The colors of the photos have been diminishing slowly, washed out by the sunlight that streams each morning through the kitchen window, though the first time Joe notices, he thinks it's his weary eyes playing tricks on him. He glances at a picture of Raffael and thinks it's Frank, then has no idea how he could have made such a mistake. And he can't tell whether it's Rafe or Frankie Junior in that one surfing photo, and he's too exhausted to recall the answer from when he tacked the photo up months and months ago when they first moved to the farm.
But the one that really bothers him is the beach with the foot. It's long and tanned, rough and whitish around the sides like the foot of someone who often goes barefoot...and Joe remembers being on a beach with Frankie and Maria and Dorothy, kicking a colorful vinyl ball around. But when Joe tries to remember taking a photo there, the scene spins in his mind, and he's on a different beach with Frank, years earlier, and this is the first of a series of photos -- foot, ankle, knee, thigh, hip, cock, belly, nipple, and then Frank pulls the camera away.
Which camera? Color or black and white film? Joe can't remember. Can only remember Frank's eyes, pale blue beside the turquoise water before they closed, and did that happen or was it a fantasy? Joe thinks it happened. Thinks he was awake then, and things were clearer.
Maria had had fits when they moved and unpacked Joe's farming clothes, packed away all the years he was a cop. The shirts had faded in the sun and had their colors washed out in the rain. The maroons and purples had stained the whites, blending together in patches the way his flesh mottled in the sun before it tanned, smooth bronze perfection marred by too many tattoos. Joe can't see sunburn or freckles or skin art on any of his photos of Frank now; the lights have faded them to flat pale perfection. He could be anyone, like an airbrushed model.
It's been a long time. Much too long since Frank left -- long enough for the photos to fade, and Joe can't picture in his head anymore the way the curve of Frank's throat looks when he's lying beside him in the grass. Sometimes it turns into Frankie Junior's throat and Joe feels so dirty, hateful, the kind of man who could have such a thought about his own brother's son, even though he would never ever touch Frankie and he never meant to touch Frank, it had always been an accident, Frank's idea, Joe trying to say no but it always turned into something else. Still does, sometimes, when he tries to remember; the image turns into something that scurries away into the corn before Joe can grasp it. Or flies away like a car across the border to Canada. Or worse, it remains unmoving, a static image caught by a camera like an effigy.
Rafe comes banging noisily through the kitchen door. He's dressed to go out, black clothes, black hair, black eyeliner, so incongruous with the farm colors that Joe has to blink, even though he'd love Raffael in uniform or a fancy business suit or even in women's clothes, the way he once caught Rafe trying on his mother's dresses and never said anything about it to anyone. When Rafe was young he had been perfect, fuzzy peach-colored skin, a combination of what he got from Joe and what he got from Maria, but now he's got the pimples and blotches of a late teenager, not the porcelain smoothness of baby flesh. Joe glances at one of the pictures of Frank and thinks he could be child forever now, silk-skinned and ageless. And fading.
"Is Frankie going with you?" Joe asks Raffael.
"Says he needs to sleep." It might just be that Frankie doesn't want to deal with Rafe's friends; Frankie's a different breed, an athlete, more likely to be working out than hanging out, though he's itching for his own car these days. Joe's a bit concerned, though, because Frankie has been sleeping too much, ever since Joe and Maria told him the truth about his parents. It isn't that he's been misbehaving, exactly, but he's pulling back from the world, staring off into space, and Joe knows the symptoms all too well. Since he has no number to call, Joe calculates what time it is in Vancouver, in Tijuana, in Morocco...everywhere too late to call. Is it spring or fall in central America and northern Africa? He can't even remember what hemispheres they're in, whether the light is fading early in the evening or growing brighter, strong enough to fade photographs. Some people get depressed when the winter nights set in, but it's not as if Joe is deprived of light. Just clarity.
Rafe stops to study a photo of Dorothy and Maria sitting together, looking like sisters even though Dorothy was pale and Maria is dark and they only really knew each other for a couple of years, just those months when Dorothy moved to town with Frank and had the baby, before she ran off and Joe and Maria took the baby and raised him as their own. At the time people told them what saints they were -- it was before Joe quit the force, in a town where everyone remembered what Frank had done even though none of them not a one really knew Frank, and Joe thinks that if they only knew, if they found out how relieved he had been when he learned Dorothy had died and wouldn't be coming back for her son, they would know he was going to hell just like his brother.
"Band's playing this weekend. Frankie said he'll come," Raffael tells Joe offhandedly, and Joe wants to say that it doesn't have to be because of Frankie, that if he can hold his head up he'll go just because Rafe asked him, but he's too tired even to put those words together. He only nods.
"I like that one." Rafe points. It's an ancient photo from Joe's childhood, one that he's in, though his arm is slightly blurred where he's swinging a toy gun around to "arrest" his brother, the blue of his shirt shimmering into the blue of the sky, Frank's eyes almost as wide and blue. He can picture clearly what's not in the photo as well -- their father shouting at them to mind the cliff, their mother warbling some mountain song from a musical and Frank laughing, already fading into the sun.
That beach. Frank's foot. How could he have forgotten? When Joe closes his eyes he can almost dream it back.