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I've seen only one marriage basket in my life. I happen to know that the basket is still in existence. Where, I don't know.
"Are you ready?" asked Ivan, anxious to leave.
"Not just yet," I answered. "Believe it or not, I think I've found something interesting."
I had gone to Grover Gallery for the Stieglitz opening with Dr. Ivan Demetriev, a psychiatrist friend of mine. The gallery was packed with the usual art patrons and pretenders to culture, but I had expected that. That wasn't what bothered me. It was the exhibition. It was static, flavorless.
That was before I saw the photograph.
"Wait a minute, Ivan, that can't be a Stieglitz," I said, tugging at his sleeve. We stood before a photograph of an old American Indian basket. Ivan gave it a grudging look, still bored, still anxious to leave.
"That's a fascinating design," I said, looking closer, "but not at all like Stieglitz." I kept peering at the basket, which was haunting. It had an intricate pattern resembling a dolphin with a snake, or with lightning. Even though I am a collector of American Indian art, I had never seen anything to compare with it. There was something unusual about the weave as well. I couldn't tell whether it was coiled or woven, or what. I was entranced by its perfection. No telling where it was from, but it was already on display in my subconscious. Ivan kept frowning and looking to the exits. The print, an 8 x 10, had a mystic sepia quality that I would never have associated withStieglitz. I wondered at what stage he had done it. My eyes fell on the neatly typed paper legend below the picture, and I looked for the date. It was there all right, along with the title, "The Marriage Basket," but I was in for another surprise. The photographer's name was listed as McKinnley. It was a lone island in a sea of Stieglitzes.
Ivan was looking at me impatiently.
"Are you familiar with the photographer, McKinnley?" I asked.
"No, I don't recognize him," he said, pulling my arm. "But I recognize a bunch of phonies and pseudo-intellectuals when I see them, so let's get out of here and get a drink."
"But I want that photograph," I said.
"Come back tomorrow and get it on your own time," Ivan said, brusquely heading for the door.
"At least let me write down the name," I said rustling around unsuccessfully in my purse for a pen. I looked up, saw Ivan waving me outside, and with a sigh decided I could remember "Marriage Basket" and "McKinnley." I ran to catch up with Ivan.
That night the strange dreams began. I couldn't sleep. An owl hooted ominously in the walnut tree outside my bedroom. I pulled the covers up around my face, and lay rigid and silent. As I began to drift towards sleep, images of the marriage basket, dark and mysterious, centered in my night vision. The dream imploded into a wild whirring sound in my consciousness. I awoke with a start and sat upright in bed, wide-eyed, frightened. Then I threw off the covers angrily and stomped into the bathroom. I flicked the light on and rummaged noisily around in the medicine cabinet, glancing suspiciously at the mirrors for any sign of flitting shadows. An aspirin bottle slipped to the floor and broke into a dozen pieces. As I bent to sweep up the pills and glass I banged my head. "Damn."
I took a swig of Alka-Seltzer and lurched back to bed. The room was dark except for wands of moonlight that played on my face. I thought of an Anaïs Nin story in which the heroine basked in the light of the moon, turned and trembled under that awesome glow, and slowly lost her soul. As I dropped off to sleep the owl hooted and the marriage basket loomed in front of me again, this time held out in a foreboding gesture by an old Indian woman with eyes like polished mirrors. The vision kept reappearing until I passed out from exhaustion.
The next thing I knew the phone rang. It was morning.
" Hello," I said, not fully awake.
"Lynn Andrews, please. Grover Gallery returning her call," said a maddeningly cheerful female voice.
"Yes, this is me, she. I left a message with your answering service last night regarding a photograph of a marriage basket that I saw during the Stieglitz exhibition. Will you please hold it for me?"
"A marriage basket, ma'am?"
"Yes, an American Indian marriage basket photographed by McKinnley, I believe. I'm not even sure. I think it was McKinnley."
"Yes, no. An old picture by some photographer."
"Let me check, Ms. Andrews." She put me on hold and the phone was disconnected. The dial tone buzzed.
I hung up and held my aching head. A few moments later the phone rang again.
"We have no such photograph listed by McKinnley or any other photographer."
"What do you mean you don't have the photograph?" I sat bolt upright, suddenly alert.
"There is no record of our having an American Indian marriage basket, Ms. Andrews." Her voice was impatient.
"But that's impossible. I mean, there must be an error. I'll be right down, thank you."
I was strangely obsessed, almost frantic. I wove through traffic to the gallery on La Cienega Boulevard, physically exhausted from the previous night, addled with confusion over the morning phone call, and scornful of their lack of efficiency in simple record keeping. I parked in front and stalked into the gallery. The vast expanse of white walls, the collision of photographs hanging at eye level in every direction, revolted me as did, at that moment, the entire "in" art scene. The "in" art dealer approached me, scanning my Jaguar sedan outside and my old Gucci bag. The man was sharp-featured, wiry, and pretentious.Medicine Woman copyright © by Lynn Andrews. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All Rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.