When he told her, of course, she couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t just that men had far less of a predilection for the “classic” nude photo session than women, but because, in her mind, such a thing was unfathomable. She would never dream of taking nude photos even in a state of singledom, let alone when they were still trying to “make things work.” And it wasn’t because she didn’t have the body to do it (indeed, she certainly had more of the body to do it than Ansel). It was because the idea of being naked in front of anyone else would have been too distasteful. How could she let anyone else drink in the curves and contours of her “shell” when it still belonged to Ansel?
Ansel, naturally, would say, just as Holly Golightly would, that no one “belongs” to anyone. And that love cannot be called love when someone seeks to “possess” another. But for Josephine, it wasn’t about possession–it was simply about honoring what they had. Not sharing their bodies in full, unclothed view with other people. Ansel saw it in an entirely different light. He believed that because he was doing it “for art” (“My ass!” Josephine screamed back over the phone), it was justifiable. He couldn’t help it that it was “a female photographer friend” who was willing to do it for free. He then offered, “It wouldn’t make it that much better if it was a man…you know I go both ways.” Josephine wanted to wring his neck from across the Atlantic Ocean. She hated his cavalier Europeanness sometimes… the way he hated her puritanical Americanism. Yet their differences were precisely what drew them to one another in the first place.
They had met, like so many, at Hyde Park. Josephine was visiting (or so she thought) for a short one-week trip before she planned to move on to Paris, where she would spend more time. She felt strongly that she would vibe more with French culture than English, but encountering Ansel near the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain changed her entire perception. Her entire life plan, really. And it was all centered around soaking up the major cities of Europe before returning to New York to “gather her thoughts” and write some sort of book about it. Did she have a publisher? No. What do you think this is? The twentieth century? She was just doing it, Nike-style, in the hope that a positive result would come from the endeavor. She couldn’t quite say what, but she had the distinct “feeling,” like all writers who weren’t paid to do it, that something just had to arise. If not, she could always hurl herself off the Brooklyn Bridge with a dramatic and cliche flourish. What with it already being such a cliche to be a “writer” in New York anyway.
She confessed all of this and more to Ansel, who saw fit to chat her up as she appraised the “memorial,” which seemed little better than a glorified kiddie pool. And if there was anything Josephine hated, it was a slew of children congregating. For where they were congregating, they were squealing and shrieking like the untamed animals they were. But Josephine kept this tidbit to herself, having so often been compared to Anjelica Huston in The Witches whenever she expressed her true feelings about children. She didn’t want to scare Ansel off just yet as they opted to get coffee together at the Colicci Cafe. They didn’t bother with the “posher” Colicci Serpentine Lido, as it was clear to both of them at the outset that they were broke asses. Otherwise known as: “artists.” Ansel himself was quick to mention he dabbled in painting, theater and photography. Only in Europe would that not somehow immediately translate to “pussyboy,” but rather, “extremely desirable.” And it was true, Josephine had been hoping to have a dalliance with someone just like Ansel. One might say it was almost as though Princess Di herself had smiled upon the union. Then again, we all know Diana didn’t have the best track record with “correct pairings.”
As the day wore on, Josephine had forgotten entirely what her original plans were. It was as though everything Ansel wanted to show her was infinitely better. Perhaps by sheer virtue of him being a “native.”
“That’s right, born and bred,” he assured as they walked through Brompton Cemetery, passing by the gravestones and mausolea of supposed famous people that Josephine had never heard of. They seemed to be “of the military variety,” so honestly, who gave a shit? It was just more ephemera from Britain’s colonialist past (ever-present). Still, Ansel did his best to talk it up as they stopped in front of Marchesa Casati’s grave and he ruminated on wishing to live during a time when artists could still secure patronage. When Josephine looked up who the Marchesa was later, she felt the heiress bore a striking resemblance to Patti Smith. When Josephine mentioned this to Ansel the next day (for they had naturally exchanged numbers and agreed to meet again), he had the gall to say he didn’t know who Patti Smith was. Josephine found this endlessly affronting, and immediately took him to the nearest record shop–which happened to be Rough Trade East. They mucked about in there for about an hour, and Ansel had somehow found himself talked into spending eighty quid (with, expectedly, Patti Smith’s Horses included in the grab bag), which was surely going to affect his rent-paying abilities imminently. He didn’t care in that moment, though. It all seemed worth it to “ride high” for the day. They even went to some chichi rooftop bar they patently didn’t belong in afterward.
The “good vibes” they had accrued at the record shop, in fact, quickly began to dissipate the longer they stayed amid the current atmosphere of douchebaggery. “Remind me again why I let you talk me into this?” Ansel demanded as their seventeen quid cocktails arrived. Josephine shrugged and replied, “It seemed festive at the time.”
They looked around them at all the “business casual” yuppies who had arrived in droves for their post-work revelry and then at each other, visibly dressed in tatters. They came across as the type of people who unironically listened to The Smiths (though neither did–even if Morrissey had, in part, selected that band name as an homage to Patti). Ansel finally burst out laughing at the entire affair, so loudly and bombastically that people actually noticed long enough to turn and stare. Josephine didn’t mind. She found it rather heartening to run with a man who truly did not give a fuck, whereas so many others only claimed they didn’t. When his laughter subsided, he asked, “Well, since you got me to do something so ridiculous, maybe I can ask the same of you.”
Josephine narrowed her gaze at him and prodded, “Go on.”
“Why don’t you stay in London…indefinitely?”
When he said it out loud, it made nothing but perfect sense to her even though all the mechanics of it were ostensibly impossible. And then there was the obvious elephant in the room about how they had only just met and barely knew one another. Not even each other’s last name, for fuck’s sake. Later that night, when Josephine had committed to remaining, she informed him that hers was Hopkins, and he, in turn, declared that his was Coburn. Josephine Hopkins and Ansel Coburn: such a pretty pair. In the beginning…
One year later and things had changed drastically for both. Ansel had actually gained steady employment at the British Museum, which, though he said slowly wore away at his soul and love of art, was too cush to give up. Josephine, meanwhile, grew weary of the job scene in London–its options for someone of her “non-legitimate” American status being highly limiting–and, on a lark, applied to a publishing house back in New York. If she couldn’t get a publisher, then at least maybe she could “be” one. That publishing house quickly replied to her resume requesting an interview that led to the offer of a job she couldn’t refuse. Would have been a fool to. Plus, she was rather tired of having to spend what little money she could save on leaving the country for another European city every three months so as to secure a new stamp in her passport that would keep the UK off her back for overstaying her touristic welcome.
But, in the end, it did seem to turn out that she was a tourist. She left London on as “romantic” of a note as she could with Ansel and assured him that–somehow, some way, some day–they would be together again. And now, here she was trying to do the long distance thing–turning down any offer of dick that she got–in between juggling all of her after-hours time reading manuscripts by authors she could have written under the table. It was all very unsettling to her, and she felt she had sold out her own dream for this so-called “high salary.” Yet she forgot that any such “high number” means nothing in New York, which relishes forever tearing into your paycheck with its abysmal “charms.” So maybe this sudden announcement about the nude photos was some kind of straw that broke the man-whore’s back. For Josephine did not take it well as she proceeded to demand how this even came about if Ansel had all but given up on his own art since starting at the British Museum.
“Well that’s the thing, innit love? I’m trying to be who I was always meant to now. No more fucking about. This girl–she’s just a friend–can help me start a website where I can sell my shit and I want her to take photos that will gain attention on the About page. Where’s the crime in that?”
“‘Just a friend’? That’s the fucking kiss of death line. How could you say that to me?”
“Oh for Chrissakes Jo, learn to be an adult. To understand that men have female friends.”
“I don’t have any male friends.”
“I wouldn’t care if you did,” he snapped back.
Josephine, at her theshold of stress for the day, and with a reading deadline imminent for the following morning, exploded, “Maybe you don’t care about a fucking thing except yourself!”
That was what really tested Ansel’s patience. He was no longer going to hold back as he screamed, “I’m not the one who fucking left! Who fucking turned her back on us!”
“Yeah well you’re also not the one who abandoned your own country to make us happen, okay? You got to stay on your precious little island the whole time. That requires no effort–emotional or otherwise–on your part.”
The telephone call was quickly devolving into a breakup. And they could both feel it. Yet they kept the argument going as long as they could, hoping that the other one would be brave enough to just take the relationship out to pasture already. The only “next time” they could get together would be in the summer. Summer was a long way from now–nearly six months–and they weren’t going to make it. Not at this rate.
It was Josephine who finally decided to make that proclamation out loud. The only thing that made her feel better was that the nude photos turned out to be really bad when she trolled for them online. We’re talking atrocious. Female boner killer material to the extreme. Whoever took his pictures must surely not have been aroused in any way by his pale, untoned British body. Even Brits with vaginas don’t like their own male kind. At the same time, it made her sob all the more. She missed that pale, untoned British body. But she pushed the thought away as she turned another page in another shitty manuscript.