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In 1960, L’Avventura was awarded the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for its “remarkable contribution to the search for a new cinematic language.”  That language, according to Seymour Chatman, is a metonymic cinema, in which the landscapes are physical externalizations of a character’s inner emotions.  Objects in the landscape, Chatman states, “serve as metonymic signs of [the character’s] inner life.”  Thus, the barren, volcanic island which serves as the stage for the first part of the film represents the characters’ own inner barrenness.

Antonioni frames his characters such that they’re not looking at each other, or even in the same direction.  They are, in the words of numerous critics, alienated.  Even when they speak, they turn away from each other, or one character has her back to the other.  They speak to empty space, to jagged, black rock formations, to sea sprays.

When Matthew and I are angry with each other, I direct my words towards the spot just to his left or to the thinning spot on the carpet where the cats have ripped out the piling.  We look past each other, as if the weight of actually looking—seeing—each other would drag us both down to the floor.  We avoid touching, and turn our bodies going up and the down the stairs, lest our contact set off a spark the burns the whole house down.  The air, it seems, is colder.  But is the landscape a metonymic extension of myself or is it simply February, and we’ve set the thermostat to 64° because our last heating bill was nearly three hundred dollars?

He stands off to the side while I’m typing and looks at me, as if daring me to look back.  I don’t.

Have you eaten dinner?


He leaves the room.

András Kovács argues that characterizing Antonioni’s mise-en-scène as metonymic is reductive.  “If Antonioni’s landscapes are ‘empty,’” he writes, “it is not because they express by their physical aspect the characters’ mental state.  It is because the characters cannot find their lives in there however beautiful they may appear…. They wander around in it not because they want to find something that is out there, but because they have lost their human contact with that world.”

In the final scene, Claudia approaches her lover Sandro, sitting on a bench, from behind.  Sandro has just betrayed her, and he weeps into his hands.  Her hand hesitates before she places it, tremulously, on his head.  Antonioni himself offers conflicting interpretations of her gesture:  “She will stay with him and forgive him,” and “What they finally arrive at is a mutual sense of pity.”  To Sandro’s right, a solid brick wall, grey and stubborn, featureless, crumbling.  To Claudia’s left, Mount Etna in deep focus, streaked with what looks like snow.  But they don’t look at each other.

Matthew and I will reconcile.  Our lives will resume their normal course.  But before that, we have to look:  Look at my face.  Look at this piece of me that represents the whole.


This is my sister’s first Halloween with her older brother. She’s heard of trick-or-treating, of course, perhaps from some of the other children at Fort Chaffee, but that first October after they had arrived at the National Guard base was too confusing. Many of the other refugee families came with nothing, so there’s nothing to give out, and this is not home, this former POW camp. Who goes door-to-door in a barracks?

No, her first Halloween is in Carbondale, where the family’s sponsors, Mr. and Mrs. Lee, live. The Lees are elderly, religious, and that Sunday, when the family trots off to church on Sunday, she leans against her father, who has closed his eyes in a good approximation of prayer, and naps.

The end of October air is brisk. The Lees’ church provided them with some cool weather clothing, but no costumes, and so she wears her everyday clothes. She feels conspicuous. She is nine; her brother is twelve.

The sun has disappeared under the horizon, but orange light still suffuses the sky like fire. Jack o’lanterns exude the odor of pumpkin from jagged mouths. Her brother rings the doorbell, and they hold out their plastic grocery bags.

“Trick or treat,” he says, and she echoes it a moment afterwards.

Puzzled, the homeowner reaches for the candy bowl. He speaks very slowly, as if they can’t understand.

“Halloween is tomorrow,” the man says.

Her brother whispers to her in Vietnamese: I’ve got it covered.

“It’s a school night,” he says.

This is my sister’s first Halloween with her younger brother. He’s heard of trick-or-treating, of course, since he’s spent most of his life in America, and now that they’ve moved to Aurora, Colorado, Vietnam seems further away than ever. This is the suburbs; they have their own furniture (not new, but new-ish), and even their parents know to turn off the lights to discourage people from coming to the door.

She’s long outgrown trick-or-treating, but her little brother seems excited by the promise of free candy. Each year, Halloween grows larger and larger; Vu Lan and Tết Trung Thu seem distant, like days that appear on the calendar, but nowhere else. Tonight, she will take him door-to-door.

Snow starts to fall; the first snow of the season. Her brother has refused to wear the plastic frock that came with his Smurf costume; he only wears the mask, but he complains that it makes it difficult to breathe.

“You don’t have to wear it all the time,” she says. She is fourteen; he is five.

He has started to make friends with other kids on the street; she has her friends at school. Her other brother is looking at the School of Mines. Next year, he will not need her to accompany him. She tells him to use a pillowcase, and not one of those tiny baskets the other children use. “You can fit more candy in.”

He looks at her for tips on sugar acquisition.

“I used to trick-or-treat the day before Halloween,” she says. “Then again on Halloween.  Twice the candy!”

Yesterday:  Rain, great torrents of it, the sky filled with clouds overwhelming the atmosphere.  How many shades of gray are there? — gunmetal, battleship, grease.  In the light spectrum, the combination of two complementary colors produces gray.  Daytime becomes indistinguishable from evening and evening from night.  Gray is the wide swath of the achromatic color scale between white and black, existing in a line, rather than on a wheel.  Gray has no opposite, and grey is its own opposite.  Rain flashes gray as it falls sideways, kamikazes exploding on your skin, in your hair, on your clothes.  Sidewalk and pavement alike seem to float away.  In the street, puddles take on secret, unplumbable depths.  Cars prowl, waiting to drench unsuspecting pedestrians.  Symbolically, gray is associated with reliability, modesty, dignity, conservatism, old age, and practicality.  The British prefer to spell it ‘grey,’  but that’s because the British themselves are reliable, dignified and conservative.  In other words, gray.

Today:  Sunshine, with a chill breeze easily warded off by a light jacket.  On the New Jersey Transit train to New York, a crowd of rowdy sports fans, walking up and down the aisle, looking for a large segment of open seats.  They wore baggy t-shirts, and as they moved, they produced a polyester shimmer:  blue, with red and white stripes.  On their backs, the last names of people who were not them.  When I emerged from Penn Station, I heard the chant:  “Let’s go, Rangers, let’s go!” in the cadence previously reserved for the Yankees.  The area around Madison Square Garden was paved with fans, all dressed in blue, with hints of red.  They call themselves “blueshirts,” after the Rangers earned the name “The Broadway Blueshirts” in the 1920s.  Ten years later in Ireland, the members of The National Guard (also known as the Blueshirts) began greeting each other with Roman straight-arm salutes and limited its membership only to the Irish who professed Christian faith.

Tomorrow:  The world will be seen through a color that brings to mind urine or jaundice, darker than yellow, not quite orange.  Lars Von Trier achieves his palette for The Element of Crime by using sodium lights, the same lights found in truck stop parking lots or supermarkets.  Occasionally, a burst of blue appears, but not of the skies or of sweet water:  the blue of broken machinery, of televised propaganda.  Filmed in ochre light, everything in the film appears sallow and craven, dreamlike and decayed.  In Color, Victoria Finlay traces ochre pigment to Australia, where, a decade ago, it was a heavily-traded commodity and even further back, 40,000 years back, to when the Aboriginals used it in their drawings.  British anthropogist Alfred Radcliffe-Brown identified a common character amongst many of the tribes spanning the continent:  the snake Kurreah, known elsewhere as Takkan, Wawi, Numereji, Yeutta, Borlung, Wanamangura, or Ngalyod — the serpent of a thousand names.  This snake, they believed, had shaped the land, given places names, and distributed water into gullies and channels.  This was the snake who moved through water and sky both, revealing itself as a rainbow — the serpent delivering color to the world.

Peter Bogdanovich introduces The Third Man by mentioning how Carol Reed’s black-and-white photography makes post-war Vienna look preternaturally wet. The light catches the edge of each cobblestone, treachery multiplies along the length of the street, every step a wrong step.

The climactic chase through the Vienna sewers, as well, makes it look as if Vienna had been hit by a monsoon. The water falls in great cascades and winds its way through pipes, channels, passageways. If the city above ground is a ruin, then then the city underground is a maze, an elegant trap from which there is no escape.

But it’s still a sewer. Outside the Vienna Opera House, gilt and filigreed like a carousel, agencies offer tour groups for any number of tastes: the Mozart Tour, the food tour, the World War II tour. The Third Man tour features sites from the movie, with a special excursion into the old sewer system. This is no different, I suppose, than the Philadelphia ghost tours which highlight the cemetery where a scene from The Sixth Sense was filmed. But I don’t recall, however, spirits rising from the toilet to torment Haley Joel Osment.

The Third Man makes the sewers seem almost sanitary. Only one character mentions the smell, but even then, the high arched tunnels make the sewer look like a submerged cathedral. Policemen rappel down and into waterfalls of effluent. People splash in the rivers of liquid. It’s a sewer removed of its scheisse.

Modern-day Vienna still has an underground, of course. In particular: the bathroom near the Opernring announces itself with a jolly yellow sign: Opera Toilet. Mit Musik! Musical notes dance around the words, as if they’d been flushed down from the opera house above. Does the music come piped in for free? Or is there a jukebox inside the loo, vending concertos the way other restrooms sell condoms?

The other bathroom is the only bathroom worth a mention in Rick Steve’s guidebook. It’s down a flight of stairs along the Der Graben, Vienna’s main commercial drag (with translates roughly to “the trench.”) This trench is lined with high-end stores:  Chanel, Hermès, Tiffany’s. People double-fist their shopping bags, store names fanning out like birds during mating season.

This restroom is famous for being designed by Adolf Loos. I wonder if he took it as a challenge: let’s see if I can make something beautiful out of this. And, for the most part, he succeeds: the urinals dividers are sheets of marble; the stall doors are dark, slats of wood with a large milk glass pane, and above each stall, a transom.

But when I went down into the bathroom, there was no mistaking the ultimate function. At one of the far urinals, a man relieved himself. The smell of urine seemed trapped there, underground. Accidental puddles dotted the elaborately-tiled floor. When I took a picture (his, the bathroom’s), he didn’t notice the flash catching the room in light, the way his profile came, momentarily, out of the shadows. Or else, he resolutely ignored it. Austria is, after all, one of history’s great denialists: they convinced the world that Mozart was Austrian and that Hitler was German.

A.O. Scott, in the New York Times, describes Charade as “a light-hearted, frivolous bauble….  It’s a work of great craft and artistry, not a great work of art, but a marvelously fun movie.”

Ignoring the fight I’m itching to have as to what constitutes a “work of art,” I admit that Charade has a special place in my heart.  My sister introduced me to it when I was nine or ten — in fact, she insisted that I watch it with her.  So I did, and after that first viewing, I was traumatized by one image:  a man, suffocated to death with a plastic bag, his feet bound to a radiator, his hands tied to a heavy piece of furniture.

Charade continued to be broadcast once every three years or so, a network stand-by to fill those long programming dead zones on Saturday afternoons, and watching it became a ritual:  at the appointed time, we convened in our mother’s bedroom (where the television was), on her waterbed, and waited for Charles Lampert to get tossed from the train.

I understand why Charade is one of her favorites:  it stars Cary Grant (one of her favorite actors) and Audrey Hepburn (one of her favorite actresses), wearing couture by Givenchy (one of her favorite designers) and being pursued by James Coburn (not one of her favorite anythings but totally freaky as the tall, sadistic Tex).

I sometimes wonder, though, if there’s something more in her affection for it.  For instance, it may be something she first saw in Vietnam before we came to the States.  (My mother, conceivably, could have introduced it to her; she loves Audrey Hepburn too, particularly in Roman Holiday.)  But, really, I suspect that it has to do with the clothes.

My sister has always been a clotheshorse, she has an unerring eye for style.  She knew an arcane language of designer names long before they had penetrated the popular consciousness:  Kamali, Versace, Gaultier.  In her room, she had an array of cosmetics in colors harvested from prehistoric insects, and she was meticulous in their application.  (Today, whenever I see a woman apply lipstick directly from the tube to her lips, I want to pull her aside and say, Meet your best new friend, the lip brush!)

She taught me the ways of fashion:  she steered me away from Z. Cavaricci when it was all the craze in high school (“Their zippers are made of tin!  They’ll rust shut.”).  She introduced me the invisible line that aligns the shirt buttons and the pants zipper.  She told me to always wear a belt if I was tucking in my shirt, unless I was wearing suspenders, and never a belt and suspenders.

Her clothes, hermetically sealed in dry-cleaning bags, still crowd the closets (including a good chunk of my closet) back in Colorado.  Many haven’t been worn in decades.  On my last visit, I thought about donating the more obviously out-of-date duds to Goodwill, but realized that it would have given her a nightmare similar to what Audrey Hepburn endures early in the film:  rushing through the house, opening the closet doors, only to find the drawers empty, the hangers swinging forlornly in the breeze.  All those beautiful clothes:  gone, gone, gone.

Towards the end of The 39 Steps, our dashing hero (with his equally dashing moustache) demands to know, “What are the 39 steps‽”  But before the respondent can complete his answer, he’s shot.  Not that the answer has much meaning anyway:  the 39 steps are nothing more than a Hitchcockian MacGuffin.

The MacGuffin, as Hitchcock explains, is “the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is almost always the necklace and in spy stories it is most always the papers.”  It’s the code for which people will kill.  It’s the computer disk that a hero must retrieve or protect.

Though the primary purpose of the MacGuffin is to drive the plot forward, I think it also serves a second, more existential role.  The MacGuffin is necessary to stave off despair.   A hero’s travails must have some external meaning (to preserve the secret British airpower, to expose the bad guys, to fall in love with the hot blond) to be consequential.  As much as MacGuffins give narratives their shape, it also gives on-screen lives their significance.

If only real life provided MacGuffins as easily.

Over this last weekend in Wilmington, there were two shootings, both unrelated, both about 10 blocks from our house.  The quality of the neighborhoods in Wilmington, like most urban cities, varies drastically from street to street.  When Matthew and I go on recycling strolls (picking up stray cans as a form of exercise), we see the differences immediately.  To our north is Baynard Boulevard, with its grand houses and manicured lawns.  Very few cans there.  But if we go south past Jefferson, the streets grow increasingly dingy.  I oftentimes see an object and think, Should I touch that without a Hazmat suit? The cans here are long 40 ouncers, with some variations of the word ‘Cobra’ or ‘Ice’ emblazoned on it (sadly, completely unrelated to the Southeast Asian aperitif of iced cobra liquor).

Our street (21st) is relatively quiet, a mix of families and younger professionals, with very few problems.  Occasionally a rumble comes down our street — a mass of youths hooting and hollering and aching for a fight, but our across-the-street neighbor, Sharon, quickly puts the kibosh on that.  Her rolling out with her wagging finger is enough to dissipate any trouble.

But these fights have their own MacGuffins (a stolen boyfriend, an insult), but the shootings don’t have a readily-available narrative.  A woman shot in the back.  An 18-year old.  A robbery, a random event; nothing is there to help make sense of the crimes.

This evening, after the sun had set and as the sky approached near dark, I took 39 steps from my street towards 31st Street, where both the shootings took place.  I only made it halfway down the block — not far enough to put myself into harm’s way, and yet not far enough to distance myself from the fear that people are killed for no reason whatsoever.

By 1997, when Insomnia came out, I was head-deep into electronic music, and I bought the soundtrack without much caring about the movie itself.  I must have come across it in one of the used record stores scattered around D.C. (Flying Saucer, DCCD, 12” Dance Records), because there’s no way I could have afforded the Norwegian import.  Not on a bookseller/part-time DJ’s salary, at least.

I’ve been a fan of Geir Janssen ever since he was a part of the band Bel Canto (with ethereal chanteuse Anneli Drecker and cute, bespectacled Nils Johansen).  I first discovered Bel Canto on Teletunes, with their video for “Birds of Passage,” and being a sucker for moody European synth-pop with gossamer singers, quickly tracked their first two albums which — luckily for me — were released in the US.  Janssen’s solo work under the moniker Biosphere, however, was slightly more difficult to find:  his first two albums were only released in Austria on the famed ambient label, Apollo.

What I knew of ambient music when I was younger was what I’d heard on Hearts of Space.  I sat beside my Dad’s stereo at midnight on Saturday, my finger hovering above the ‘record’ button on the cassette deck.  Even though I enjoyed it, much of what I heard struck me as hokey — like I should have been weaving dreamcatchers as I listened.  I felt the same way about soundtracks, as well:  stripped of their emotional context, soundtracks seemed somewhat thin.

But by the time I hit college, ambient music had taken a different place in my life.  I’d outgrown industrial music (no longer angry) and mainstream dance music (overexposure from work).  What I wanted — after an afternoon of shilling books and then a night of playing David Morales and Peter Rauhofer remixes — was to be transported.  Out of my studio apartment, out of Dupont Circle and its lazy Susan of entertainments.  When I put my CD of Insomnia into the player, I let the sound sink me deep into Norway.  The music was sparse and icy:  refracted piano chords, low electronic throbs.  I wondered:  what was happening in the film at that moment?  Who were those ghostly faces on the cover?  Why the tagline “No rest for the wicked”?  It was a soundtrack not for any film in particular, but the one projected on the ceiling as I lie on my futon, hands behind my head.

Yesterday, on the summer solstice, I rewatched Insomnia.  NPR had broadcast a story about the Midnight Sun Parade in Nome, Alaska, and I imagined the all-night (-day?) parties starting up in Scandinavia.  Pagans jumping over bonfires, beaches awash with vitamin D-seekers.   Sleepless Swedish detectives getting trapped in Norway and having hallucinations about their murdered partners.  Upstairs, on the third floor ‘man-den,’ I reclined on the couch in the sweltering heat.  The A/C blew intermittently.  Matthew was out watering the garden, trying to save his plants.

I put on Ruxpin’s album Avalon and remembered why I listened to ambient music:  it sets your mind adrift.  By the time “In Form of a Bird I Meet My Creator” came on, I had unmoored from the blistering Delaware summer and, amidst sunshine, slept blissfully.

One drawback to watching films with a ‘shocking twist’ or a ‘shocking ending’ is that the shock only works once.  I watched The Sixth Sense like it was the second coming of Jacques Tourneur, but the second time around, I thought, “This movie’s as dead as Bruce Willis’ hair follicles.”

I always hoped that Diabolique would be one of those suspense films that hold up to repeated viewings.  My first time watching it, I felt tense and agitated, unbearably so, as Vera Clouzot wandered the dark hallways of her boarding school, her heart straining in her chest.  Returning to the film a few years later, I waited for same dread to creep along the back of my neck.  While I could admire the film’s craft — a wardrobe door opening and framing the frightened schoolmistress in its mirror — that sense of horror didn’t arrive.  I know what’s coming, I thought.  And then it didn’t come.

Being unable to rid myself of previous expectations or to sufficiently suspend disbelief is my own fault, but immediate reactions such as surprise and wonder are always tenuous and fleeting.  They’re momentary miracles, like snow in Texas.

This past weekend, I made my second trip to New Orleans.  I’d been there about 8 years before and was seduced by its bizarre charms and even more bizarre odors.  Voodoo!  Ghost tours!  24-hour gay bars!  Above ground cemeteries!  Drunken frat boys!  This time around, however, I passed the voodoo shops without glancing.  I pitied for the heavily-costumed ghost tour leaders, leading around their stickered charges to the next balmy location.  Even the drunken revelers seemed more annoying:  on Bourbon St., a frat boy slammed his shoulder into me without so much as an apology.  I daresay he did it on purpose — I wonder if he later laughed with his friends about that dude he’d knocked around like a bowling pin.

I was in town for a literary conference, lured by my friend S___, who has attended this conference for the past several years and had talked it up as a networking extravaganza.  But this time, he seemed less than taken.  “I basically came here,” he said, “to meet up with people I haven’t seen in a while.”  He compared previous trips to this one:  the ribs in the Faubourg Marigny restaurant were better last year.  There were no torrential downpours.  The mosquitoes seemed less blood-thirsty.

On the last night of the conference, we gathered upstairs at the Bourbon Street Pub and soaked in the cool weather — the floor-soaking rains from the morning now a moist memory.  It was warm enough to wear short-sleeved shirt, and the humidity had hit breathable levels.  On the balcony overlooking t he street, I shielded my eyes from the sun and talked to newfound friends.  I devoured the plates of Costco cream puffs that had been set out.  Bourbon St. was as quiet as it ever gets, five different types of music blaring out of four different bars.

This slice of the city, this moment of contentment and calm — I won’t be able to replicate it, even if I wanted to.  But the next time I’m in New Orleans, I suspect that it will return to haunt me — a dead headmistress giving a young boy back his slingshot.

Welcome May Day!  Welcome M Day!  I’ve seen M several times now on various mediums (late-night PBS broadcasts, small theater revivals), but the last two times I’ve watched it on DVD, I’ve dozed off at approximately the same spot — as the police and the criminal underworld decide on a course of action.  In my defense I’ll say that the first of May was the first hot day of the year, rising into the high 80s.  The green stalks of day lilies rampaging over the front lawn like Mongols.  And on the third floor of the house, where my “home theater” is, the heat is as thick as a wet towel.  Jelly beans melt in my hand.  My cats assume the “let’s trip Daddy on the stairs and break his neck” stretch.

Once Peter Lorre appears on-screen, however, M becomes a completely different creature.  Lorre has forever ruined Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” for me.  While I was growing up, I had my share of child-safety lessons in elementary school:  don’t trust strangers, don’t get lured off the path on the way home, travel in groups if necessary, don’t hitchhike.  But we didn’t have the same level of hysteria as today.  No Amber alerts, no Code Adam.  (It’s tempting to assume that people weren’t as crazy back in the good old days, but more and more, I subscribe to Will Self’s Quantity Theory of Insanity.)

Every precaution my parents took seemed at the time sensible, though in retrospect, I wonder how effective they would have been.  One idea that never caught on:  parents should have a ‘password’ with their child.  So, for instance, if my parents were in the hospital and had to dispatch someone to pick me up, the person was to give this ‘password’ before I went with them.  Though I’m sure my parents and I had agreed on a password, I forgot it — by the next day, most likely.  Besides, if something terrible had happened to my parents, my aunt and uncle who lived not-too-far-away would have been the ones to ferry me around.  No password needed.

The other thing I remember doing was making an ‘identification card.’  Our local Safeway sponsored the cards; they consisted of a passport-sized photograph pasted onto a 4×6 piece of blue cardstock, a short description, and the location of prominent birthmarks (I have a dime-sized one on my left hand, which depending on the angle, can be described as a rider on a horse or a turtle).  Maybe there had been a high-profile kidnapping around that time.  Oh, I’ve heard the horror stories:  someone follows a young girl into the restroom, drugs her, shaves her head and passes her off as an ill son.  But these weren’t enough to stop the range of my wanderlust:  from Wheeling St. into the grassy field at the end of the street.  Before long, I roamed from Peoria to Sable and would soon enough discover Colfax Ave.  My wanderings never brought me into contact with real danger, of course, but it’s not necessarily comforting to think that mere luck separated me from poor, doomed Elsie Brinkmann.

“Nobody disappears into thin air,” says the policeman’s wife in Picnic at Hanging Rock.  “Not without good reason.”

My senior year, the Hinkley High School drama class put on a show of Picnic at Hanging Rock.  I hung out with them, the usual assortment of misfits and oddballs, though I was never really a part of the drama clique.  My closest association with the drama department was as the accompaniment for You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown and a brief appearance as the black eyelinered Valet in No Exit.

But there was one girl in the drama crew whom I gravitated towards:  Neala.  She was the embodiment of a free spirit:  long red hair, a willowy build, a fiery temperament.  She listened to Sarah McLachlan and had full-on Celtic pride completely unrelated to basketball.  In Picnic at Hanging Rock, she played Sara, the young girl who falls to her death, possibly murdered by the headmistress.

In the auditorium, the set builders went about constructing a mountain out of 2x4s, chicken wire, painted canvas and papier-mâché.  They spray-painted the edifice gray, and it rose almost 10 feet into the air.  When lit from above, the mountain cast huge, jagged shadows onto the stage, but from behind, you could see how it was a hollow shell, like a cream puff that’s been licked out.  A rickety set of steps lead to the top, and it seemed stable enough, until you reached out steady yourself and found the rock crumbling in your hand.

I had a crush on Neala, but whether or not my attraction Neala had a sexual component remains unclear, even to my 30-something gay self today.  I want to say no, though I could just as easily say yes.  High school was — perhaps still is — a haze of sexual confusion.  I want to say that all my attraction to her was sun-dappled and full of warmth, but the more I examine it, the more I revisit it, the more it seems like a mystery that isn’t meant to be solved.

In my senior yearbook, there’s a full-page spread for Picnic at Hanging Rock and features a photograph of Neala, as Sara, dressed in a white nightgown, sitting on the ground, looking up pleadingly.  The caption reads:  “Doomed Sara regrets her life,” and beneath that, in pen, Neala wrote:  “Does she?”

I got in touch with Neala about two years ago, during one of those jags where I trawl the Internet in search of old friends, half-remembered names, fleeting acquaintances.  I came across Neala’s mother, who then put me in touch with her.  She finally wrote me an email under an assumed name, because she had been scrubbing her presence off the Internet because of a stalker.  I replied, saying how good it was to get back in touch with her, that we should stay connected, that nobody should disappear into thin air.  I’m waiting to hear back from her, and until I do, I will imagine her at the top of a hollow mountain, arms outstretched, as if to beckon me closer into the void, into the mystery.