We first met in an open air club in Ibiza, in 1996. It was a cool night, and I was with three friends, down from Munich on a week's vacation. The music was non-stop driving techno. Andy and Horst split off right away - they wanted to go to another club - and Steve and I wound up at the bar of this one place, buying beers for Australian girls. Nice crowd, shoulder to shoulder. I didn't catch the girl's name I was with, but it didn't matter. In the distance, sitting at a table with a few girlfriends, was a stunning raven haired beauty. Red dress, heels, swaying to the music. As soon as I could I wandered over to her table and asked her name. Steve had hooked up with one of the Australians and was in his own little universe.
Her name was Spanish but she spoke perfect English with a British school accent. Her voice was musical. Her eyes were dark, the color of dark chocolate. I liked the way she tilted her face up and smiled at me. I liked the smell of her hair, the feel of her waist. I could not leave her for a second. We danced until dawn. We traded phone numbers, but she didn't call, and I didn't call, and that's the way it goes sometimes. Two ships in the night.
Second time, six months later, down in Santorini. This time I'm alone, enjoying the views with a camera and a nice telephoto lens. I want to take pictures of the white crosses against the blue sky. That night I have an early dinner outside a café, right along the sidewalk at the top of the rim. Below me I can see the donkeys carrying passengers to the cruise ships, down the steep switchback trail.
"Hey, you left me there in Ibiza, and you never called."
I recognized that voice, the voice with flamencos and Segovia guitars, and I stood up and hugged her. "Signey? You look fantastic. I - I'm really sorry, I really should have, very inconsiderate... What are you doing here? Join me?"
She sat down. An older waiter buzzed around. He enjoyed serving beautiful young women. "Just a coffee, please. Black."
We caught up. She had finished school and was preparing for a career in New York. This was her last week before moving to the United States.
"You've done something with your hair."
"Do you like it?" she smiled, and touched her highlights. The rich dark hair now had subtle hazel streaks. Her hair cascaded down over her shoulders. She was wearing a white tube top with spaghetti straps. Her thin wrists had a few simple gold bracelets which she had bought here on the island. The overall impression was one of unaffected beauty.
"Like it? I love it. And I have just the thing. Let's finish up here, and then," I showed her the camera, "let's take some pictures."
We went to the top of the island, and there, against the backdrop of brilliant white crosses and blue skies, I captured her brown shoulders and raven's eyes. She was a perfect model. Flirty. Pouty. She practically pranced for the camera. I was laughing at the emotions she could call up at a moment's notice. The camera loved her face.
"Signey, we're going to go down a few levels to a shop I know. I want to be there when the sun sets over the far rim, and catches the water just right. The light is perfect for one picture I have in my mind's eye. Okay with you? Will you stay with me a little bit longer?"
She stared out and down, over the water. The cruise ships were at anchor, a thousand feet below us. Her eyebrows knit together against the sun's strong rays. She wasn't on camera, and her features relaxed. In that moment I swung up my Leica and without thinking took that classic picture, the one that I sold to the gallery in Germany, the one with her face and her strong jawline, her beautiful neck, her hair blowing in the wind.
The first time I saw the picture in public, it was hanging in the gallery in Munich. Uwe, the dealer, had met me at a party a few years later. He had seen a few of the Santorini photos framed, and wanted to exhibit them. The exhibit went well. Signey's photo was the crown jewel. Three or four people inquired about Signey's portrait. Who was she, they asked. A friend, I said. And I thought, maybe it was time to change that.
The second time was when I was back stateside. We had stayed in touch but I hadn't heard from her in six months. I was in Chicago, and wanted to visit her in New York. Her number was disconnected. I emailed her, but she never wrote back. The last address I had for her was in midtown.
I carried a small snapshot of her in my wallet. I showed the doorman her photo. Does she live here? He looked at me and said, who are you, a cop? I said no, why? I was feeling sick. He said, relative? friend? I said a friend, a very good friend. "Please, I have to know. Is she all right? Does she still live here?"
"She used to. Listen, mister, I don't know what to say. You should go in, and you should speak to a Mrs. Anderson, and she'll fill you in, she's the super. And listen, I'm sorry. She was a fine lady."
The second time was. The second time was. Give me a second. Was in a New York Times obit. In the super's apartment. Her picture. My picture of her. Signey was in the country six months. Boyfriend had beaten her. Her face. Beyond recognition.
I don't even remember the return to Chicago. The evening walks along the lakeshore were empty. I felt nothing. I was numb. I put away the camera for good. There are some evenings that I look up, and I should see the enormous sky, and all of its stars. But it is only her that I see. That hair. That face. Those eyes.