Technologically, a lot had changed in thirty years. Nineteen eighty-five was the days of film and video tape, today the word was digital. Yet his model was the same, although she’d obviously changed as well. Thirty years had made an insecurely pretty girl of twenty a confidently mature beauty, as they’d made a long-haired brunette a stylishly short-haired with a touch of gray allowed to show. Thirty years had also given adventurous, hazel brown eyes the unwitting stare of life experience, with still a curious streak he found intriguing. They’d furthermore made a slender-proportioned young woman an elegant fifty year old. Some would describe her as well-conserved, but that word wouldn’t come to mind to him. Sparing use of make-up expressed her face naturally, without intention to conserve a youth gone past.
Only one thing hadn’t changed, because it couldn’t. She was still the right leg amputee he knew she’d been since her mid teens.
It’d made it easy to recognise her, more so since she still chose not to conceal her marked physique. In altered, tight fit jeans, no one could possibly overlook her missing leg, nor that it was amputated below the hip. A daringly high-heeled pump even appeared to accentuate the contrast between her long leg and short stump, with nothing in her body language suggesting it should be taken otherwise. Her confidence included wishing to be seen the way she looked.
The adventurous eyes of thirty years ago had proven predictive. They’d made her travel all over the world, making it quite a coincidence to find her residing in the town where he knew she was born. She’d very spontaneously responded to what he had in mind though: to do a re-shoot with a model from his early days as a photographer, and express mature beauty without concealing age. Her first response was being all ears, and her second an enthusiastic okay to be his model.
And now, over espressos to acquaint again, he was enjoying the company of a light-heartedly one-legged lady.
“So, shooting amputee chicks made an impression for life, eh?” she asked, not without playful defiance.
“Yeah, you could say it did.”
“What made it, you’d say, looking back?”
“The revelation of beauty not necessarily being in the obvious. And a being triggered by the silent cries I saw.”
“Cries?” she inquired curiously.
“Despite their bravery, I thought I saw many models cry out a silent hope to not be found off-putting.”
“How interesting,” she smiled. “Go on, please?”
“I’d just discovered I didn’t find them off-putting at all.”
“Perhaps making it easier to see the cries…” she filled in.
“Definitely, and the why made perfect sense, of course. But they gave me a strong feeling of being unnecessary. That’s what made me want to help that hope come true somehow. Not out of pity, but as a genuine appreciation.”
“Did you see it in me, the cry?”
“You did a pretty convincing merry chick, I remember. And still I think I did, yes.”
“And how right you were,” she instantly admitted.
He smiled, but without triumph. “How do you look back at it then?”
“As in being way too good at seeming carefree with something I was very insecure about. But hiding behind a smile was tempting with so many desirous eyes on me.”
“Is that what the modeling did to you?”
“It was a dare-test for me, and passing it felt good. But that’s not the same as no longer being insecure. I still was, and I have been for a long, long time.”
“You’re not striking me as insecure now…”
“And you’re correct,” she smiled. “And we’re also thirty years on.”
She told him the full story. That it’d taken her twenty more years to really leave insecurity behind. Too long for the greatest wish of her life – to have children – to be an option anymore. Also too long to enjoy sex unencumbered with a body still in full bloom. She’d been adventurous, enterprising, determined, even really loving life. But there’d always been demons. And by the time she was genuinely rid of them, she was past the mark of forty.
Once freed of emotional trauma though, her adventure, enterprise and determination finally worked full throttle. Since then, she’d been catching up, as in really catching up. As if every pleasure she’d been denied or had denied herself needed to be experienced. She freely told him she caught up with so much vigour that it made the quite experienced man the photographer was, grin with amazement.
Indirectly, it was also her reason to do this re-shoot. There’d be young girls running into her fate as long as there’d be bone cancer. She wished them to have an example. Of a woman aged fifty who found herself well worth being portrayed. Who found her leg amputation no reason not to be well worth portraying. Who wished to let the art of photography tell that overcoming this could be done. And most of all, she wished them to not take as long as she had.
“I also have a request to you,” she then said.
“I want you to take the idea of this all the way.”
“As in me wanting to pose nude, and as in you shooting nudity like a man would love to shoot it,” she replied with a determined smile.
“Okay,” he smiled back. “I think I have an idea why, but tell me anyway. I like to know my models’ drives before shooting them.”
“Because I’ve always wanted to do really nude posing but somehow never had the guts, because your idea and this little chat of ours are making me have it now, and because I’m trusting you to not make me look like a way past her best porn star. Would that do?”
“As long as it’s not a whim, cause that may make you regret.”
“Hell no. Like I said: I’ve always wanted to,” she grinned. “And one more thing?”
“It’s taken me a hell of a long time, but I’ve really left every bit of uneasiness with having one leg behind,” she said, smiling confidently. “And I’ll leave the how to you, but I want you to let the shoot express that.”
“I’ll consider that a challenge and a pleasure,” he smiled.
“For which I’m giving you carte blanche…”
Her one-legged tread had an eye-catching elegance. Not only was it flawless skill in using crutches, really every aspect of her motion considered the absence of a right leg totally matter of course. He’d already admired the graceful beauty of it when she entered his studio, the smooth self-evidence of her locomotion needing only one leg was showing in full detail now she was nude. And since she was with unconcealing boldness, there was no hiding what thirty five years had done to a leg taken off high upper thigh. Slackened muscles of her short stump caused a loosely dangling, the spanning skin was not without wrinkles, and there were various small dents on both sides of her scar, a prominent incision straight across the front of the rounded flesh forming the shape. And she wasn’t shy at all when he gave it an intent look.
“Young models have young stumps. Mine shows three and a half decades of being amputated,” she smiled, lifting it with relaxed expression. “Look at it before you start shooting.”
She kept moving it with only one intention. To make him see the nude reality of a leg amputation of many years. She’d smiled seeing him admire her walking, now she wanted him to see what forced the adaptation he found so beautiful to watch. Not to trigger pity, but because it was part of what she wished the shoot to express. There were not going to be any facades. Helping others in overcoming this faster than she had, required not hiding anything. And so, she showed him the fleshly details of what amputation had wreaked, the scar marking where it had been done, the confronting asymmetry of one leg very much absent, and the unadorned looks of stump muscles contracting with flabby lack of purpose.
“What’s it doing to you?” she asked, not taking her eyes off.
“It’s giving me shivers.”
“Shivers of what?”
“Of realising something that may sound pretty stupid to you.”
“Tell me anyway.”
“I saw you thirty years ago, and I’m seeing you now. And I was realising you’ve actually had this during all those years I didn’t see you. It’s so obvious it feels insulting to tell you.”
“It’s not insulting,” she smiled. “And neither is it entirely stupid. An amputation being for life is a major part of getting to terms with it. From the moment it’s done, everything you’ll ever do for the rest of your life is going to be with one leg. It took me twenty-five years to fully accept that.”
“And what eventually made you?” he asked, calmly shooting her stump resting on the grip of a crutch.
“A Zen course did.”
“Zen as in the sound of one clapping hand?”
“Yes, that Zen. And for me it was one walking leg.”
“And how did it help?”
“My Zen Master was blind. But he made me see.”
“That sounds deep…”
“Well, it’s Zen,” she smiled, watching him do close-ups of the limp flesh curving loosely over the crutch bar. “But Zen is both very deep and shockingly simple.”
“When’s it simple then?”
“Well, it is right now…”
“Explain, please?” he asked, continuing the close-ups.
“It starts a little less simple…” she smiled.
“In Zen, there’s no right answer, not rationally. In the rational mind, one hand cannot clap because it requires contact with a second hand to produce the sound. However, the deeper idea behind it is if you take one away, they both can’t clap anymore. Similarly, walking is created by two legs alternatingly working together. Take one off, and you take away the alternation, making them both lose the capacity to walk. Change one side and you change both.”
“And how’s that ever gonna be simple?”
“Not yet, but it will,” she chuckled.
“Okay, go on then.”
“You too, by the way,” she said, now letting her stump dangle free.
Whatever Zen taught her, for a woman having struggled with insecurity for so long, she did it with remarkable ease. There was even a playful smile when she made it twitch by short contractions and then relaxing the muscles again.
“Zen is to meditate assuming the truth of a Zen Koan,” she then continued. “So, when the Zen Master asks what the sound of one clapping hand is, you assume there is a sound, and work on your answer from there. And like I said, there is no right answer, but your answer will reflect what you think, what you believe. You get what you are.”
“And what did you get?”
“The insight that I wasn’t the victim of my demons, but their creator. That feeling insecure when you’re taking close-ups of my stump is to recognise the ground of existence for that insecurity. And to not be insecure is about getting rid of that ground of existence.”
“By not missing the missing. I’m totally comfortable with you shooting my stump because I’m not looking at it as my missing leg. The amputation changed me, but I’m the one who can change back. Like Zen says there is the sound of one clapping hand, there is a one walking leg, provided I allow myself to think it. And the moment you manage that, the sense of missing disappears. Like my Zen Master learned to see by not missing his eyes, I learned to let one leg be my walking by not missing my amputated leg.”
“Sounds to good to be true.”
“I know. But once I grasped the idea, the demons were gone. And they’ve never been back.”
He didn’t need proof of that. Her stance, body language and facial expression made perfectly clear there were no more demons. And it made the wrinkled and slackened remains of her amputated leg a powerful part of her appeal.
“Wow. Must have been a great feeling.”
“Yeah, that’s what I found too,” she grinned rather suggestively.
“And how exactly did you mean that…?” he grinned back, suspecting something.
“Let’s say this philosophical insight had a slightly less philosophical follow-up,” she chuckled. “It initiated the catching up I told you about, what I call my years of rampage.”
Another revelation followed, brought with a frolic that made her nude posing a touch mischievous. Finally enjoying life as an untroubled amputee, she’d started dating through web sites for amputees and devotees. It was her plunge by choice into a world of being worshipped for what had long been a nagging uneasiness, and dating was a pretty diplomatic word for what she’d allowed herself to dive into. There’d been loads of lovers, she confessed, and she’d let every one of them be a tribute to her self-conquest.
“I meanwhile consider myself balanced out,” she concluded with a chuckle. “Fucking around too much is as bad as getting laid too little. It’s more fun alright, but in the end it’s not fulfilling.”
“Is that Zen too?”
She giggled. “Would you expect it to be?”
She winked at him, the mischief in her expression still there. Being nude, she couldn’t hide her nipples were hardening. Cringing pleasantly, they pointed at the camera, at him, like perky buds.
“Like a man would shoot you, right?” he repeated her words, shooting one nipple very close-up.
“And that’s making you excited?”
“Realising I’m really doing this is.”
“And you’re doing great.”
“I wanna do even greater…”
“Feel free. And tell me how.”
Smiling confidently, she handed over her crutches. She could have used the time he took to stall them for making her way to the red leather couch behind her in the corner of the studio. But she waited, so he could shoot her one walking leg. He did, capturing the absence of a second leg so sharply prominent now. But also trying to capture her elegant agility in not letting it be a bother. The perfect balance of her hopping made the forever broken alternation appear superfluous. And partly it was her experience of many years, it was also Zen demonstrating the simplicity of its depth. The body language of her ease was in simply not missing her leg. And while demonstrating the essence of what she meant without a word being needed, it expressed a compelling beauty.
“I don’t think I managed to really catch what you just did,” he said, looking up from behind his camera as she stretched out on the couch.
“You never may,” she smiled. “But if you ever will, it starts with not trying to.”
First he frowned, then a smile appeared on his face. “Hmm, maybe that Zen stuff is starting to make sense to me.”
She gave him a feigned smug smile back, then a naughty wink. “Enough Zen now though?”
He nodded and stepped closer. “Yeah. Tell me how you wanna do even greater.”
“I’m not telling,” she grinned. “I’m gonna show you…”
There wasn’t a trace of Zen in her stare changed to seduction. Neither was there in the way her hands started to stroke, nor in the slow but uncompromised spreading of her thighs. There wasn’t in the calm self-possession by which she made herself become sexual, and there wasn’t in how her lips whispered a confident encouragement.
“Now shoot… with everything you’ve got…”