it seriously was merely an extension of the fun she had had as a youngster playing with the camera her parents had given her on her birthday. When she had landed a job on the staff of a small but influential newspaper in upstate New York—where their country house had been built soon after their marriage—Eva had felt not only pride but a sense of accomplishment and a desperate hope that her job would bring some concrete direction into her life once again.
It had done just that. At the end, it was her major life line to reality. Her marriage was in shambles; she and Stu shared all of the surface trappings of a marriage with none of the sturdy fiber of love to bolster it. Although she had remained faithful to him quite willingly, he had felt none of the same type of loyalty and had made no attempt to hide it. Eva had merely looked the other way, knowing that there was very little she would have been able to do had she tried. But what if she had tried? The same old guilt feeling was always there, taunting her, punishing her, blaming her for her failure to satisfy Stu.
As the converted VW taxi approached a small town built into the hills through which they would be increasingly passing, Eva reached for her camera, motioned the driver to pull over, and climbed out of the car to take photographs from the roadside. She had found the landscape gaining in excitement as they drove. The road had begun to wind in and out of hills, each turn with its own surprises. Here the earth had taken on the iron-red color typical of this mineral-rich land. Lime-washed cottages, each with its tin-fluted roof, dotted the hillside in small clusters, the bottom-most almost reaching the bank of the narrow river, which snaked its own way through the hills. Satisfied that she had exhausted the photographic possibilities from this position, she re-enteredthe taxi, and it made its way once again, moving further into the less-populated regions of central Brazil.
She had to laugh to herself. A goose chase. That’s what she had told Stu this trip would be. A wild-goose chase into some Godforsaken hills in search of a stone that the world neither needed nor would appreciate. The fabled Espinhaco Topaz, he had called it; it was supposedly one of the largest crystals of precious sherry-yellow topaz ever discovered. Yet it had not been seen since its discovery over one hundred and fifty years ago. Now, a Brazilian adventurer had come up with a map that was to lead to the Topaz. Only once had Stu met this Brazilian, and brief as this introduction was, Stu had committed himself to the expedition.
At the time Stu had told Eva of his proposed trip, the whole thing had sounded preposterous. Then, in the week following Stu’s death and funeral, the walls had begun to close in on her to such an extent that she knew she had to get away from the entire scene. Here were the plane ticket, the instructions for reaching the small town of Terra Vermelho (the base for the search), and the letter from this Brazilian, Roberto de Carvalho, who would be leading the small group—all these things were at Eva’s fingertips. The lure was too great. Eva once again yielded to the impulsiveness that, as in the case of her marriage to Stu, occasionally proved to be her one personality flaw. She discarded the somber clothes of mourning, which ill fitted both her vivacious features and her most honest inner feelings, packed her bags for a trip to the warmth of the semitropical uplands, and boarded her plane without a second thought.
Now, as the taxi moved northward, Eva was convinced that the impulse to come had been a good one. The bracing mountain air, warm though it was, seemed to be clearing her head somewhat. She began to feel her nerve endings uncoiling from the dangerous tautnesswhich had characterized them for the past few weeks. She began to relax; a sense of well-being, as deceptive as she knew it could be, had settled on her. Wild-goose chase or not, she was determined to enjoy herself, just as Stu would have done. And yes, this trip would also be enlightening, if only from the viewpoint of the pictures she would be able to bring back for publication.
Most important, Eva was counting on this trip to put things back into perspective for her. Her disastrous marriage to Stu had temporarily sidetracked her from the kind of life she had always wanted, one that was filled with stimulation, achievement, and love.
Eva had grown up with more love than most children. Her parents were totally devoted, deeply loving, and, in their own way, overly indulgent of her. When it became obvious that she would be their only child, they even exaggerated these qualities, as a way to vent their own needs to give and to compensate for their inability to provide siblings for Eva. Far fom being overprotective, Eva’s parents had given her much free rein, knowing that she would have to cope if anything ever happened to them and she was left alone in the world. Eerily, their premonition was well founded. Eva’s mother became ill and died within six months of Eva’s graduation from high school, and a year later, when Eva was in her first year of college, her father suffered a stroke and, after three months in a comatose condition, he too died.
Her parents’ training served her well. Distraught as she was at the loss of both parents within such a short time, Eva managed to fill her days at the university, not slowing down at all until she sensed that the pain had begun to ease.
It was during her sophomore year that she met E. Stuart Jordenson. She was taking part in a work-study program which, though she had been adequately provided for by her parents, gave her both the extra money andthe additional work experience that she knew would be of great benefit after she graduated. As a very part-time assistant to the editor of the in-house publication at Jordenson Manufacturing, she was given a wide assortment of chores, doing a little reporting, a little photography, a little design, a little layout. It was during one of these assignments that she had been singled out by the boss himself. How ironic, she thought now in hindsight, that this job, which she had taken specifically to improve her future prospects, had actually affected them so completely!
Stu had entered Eva’s life at a time when she was uncharacteristically vulnerable, still suffering from the emotional withdrawal following her parents’ deaths. He promised her everything she thought she wanted, and after a whirlwind courtship, they were married in an elaborately staged wedding attended by all of the Jordenson relatives, all of the Jordenson friends, all of the Jordenson business associates, most of the Jordenson acquaintances, and a few of Eva’s close friends. Viewing Eva as a poor, unsophisticated, though perhaps devious, orphan, Stu’s parents had magnanimously made all the plans for this extravaganza, relegating Eva to the role of spectator, a role she was not used to playing. The wedding preparations themselves became a nightmare of fittings, consultations, and other command performances, ironically a harbinger of the agonizing marriage yet to come.
Eva frequently asked herself, after the first few months of happiness had dragged into months of tension, frustration, and anger, why Stu had wanted to marry her in the first place. He was older, wise to the ways of women and the world, and could have—usually did have—his choice of any woman for his bedmate. Perhaps it was because Eva had resisted his advances, insisting that she would not become his lover until aftershe became his wife. Perhaps it was her innocence, which may have lent a freshness and sense of vitality to his overly sophisticated, boringly chic circle. Perhaps it was a pathetic attempt at rebellion against the parents who had dominated his personal life for too many years and had made it clear from the start that Eva was, in her youth, naivete, and lack of social position, an unfit partner for their son.
Whatever the reason, Eva knew beyond a doubt that she had failed miserably to meet the challenge. Further, she realized very quickly that her failure had little to do with ability but much to do with desire. It had been a two-way street; just as Stuart Jordenson had become disillusioned with her, she had become disillusioned with him. The one thing she so badly craved, particularly following the deaths of her parents, was love; it was the one thing Stu was completely unable and unwilling to give her. As the months passed and her hurt deepened, she turned away from him even on the rare occasions when he approached her, thus compounding the ill feeling each harbored within.
If only she had tried harder. If only she had given more. If only she had demanded less. If only she had been able to convince Stu to slow down. But, as if to purposely contradict her presence, he had worked harder, played harder, even rested harder. A heart attack at the age of thirty-eight was not unheard of, but it was unusual. Eva sensed that in her heart she would blame herself for a long time to come, long after her mind became convinced of her innocence.
Eva was brought abruptly back to the present by a sudden command from the driver. His English was quite good on the phrases commonly used in his line of work, but it deteriorated rapidly with any variation from the norm. He was diligent in telling her the names of the towns they passed—Curvelo, Corinto, Buenopolis—andeven attempted to tell her a little about each, most of which she had been unable to understand. This command, however, was in Portuguese, so she had no chance at all. His meaning soon became crystal clear, however, as the taxi negotiated the first of a series of hairpin turns, and Eva, belongings and all, ricocheted to the opposite door, which she held on to for dear life.
As quickly as the stomach-wrenching, 180-degree turns had begun, they were left behind as the car proceeded to pass across the gold-flecked moorland. The road gradually gained altitude as they progressed northward, and although the air here was drier than that of Rio, or even of Belo Horizonte, Eva could feel the heat increasing.
Aside from the charm of the towns, each tucked into its own niche on its own hillside, the landscape itself drew Eva’s attention. With her window rolled down to allow more air into the already warm taxi, she photographed the long grasses as they swayed with the breeze, blowing first one way and then the other, creating bold patterns on the surface of the upland plain. As the road gracefully undulated its way through another mountainous pass, she photographed the razor-sharp outline of the purple rocks silhouetted by the sun. A further turn of the road revealed a peaceful cluster of woodland growth whose trees were foliated with as great a variety as there was said to be among the Brazilians themselves. Many of the trees were flowered; Eva’s film would capture the golden yellow flowers of one, the mauve of another, the blue of yet another, before she placed the camera on the seat beside her and let her own eye take its turn to admire this natural beauty. Yes, it was beautiful, she had to concede. Her preconception of this country had been so wrong; no land which spawned such natural wealth, as rugged as it was at some points, could ever be called “Godforsaken.”
Since it left Belo Horizonte the taxi was able to move steadily ahead, unencumbered by the traffic that had bogged it down in the city. Eva was aware of other automobiles as they progressed northward, but each kept its pace consistent with the terrain. Occasionally, and of greater interest to Eva, the taxi passed men and donkeys. These men, often short of height and swarthy of complexion, were dressed in the light-colored, loose-fitting work clothes so appropriate to the climate. Each pair of feet was protected from the roughness underfoot by heavy-duty work shoes, seemingly held together after years of use by red-tinted mud and layers of dust that caked the seams. Each head was crowned with the obligatory hat, unstructured, wide-brimmed, and well worn, providing a token measure of privacy from the elements, both human and natural.
It appeared to Eva that these particular Brazilians, leading their heavily burdened donkeys from one rural area to another, were shy people who felt totally content within their own millieu but might resent the intrusion of an outsider in their daily lives.
Strange, she thought, the extremes she had seen in her first few hours in this country—these wayside travelers, exuding a purely natural, rugged, uncultivated kind of raw beauty as compared with the refined air of sophistication and studied perfection of the city dwellers. For the first time since leaving the airport at Belo several hours ago, Eva recalled the man she had seen there whose gaze then had sent such disturbing currents from one end of her body to the other. A sixth sense told her that his beauty was as genuine as that of his more bedraggled countrymen. Yet she felt her guard rising, even as she mentally re-evaluated him. This man, she told herself, probably had more in common wth her late husband and his circle of friends and admirers than either had with these simple country workers. She had learnedthe hard way about this type of man. He used people for his own ends, playing one against the other as it suited him, taking everything he could get until there was either nothing left to take or someone else whose givings were more promising. Eva knew that the power this man must have over women, so clearly conveyed to her in his earlier scrutiny of her and her own reaction to it, could prove devastating to the woman who should let herself become ensnared.
No, Eva was determined that she would never let herself be hurt again by such a man. The wound was still raw from her marriage to Stu; she must let its dull ache be a steady reminder, a repeated warning against any who would prey on her vulnerability. But then, this expedition had physically removed her from the rat race; she need have no fear of any scheming playboys in Terra Vermelho.
Terra Vermelho. No sooner had her thoughts formed than the words were echoed by her driver. Indeed, as she gazed to the right she caught her first glimpse of the town as it silently emerged from the late afternoon mist that had so protectively concealed it from the outside world.
PICTURES OF YOU. Copyright © 1981 by Barbara Delinsky.