Creative Nonfiction: It May as Well Have Been a Dick Pic by Amy R. Martin

Oil painting, British National Gallery. Image by Dong CY from Pixabay

The photograph was inadvertently air-played to the television screen in our living room, where I sat editing a chapter on antiparasitics, or perhaps it was antifungals, and where my children were doing god-knows-what on their phones and tablets, and where we now saw the photo for the first time—though they didn’t register it the same way I did. He had taken a post-shower selfie in the bathroom of a hotel, a typical business hotel, a Hilton or Marriott or Westin, grand but not too grand, where men with budding paunches or men gone fully to seed—ex-high school linebackers, for instance—adjust their saggy suit pants and twist off their wedding bands before oozing into the lobby bar for a scotch and soda. In the background of the photograph was a rumpled bed with those 300-thread-count hem-stitched Egyptian cotton sheets that business hotels have; the bed was in shadow and blurred, while his image was sharp, he was front-and-center before a mirror and directly beneath an overhead light, the whole photo had a depth-of-field effect, and I realized he must’ve used Portrait mode. He took care. He wore one of those plush white bath towels wrapped around and tucked in at his waist, hitched below the Adonis belt he still had at the age of fifty, the towel low enough to reveal a shadow of dark hair a few finger-widths below his navel—though perhaps it was only a shadow, an intimation of what might be concealed from view. He was smiling into the camera, and he didn’t so much stand as swagger in place, if such a thing were even possible, leaning as he was over the sink in a rakish way and preparing to shave. I’d seen him that way many times, only without the smile, which was genuine and playful, and which was how I knew the photograph wasn’t meant for me. I wondered whether she’d asked him for it, whether it was the first he’d sent her, how many attempts he’d made to get it just right, and whether she’d responded in kind with a photograph of her own, like the one I eventually found on his phone and which made me think deeply about the act of looking, about spectatorship, about what it feels like to be both viewer and voyeur, a person who watches, unwelcomed, unwanted, an insinuator, a kneeler at keyholes. Her photograph, after all, was as awkward and as sensual as his, in that it captured her from behind, the white orchid lobes of her naked backside fanning out and dipping provocatively over the apron of a porcelain bathtub, her edges vague, as if they were rubbed into existence with pastels and the pad of a thumb, Degas-like, her gaze down and away from the lens, perhaps on a cracked ceramic tile in the corner of her bathroom floor where black mold was painting the calyx of a flower, her damp auburn hair twisted in a rope over the blade of one shoulder or, if memory serves, creeping wet and wanton down the waxen plain of her back.

Amy R. Martin is a producer/screenwriter and essayist based in Vienna, Virginia. Her work has appeared in Literary Mama, Pithead Chapel, Hungry Ghost Magazine, Cleaver, Atlas + Alice, and Variant Literature. Her first play, “Bounty,” is forthcoming from Stonecoast Review. She is Stage & Screen Editor at the Southern Review of Books and has an MFA from the Queens University of Charlotte.

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