One by one they sat for their portraits. Littlest ones first. They stopped at the door and undid their braids. They rubbed their hair with vinegar and pinched their cheeks. The oldest ones were fearsome, they didn’t know how to listen anymore. One pricked her finger and spread the blood on her lips. They rolled up their ribbons and stuck them in their shoes. They spat and brushed their eyebrows. One by one. Littlest ones first, these ones still had hope.
The photographer had one grey eye and one black. He would close an eye to look at them, and then the other. The grey eye was polite and dim. The black one was the one they liked best, because it seemed to tell the truth. Then he hid underneath the cape of the machine. The headmistress thought it looked too much like he was putting his head under a skirt.
The stool was perilously high and had a cushion embroidered in Latin. The littlest ones sat squarely. The oldest ones parted their knees a finger’s width. The headmistress slapped those shut.
“We’re looking for parents, not husbands.”
The photographer took his time. Every now and then he emerged and observed them for a while with both his mismatched eyes. The littlest ones laughed at that. The oldest ones sometimes teared up, sometimes clutched at their chests as if recalling something urgent.
“What are you making?”
“A catalogue of temporary objects.”
“What is an object?”
“What my black eye can see.”
“What is temporary?”
“What my grey eye can’t see.”
“Am I an object?”
“Am I temporary?”
One by one they sat. One by one they stepped off the stool, blinded by the light.