They were happiest on holiday. It might sound obvious – who isn’t happiest in their free time? For them, though, holidays served a more complex need than leisure. On holiday, she came into focus, and he remembered her.
Andrew turned the lens, looking at the screen. He was fastidious about composition. Lisa checked her hair on her phone. Her bob was new, and she admired the neat line of her fringe.
“Ready, babe?” he asked, raising his eyes from the screen. Lisa put away her phone and turned to face the view.
“What do you think of this?” she said, resting her hands on the railing. She opened her arms at an angle that suggested relaxation, and mystical union with the environment.
“That’s nice,” Andrew said. “Do you want to try a profile?”
Lisa left one hand on the rail, gently trailing, and turned to one side. Now the view was the setting, and she the jewel. She looked down, a woman with interesting thoughts.
“I miss my hair,” she said. She had worn it long until very recently, and it looked great in beach scenes, moving in the wind.
“You look great,” Andrew said. “How about a hat one? Something fun.”
He handed it to her, a soft, wide-brimmed hat that she bought at a market. She faced him this time, slouching at a silly angle, her elbow resting on the railing. Andrew smiled as he took the picture.
He brought the camera over so she could approve the images, but she didn’t straighten. Her face was stuck in its look of mock surprise, her eyebrows raised, her lips parted.
“I can’t get up,” she said.
Andrew took her elbow and encountered a strange resistance. She was pinned there, almost flattened into the view.
“Try to push,” he said, taking both her hands.
With a single strong tug she stumbled out of the picture and onto the pavement. She said later that it felt like pulling off a Band-Aid.
“Babe, look,” Andrew said, and for a moment Lisa was angry that he wasn’t more worried about her, that she still had to tell him what she needed.
But it wasn’t just Andrew. A pair of women, dressed for a brisk walk, had stopped too.
A perfect likeness of her still leaned on the railing. It was both solid and flat, with a shimmer to it, like an image on a tilt card. You could see she wasn’t there – you could see through her to the beach beyond. One of the women stepped forward and put a hand into her ribs, below her breast. Lisa’s hand went to the same spot, but she didn’t feel anything. The woman’s hand met no resistance – she closed and opened it several times, like a surgeon testing a glove – and withdrew it.
Her friend looked from the image to Lisa, making the connection. She began to talk excitedly, and Lisa wished she had made more of an effort with the language. Once the first woman understood, she began to talk and gesture too, and then both women had out their phones, taking photos of the image, then Lisa, then trying to frame them in a single shot. One of the women waved at her to get closer. Somewhat numbly, Lisa complied. She was unsure what her expression should be, and later, when the photos went viral, she tried not to let it bother her that they were not more flattering. After it all, it was the testimony of strangers that established the miracle and made possible everything that followed. At that moment she felt like shielding her face. She was afraid that the cameras might take something else.
The bolder woman approached her. “What is your name?” she asked carefully.
“I don’t know if you should say anything,” Andrew said, finally contributing something.
Lisa ignored him. The women bowed in thanks, with wry expressions that suggested they did not think this foreigner worthy of her supernatural abilities.
* * * * *
“It had to be the one with the hat,” Lisa said, once they were alone. They stayed with the image, lingering by it like a new Eames chair, photographing it from different angles, admiring the new sense it made of its surroundings. Curiously, it didn’t last long in photos but faded as if exposed to too much light; when the real Lisa stood beside it, you could watch her twin disappear.
This proved to be an important part of its appeal, as it became a site of pilgrimage. It was something you could only see in person, with your own eyes.
That afternoon, Lisa stepped into it whenever someone approached, keeping it to herself a little while longer. She and Andrew had a happy sense of shared endeavour, like they had conceived a child or adopted a puppy.
They had stumbled onto their brand. Soon they were able to quit their jobs and live on holiday, where they were happiest, where their bond was strong.
They made other images. The process remained mysterious, though silly faces seemed to help. They could not predict where or when it would happen, but Lisa continued to leave slivers of herself on beaches and mountains all over the world, her itinerary followed by believers who identified her with any number of goddesses.
They had to pace themselves; if she did it too often, she could feel herself wearing thin. But otherwise she could keep it up indefinitely, and even her ordinary photos went out to millions of followers.
One day she disappeared in front of Andrew’s camera, and when he was asked about it, he told the television people that she vanished doing what she loved. She was survived by a gallery of selves, with the hat and without, in vistas all over the globe.