FOCAL POINT • by M. Howalt

Sean’s classmate is older and more experienced than him and has a flair for the dramatic. He looks over his shoulder to make sure they are alone and hands Sean a folded piece of paper. He doesn’t want anyone else to come to him for jobs, so he claims it has to be done discreetly. “Name and phone number. Call her and make a date. Remember you’re a professional,” he says.

Strictly speaking, Sean isn’t a professional. Not yet. He is a student, desperate for something, almost anything, to put on his resume. He calls her up and makes an arrangement. The woman on the phone apologises for speaking in a low voice, but her husband is at home. She is doing this for him, but he mustn’t know about it.


Sean checks himself in the mirror for the third time before leaving. Maybe he should change again. Look different. He needs to appear as if he does this every day. No, not every day. That would be worse, somehow, than never having done it before. ”It’s not porn,” he tells his own reflection. ”That is definitely not what it is.” He looks at it sternly, then turns to leave.

Wallet, shoes, blazer. Hesitation. No, the blazer is fine. It’s inconspicuous. Is it too inconspicuous to seem genuine? No, it’s fine. Shoulder bag with his equipment, sunglasses… No. Not sunglasses. Definitely not sunglasses. He opens the door, steps out, closes it behind him, and bounds down the stairs before he can change his mind about anything.

His destination is a large house in the outskirts of the city. A gravel garden path that tries to be an avenue leads him from the road to the front door. His hand automatically travels to the bag resting on his hip. It is proof that he is not a random bloke wandering in from the street. That and the ID card from the school with a picture of him from a few years back when he still tried to look intellectual and artsy in a pair of glasses.

The door bell plays a melody at him. Sean fumbles with the collar of his blazer and waits. It is the right house, isn’t it? Then his client opens the door and although he has never met her before, there is no doubt that it’s her. She’s wearing a silk bathrobe and slippers, and her real face is hidden under a made up layer.

”Hi. I’m Sean… We talked on the phone,” he says, patting the bag again.

”Hi, Sean. Come right in. Carol,” she adds and offers her hand. She is about forty and thin with small, pointy breasts and sparks in him a memory of a seedy film he once watched. But he is not a plumber like the guy in the film, and… He shakes the hand and the train of thoughts from his head. At least he doesn’t have sweaty palms.

“My husband is away on a business trip,” Carol informs him. She leads Sean through the house, upstairs and into a bedroom. It must have been decorated for the occasion. He hopes that it has been decorated for the occasion. Who lives like that?

”Well… is this all right? Can you work with it?”

Sean nods and takes in the place. Shiny satin would have made it look tacky, but the velvet is heavy and rich. ”Yes, it looks fine. Can I move the mirror and use it to reflect the light?”

”Yes, of course. If the curtains are a problem…”

”No, not at all. It will be fine with the candles and… I brought a small lamp if we need it.”

He pulls the camera out of his bag and sets up the equipment. There is a rustle of the bathrobe slipping off behind him. Then the sound of zips. When he looks again, Carol is wearing a pair of red stilettos that match her lipstick. He almost tells her that she looks great, for conversation and to build up her confidence, but it seems wrong. Instead he smiles in what he hopes is a relaxed and normal way.

”What position would you like me in first?” she asks.

Sean hesitates. A moment too long. Then, quickly, ”Let’s warm up with a few shots of you lying on the bed facing me. With your legs bent and your feet angled like this.” He illustrates with his wrists and hands and she climbs onto the bed and places herself, smiling coyly at him.

He takes off the lens cover and looks into the viewfinder, and everything immediately becomes much more comfortable. He almost sighs with relief. Through the lens, she is the focal point like everything else he has ever seen through it. She is unique and beautiful. She is real, she is a piece of art in the making, she is a raw, human being, and she must be captured. It is an intimate situation, but the camera is between them. The camera makes the difference between voyeur and artist.

After all, he is a professional.

M. Howalt holds a master’s degree in British and American literature, lives in Scandinavia and likes to take pictures and draw. More importantly, there is an abundance of stories in Howalt’s head, and most of them want to be told, which is why one novel is currently being written, another is in the revision process, and a lot of short fiction seems to spontaneously appear.

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