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  • Writer's pictureLannie Neely III

Town Without Image

Updated: Jul 1


Oogclara’s History

During the 1600s, Dutch colonies pressed themselves upon Brazil. Their control of the north-eastern coasts—notably Pernambuco, once Tupi, then Portuguese, then Dutch for a short time, before being ousted once again by the Portuguese—was spotty. Holland’s honey-glazed fingerprints were brief smudges, yet they spread and set in like oil in cloth, uncleansable.

One such smudge, a city small and flat, nested in the sierras of Minas Gerais, came to be known as Oogclara—a grotesque Portu-Dutch nomenclature, “clear eye”—which had survived the many motions of integral history, puckered against the coldness of time. The Paraguayan War came and went. Two world wars came and went. Brazilian Independence, the Treaty of Asuncion, the untimely death of Formula One legend Ayrton Senna. None of it mattered. Oogclara, unchanging, unbending, was known for exactly one thing: cutlery holders.

Visitors to Oogclara would see a green valley with a single cobblestone road that ess-ed like a drunken snake. The houses were of Dutch design, out of place compared to other Brazilian architecture. Whereas the neighboring cities had cathedral-centric plazas and flat-faced cement buildings, Oogclara was nothing more than steepled townhouses, grass, and a single footpath. It defied adaptation. And although the humidity, plantlife, and language betrayed Oogclara for the South American valley that it was, one could not walk through it without feeling inevitably, uncomfortably European.

Near the end of the road was Leather House. Francisco was its keeper, its guardian. By mandate, he had chores.

The lawn needed mowed every three days. Even if the grass hadn’t grown a millimeter. The mowing needed to be done with a manual mower, which was no good on Francisco’s old joints and even worse on his lower back. All accumulated waste needed to be bagged and stored inside until “garbage day,” a day closed to the public once per month. If trash needed to be disposed of between garbage days, special burning permits had to be approved and double-approved by city hall in Alongamento de Maria, hours away. 

Oogclara needed to be clean, trim, and idyllic. The houses should look as if they were frozen in time, uninhabited.

This artificial idyll had worked its way into almost every facet of Leather House. Francisco’s gate had to remain open by 15 degrees. The picket fence had to be painted once a season. The sides of the house had to be washed weekly, before the sun rose. Windowsills required at least three potted plants, of any type, preferably not succulents, and not so tall as to obscure the interior—yet the curtains had to remain closed, to obscure the interior!

Tenants were obligated to remain hidden during visiting hours. Noise kept to a minimum. Electricity turned off until nighttime. No buzzing, no humming, no thinking too loudly. 

More than any of these rules, Francisco hated the boots. Rain boots, tall ones, nailed to the patio, unmovable. Boots set up to look as if they had been recently taken off, despite having never been worn—an impossibly perfect balance between shined decoration and mud-crusted practicality. Whenever the Inspector came, it was always this detail that netted Francisco a reprimand.

Yes, Francisco’s role was to make the empty shell of Leather House feel full. He wasn’t the only one. Every house had wardens, sometimes whole families. And every house followed these guidelines, every denizen a librarian of the Oogclara story that had been written and shelved long ago. A bustling ghost town, lived in but not alive. 

Francisco had been doing this for thirty years. He was wrinkled, crooked, and bored. Unlike the other residents of Oogclara, Francisco had no family history connecting him to the baby he sat. Each of the other houses—Spooner House, Partition House, Knife House, Carving House, etc.—once functioned in a smooth assembly line of cutlery boxes, the likes of which had graced the tables of kings, diplomats, celebrities, and prestigious restaurants all through the town’s history. Ownership was handed down from parents to children. Leather House’s legacy had come to a halt when its owners committed a family-wide murder-suicide, the details of which existed only in town gossip. No professional leather worker would take the posting upon hearing this ghastly tale. But, for Francisco, who was nothing more than an uneducated vagrant, this presented an opportunity. He could snag a place to live, a meager income, food, water, and plenty of free time, simply because everyone more qualified was afraid of a few ghosts.

In Oogclara proper—the slithering road connecting the information center at the mouth and the gift shop at the valley’s end—there was only one thing that broke the spell of timelessness: signage that said “Photos Not Allowed.” These white-and-blue placards let slip the artificiality of the experience, and had long been contested. Yet they protected Oogclara from losing its glamor, its mystique. Not only were pictures forbidden, but, in fact, at the information center, tourists signed a paper promising to neither take, nor publish, photos of Oogclara once their feet touched the cobblestone path. “Patrons must be encouraged to come and see for themselves the small town responsible for our country’s finest utensil boxes,” the former governor of Alongamento de Maria once said. “Photos Not Allowed!”

Which made Francisco a bit of a troublemaker. For the last thirty years at Leather House, Francisco had hidden away, behind his closed curtains, behind his nose-high succulents, taking pictures of every single tourist.


Squaring the Wheel

Francisco spent most of his days inside, patiently waiting as tourists wandered by like cattle. If they noticed him, he’d quickly duck, or move to the back room where the leather equipment was gathering dust. In the dim light, he’d stare at the wall. Having grown up on the streets, he had never learned to read or enjoy books. And, because of the noise and electricity regulations imposed on the town, he couldn’t enjoy the radio or TV. He could only sit and stare.

Burn days were the most exciting. Every now and again, when there was too much trash before garbage day, or if a tree had fallen during a storm, someone would ask the Inspector for a burning permit. He would gather sticks, papers, old clothes, old pamphlets, whole books. He then burned the items, for they no longer had use to him, and at least burning things was something to do. 

On days where he felt bold, he’d crawl along the floor, lean one shoulder against the window frame, and peek through a gap in the curtain. From there, he could see the passersby, men and women and families of all sorts and sizes, all tourists, all walking the pilgrimage from house to house—first the Spooner and Knifer and Garfeiro, who hammered the metal into dinner utensils; then the Woodcutter, who made the shape of the box; then the Carver, who decorated the wood; then the Partitioner, who pieced together the wooden puzzle and filled it with its spoon and knife and fork. The last stop was Leather House, formerly of the leatherer, who imported leather, cut it into strips, and fastened a strip to each cutlery holder with brass studs. This is where the tourists would end their self-guided tour, staring like sheep at a functionless house that stared back through Francisco’s strained, secret eyes.

Four months after moving into Leather House, Francisco bought a very nice camera, a Yashica FR II. He had purchased it for cheap from a shady street-seller in Belo Horizonte. It was imported, which meant it was good. 

After a month of playing around with the lens settings—shooting pictures of gold-and-blue euphonias, muddy pale-breasted thrushes, and floaty green jackfruits pimpling the edges of the valley, all where the Inspector wouldn’t see him—he felt comfortable with the equipment. He took trips to Alongamento de Maria to get his film developed. He was right about the camera’s quality; it transformed every sloppy picture into art. 

He then burned the pictures, for they no longer had use to him, and at least burning things was something to do.

After that, there wasn’t a face he didn’t capture. Eight hours of his day were spent waiting, like a hunter, propped rigidly in his living room. Click. Click. On quiet days, the click would betray him, and he’d have to be more careful, more selective of his shots.

Sometimes, with small children or babies, he had to get creative. He’d stand along the side of his curtain, aiming down, measuring the angle just right, and then he’d flick the curtain as if the wind had blown—Click! Eventually he nested loose boards in his rafters and used them as a sort of makeshift attic bed. He’d lay flat on his stomach and look out through the small sun window between the top of his front door and roof. In many of the photos the blue-and-white sign reminded him that photos were not allowed.

In those early days, Oogclara was still popular, especially among foreigners passing through. Many had heard the rumor that Dom Pedro I, the former princeling-Emperor of Brazil, would refuse to sit at any table not furnished with Oogclara’s special brazilwood utensil container, in which he housed fine silver alongside the simple spoon-knife-fork trio handmade by Dutch descendants. Tourism was booming.

Every day, Francisco found himself focusing on over seventy tourists, carefully selecting his shots. The film ran out quickly. His paltry allowance was dedicated solely to procuring more.

At first, he kept his prized photographs in an album, and then two albums, and then twenty. But as the months passed, he had a better idea. He selected the clearest image of every one of his models and cut a precise 5x5cm square around their faces. He set these in chronological order, then connected them together with laminate, adhesive, and light heat. Soon, his stack of albums had been replaced with a wheel the size of his fist, which he could add onto piece by piece.

As the years passed, the tech advanced. Tech-savvy salesmen in Alongamento de Maria would show him better cameras, better lenses, better tripods and stools for long waits. Francisco bought his own printer, which he used late at night, along with a laminator, in the secret space above his living room. Decades passed. Digital cameras arrived, and computer storage. He got a smartphone and a laptop—otherwise-useless devices in a town with no phone coverage, no internet, and a strict “no photography” rule—just for the compact digital camera and editing software.

Francisco never left except on garbage days, and never got so sick that he couldn’t take a photo. He would get the rare complaint about negligence to the property, the rare surprise visit from the hard-ass Inspector. The rare reprimand. But over the course of three decades, no one caught on to Francisco’s quiet passion project. 

No one knew the impressive growth of his wheel of faces.


The Inspector Inspects

There were only five days before the governor of Alongamento de Maria arrived.

The Inspector woke an hour and a half before sunrise, dressed in a fine suit, and drove the 20 km from her apartment in Alongamento de Maria (population: 1.2 million) to historical Oogclara (population: 23). 

Although Oogclara was often called a “city”—or “town,” or “village”—it was actually no more than nine buildings pimpling the north-western border of the Alongamento de Maria municipality. It had its own rules, its own infrastructure, and its own inspector.

The clock was ticking. The Inspector needed to inspect every house in Oogclara, front to back, to impress the governor—to absolutely stun the man. Landscapes like these were being swallowed up all across Brazil, replaced by beef and milk revenue. Cattle fields. Rumor had it that the greedy-eyed agricultural businessmen were at it again, greasing palms, wheelbarrowing funds to private accounts. The current bid was larger than ever. If the governor could forgive the lack of visitor traffic, the lack of profit, the lack of digital presence, and the overwhelming temptation to sell it all off to agroboys for mammoth bags of money, there was a chance Oogclara could survive long enough for the Inspector to get her pension. After that, who cared if it got trampled by cows?

The Oogclara Information Center was locked. Already a bad start. She went around to the back, where the Registrar lived, and banged on his door.

“You might’ve sent message round first,” the groggy old man said. “Day in advance.”

“There’s no time,” the Inspector explained. “Governor’s coming. Get a move on. Sun’s out already; we should be open. What if I’d been a customer?”

“Ain’t more ‘an two or three families a week now, Inspector.”

He played with his ring of keys, opened the Information Center’s front doors, and began the gentle process of brewing coffee, displaying pamphlets, filling the cash box, and setting out red-white-blue pens for the registry. All the while, the Inspector took notes. This needed cleaned, that needed dusted, this needed replaced, that needed revised. The list went on. She reprimanded the Registrar, apologized to his wife, and then sped along, by foot, down the cobblestone of Oogclara.

Each house had a family in it. She explained their situation: the governor would be coming in less than a week; he wanted to see each house in action. Yes, IN ACTION. That meant the Spooner must make the spoon, the Knifer must make the knife, the Garfeiro must make the fork, and so on, all down the line, to show him the workmanship and pride and history that seemed to be costing Alongamento de Maria so much funding in upkeep.

The Spooner looked at the Inspector like a startled fish. “I haven’t made a spoon in two decades,” he pleaded. “Father passed when I was twenty. Only taught me the basics.”

“You have five days to get good,” she said. “Research, read. I presume the workshop still functions?”

“A little, um, dusty,” he admitted.

“The tools?”


“The materials?”


“We only need to do it once. Get started.”

The Inspector encountered similar stories at every stop. Many had neglected their craft, but it could be revived. It only needed to be for show, anyhow. Once the governor had seen each part of the process, he’d be taken to the gift shop, where he’d see hundreds of Oogclara cutlery holders all professionally constructed in a factory outside of Belo Horizonte—a tax decision made in the 1970s.

It was vaguely known to all involved—the Inspector, the municipal accountants, the wardens of the historical houses, the manufacturers and shippers—that the story of Oogclara existed only in the past, as a haunting. Each house was a gravestone painted like a bulletin board, each pamphlet an obituary written like a newsflash, each cutlery holder made special only by deception. This deception, however, stayed buried under tongues. There was an unspoken agreement to never speak of it. Each house continued to define itself as a master of its craft, defiant against reality, diligently claiming credit for every overpriced souvenir that left the property.

The Inspector tore into anyone who whined or whimpered. These families had cozy lives in the countryside, paid to housesit, none of them with the right to complain. She got the Oogclara machine working once again, and in quick order, as each house attempted at least once to showcase their profession before she moved on to the next. Spoon, knife, fork, woodcutting, design carving, partitions, and finally...

Ah, yes. Leather House. This could be a hiccup. The Inspector always had issues with Francisco. He was a quiet, gaunt, lonely old man who, more than once, had to be reprimanded for showing his face to the visitors, or forgetting to mow the lawn, or burning things without a permit. Moreover, he was heir to the final step in the process—attaching the leather strap to the holder—for which he was barely equipped. He had no personal legacy, no apprenticeship. He was simply a homeless man they had found thirty years ago. He survived on half the pay. He barely existed, and barely belonged.

Into Leather House she went, a full day almost gone, notes spilling from her pad.

Francisco was a withered man, nearly mummified in his own skin save for a plum-round belly atop thin hips, yet almost twice the Inspector’s height. He had sun-tanned farmer’s skin, salt-and-pepper hair, and the clear blue eyes of a Dutchman. Francisco greeted her with a nod and said, “Good seein’ yer face, Inspector.” 

The Inspector was used to his odd comments. She walked around him, inspecting the windows, the curtains, the plants, the kitchen—then outside: the lawn length, the bushes, the fence whiteness, the angle of the gate. Francisco shadowed, all nods and grunts. The rain boots on the patio looked to have been neglected. Upon hearing this complaint, Francisco winced, sighed, and placed his hands in his pockets.

She had only one last point of business: the workshop. 

Francisco dragged his feet like a child in trouble, then unlocked the back room of his tiny house. The workshop was a nightmare of machinery. He had ruined it.

The shelves had been disassembled, most removed if not entirely, then in pieces. There were no leather hides. The tool benches were gone, the tools cleared from the walls. Hundreds of years of leatherworking had been gutted. In history’s place were poles, vertical, dark, strapped to each other with makeshift gears, leather strips, bolts, screws. On the poles were reams and reams of laminated squares, like wheels of cheese that had been skewered. The wheels webbed into each other, lining up in the center of the room horizontally—albeit a bit askew—in seven rows. The Inspector instinctively toggled the inoperable light switch, forgetting Oogclara had no electricity until after dark. She tripped her way to the other side of the room, threw open the black curtains, and squinted at the monstrous plastic-and-metal beast that filled the workshop.

“Where are all of the tools? The materials? The leather? What is this... thing!?”

Francisco’s silhouette shrugged. “Hard to show it, in this light. Wait an hour.”

“Are these movie reels?”

“They’s people.”

“What does that mean?” Without waiting for an answer, she activated her smartphone light and shone it at the strips of suspended rows. People. Just like he said. Faces. Just regular people’s faces. “Who the hell are they? Family?”

Francisco gestured to the world around them, as if it were obvious. “Everyday peoples. They come and they go. Now, they’s here.”

“Francisco! Photography is not allowed!” The Inspector stormed into the front yard, dragging Francisco with her by the collar as if he were forty years younger. “This is a massive breach in code. And now, of all times! We only have a few days before the governor shows up, you hear me?”


“This place is going to get covered in cow shit!”

“Cow shit?”

“We need operational again, full speed ahead! Where’s all of the equipment?”

“Used up, mostly.” He rubbed his scruffy chin. “Table rods was metal, now they holding things, holding the faces. Pieces here and there. Used some leather, traded the rest for parts. Some tools up in the attic.”

“Oogclara doesn’t have any attics!”

The Inspector took a deep breath. Clearly Francisco had gone whacky. She should have seen it coming. But, maybe this wasn’t too hard of a fix. First, they’d have to clean up the mess he’d built in the room. They could bring in a few spare benches and tools from the metal workers—the Garfeiro and Spooner had plenty of backups. The other houses could volunteer someone to come around and act as the leatherer, spend the next few days cutting strips for show and bolting them into wood. How hard could it be?

“Here’s what we’re going to do,” she said, holding her chin high. “First, you dismantle whatever weird thing you’ve built. Whatever still looks functional, we’ll keep as set dressing. All the other stuff—those pictures you’ve been hoarding—we trash ‘em.”

Francisco sucked his teeth. “But, ya see, garbage day was yesterday. Nowhere to put it all.”

“Then we burn it.” She paced along the patio. “The existence of those photos is a legal and ethical snare. If I hurry, I can push a permit before our guest arrives. We burn the photos, salvage the usable materials, and toss whatever’s left in the kitchen. That just leaves getting new leather hides.”

“I like the faces.” Francisco looked off into the distance. “I’d like to keep ‘em.”

She stopped, looked into his simpleton face. She had to strain her neck. “Francisco, after all this defiance, you don’t get any special requests. Your only job was to care for this site. Easiest job in the world! Instead, you destroyed the whole workshop!”

“It weren’t being used.”

“Once you clean this mess, you need to start looking for somewhere else to stay.”

At this, the old man cried. He confessed that he had nowhere else to go, that he was sorry, that he would fix it and it would be like nothing had happened. It was pathetic, the Inspector thought. Nothing was more miserable than watching the elderly weep.

“I can get the leather back,” Francisco said softly. “I know who has some. I’d be back in a day.”

“What about that contraption?”

“I’ll come back in time to break it all down.” Tears funneled through the deep creases of his face. “I’ll come, I’ll have the—*sniff*—the leather, I’ll break it all down, and then—*sniff, snot*—and then we burn it all up.”

“All right, all right,” she conceded. “You win. Your old geezer guilt breaks my heart, I admit it. This is your only shot, though. It’ll take me a few days to get the permit anyhow. If you can fix this all up before the governor arrives, you stay. But we’ll be having a long talk afterward. We have rules for a reason. Things need to change around here.”

Francisco saw the Inspector off, then dried his eyes on his sleeve. Through all of his waterworks, he actually felt joy. More joy than he had in decades. His face folded nearly in half with a childish smile.

Francisco would become a ghost, and the Inspector would never see him again.


The Other Fran in the Story

The Inspector woke before her wife, as usual, pre-dawn, to make filtered coffee and pão na chapa. She brought the floral tray into their shared bedroom and brushed aside her wife’s hair knowing full well that she, an free-spirited woman who had never learned the meaning of the word “fidelity,” had spent the night out with whichever men or women pleased her.

The Inspector didn’t care. There was work to be done. She kissed her wife gently until she woke, then nurtured her wife’s hangover with buttered bread and sweetened cafe au lait.

The Inspector’s wife, Francielly (called “Fran” by all but her mother), made no apologies, and yet, sweet as an innocent flower, pleaded for the Inspector to outline her previous day—“leave nothing out!”— while she nibbled and sipped. The Inspector, as per ritual, told her everything: the governor was coming, Oogclara was unprepared, agroboys would fill the place with cow shit, and she’d be out of a job. If that happened, it would all be because of the stray dog they had let board at Leather House. She detailed the visit with Francisco.

Fran had been paying full attention—or at least half full. The stuff about the town was boring. But at the description of the miniature pictures in the Leather House workshop, her imagination sparkled. What was this machine? Whose faces were in the pictures? Did anyone know them? How many faces were there? She asked every possible question except the one the Inspector would have considered the most important: why?

“I don’t really know what it was all about, Fran. I didn’t have the time to inspect it.”

“Isn’t that your job?”

“It doesn’t matter anyway,” the Inspector said, buttoning a baby-blue long-sleeve and adjusting the collar. “I’m getting the burning permit today. Tomorrow night, the whole ugly thing’ll be gone.”

“Shame,” Fran sighed. “Oh! How about I come with you today? To Oogclara? Maybe I can... clean?”

“I’m not going there today, hun. Bureaucracy gets done in a real city.”

“Let me help! How can I help?” Fran leaped from bed and wrapped her arms around the Inspector. 

“You want to do a paperwork run with me?”

“Noooo... I wanna go to Oogclara. How can I help there?” Her soft brown eyes could melt any heart.

“All right, all right. You can be my errand boy.” The Inspector grabbed one of her thousands of large notepads and scribbled clean, simple instructions. “Here’s a list of the houses in Oogclara. Go to each one of them and check if they have the equipment needed to replenish the stuff at Leather House. They’ll know what I mean. Don’t lose this list—no phone service out there, and electricity doesn’t turn on till 8PM. ”

Fran squealed with joy and gave the Inspector a morning treat.

Meanwhile, the Spooner was bent over in his workshop, huffing angrily at a flat spoon, willing it to curve with his mind. He had spent all night pouring through his father’s merciless shorthand about metal alloys, furnace strength, caliper measuring techniques, cooling periods, methods of polish, and material price points. None of this helped him. His spoon was flat and brown and far too large. Somehow, he was worse now than when he had been while apprenticing. 

As the oldest of his two daughters walked in, his despair flickered into a lightbulb moment. Ah-ha! He would make his daughter his apprentice! And when the governor came, they would see anything she managed as a point of pride for the legacy of their craft. Perhaps the governor would even keep the spoon as a cute, one-of-a-kind souvenir! And, if the governor was truly interested in a perfect Oogclara spoon, there was always the gift shop.

Meanwhile, the Knifer was in his workshop, training his 12-year-old son to make knives. He snickered to himself about this brilliant idea which, he couldn’t know, was exactly the same as the Spooner’s.

Meanwhile, the Garfeiro was setting up a magic show. He, like the others, had tossed and turned all night thinking of a way to pass his inspection. Knives were so easy, just flat and sharp; likewise, spoons were just little bowls. Easy! But forks!? Four little tines! How do you separate those, anyway? What’s the first step? Oh, if only he had a kid he could foist this on! His wife firmly refused to help. 

Eventually, he knew his only course of action; he ran to the gift shop, awoke the managers, and borrowed a single fork from one of the manufactured sets on display. His plan was to follow the fork-making process as far as he could, and then, like a masterful magician, switch the bad fork with the good one. It couldn’t fail!

Meanwhile, the Woodcutter was setting up his workshop with his family of five. It was easy work, and done all too quickly. The family instructions were simple and clear. All he needed to do was buy some wood. He’d do it tomorrow. He’d buy the cheapest he could find and pocket the difference.

Meanwhile, the Carver had other plans. He understood the value of his land, and he knew there would be a big payout to whomever got deposed. He was nearly seventy. He was tired of being alone. He was ready to search for his estranged younger sister. Oogclara would better serve him as a cow field. Sure, the ability to carve the fine images had never left him; his hands were still lively and precise. But he determined to perform at his worst, to quicken the process.

Meanwhile, the Partitioner, who had no children, tried to hire the Spooner’s eldest daughter to be his apprentice. When he discovered that she had already been employed by the Spooner himself, he did the next best thing: he bribed the Spooner’s youngest daughter, age ten. She accepted.


Now I’m a Believer

Fran arrived lazily in the afternoon, literally dancing down the cobblestone path of Oogclara in a tight, beige sleeveless dress—the kind that hugged her thin thins and curvy curves, yet was breezy and loose—and flip-flops, listening to Brazilian funk from the tinny speaker of the phone in her purse.

She had no issues talking to the artisans and their families. They welcomed her, absorbed her energy, embraced her new-ness. They couldn’t believe the stodgy, overbearing Inspector had a wife so lively and young, so Carmen Miranda and not Getulio Vargas. They pushed snacks on her, they gave her book recommendations, they begged her for stories of the city, they hugged her as she samba-ed to the each house on the list. After every visit, she was sent off with a shot of the family’s privately aged cachaça, laughing.

It was a great day for Fran, who, with no ambitions and not a worry in the world, had only the passion of seeing a million faces. Each new face was an experience. It didn’t matter if they were loveable or abhorrent, beautiful or ugly, in front of her or on top of her. Give her a face and she would never be bored.

In terms of job efficacy, she couldn’t be beaten. Everyone she met promised to help refurnish Leather House’s workshop, to the point where she had to start turning some of them down. “No, I already have three benches lined up,” she’d giggle, “and forty-five hammers!”

A blanket of post-noon rain drove her under a leafy courbaril for shelter, but it was no use. Rains like this could happen every day. The killer heat boiled all vapor until it accumulated so heavily, it must fall. And fell it did, with the thickness of oil. She couldn’t see more than seven meters in any direction. The weight of the water pressed her down. Her dress stuck to her, and her feet stained red as clay bubbled up from the grass. She took off her flip-flops and ran straight on, wild, enjoying the shower.

At Leather House, she leaped over the white fence and beat at the door. No answer. There was no awning, either. Whomever built these houses, she thought, had no idea what Brazil was like. Maybe there was a door in the back. 

As she turned off the wooden patio, her foot snagged on the mandatory rain boots, firmly fastened, tipping her into the soaking grass, spilling all the contents of her purse into a red-earth puddle. She laughed.

Her dress was as good as ruined, so she took it off. She could ring it out later. It didn’t bother Fran at all that, due to her lifestyle and her lack of planning, she had no underwear. She wadded her dress into her purse, flopped it all on the patio, and stomped naked through the torrent, searching. There was no back door, but the window to the workshop was wide open. She slid inside like a duck diving for minnows.

She trailed her hand along the wall, guiding herself in the dark. The light switch wouldn’t work. She called out, but no one answered.

She managed to find her way out of the workshop and into the living room, where the larger windows made it a bit easier to see. A thick shirt hung from a hook in the rafters, just low enough for her to reach. She put it on, practically climbing into it. In the kitchen, she managed to light the gas stove and start a pot of water. The rain drummed the roof, tom tom kick tom hi-hat, as she made herself at home—a pour-over coffee, a BIS cookie, a soft couch cushion, a thin blanket from the bedroom. Opening the front curtains let in a bit more of the fading evening light, and showed the thick clouds swimming above the stumpy trees and grassy, serrated hills.

Fran awoke a few hours later to the sound of a printer. It was coming from the workshop.

The interior of the workshop was even harder to see with the sun down. The only light was a blinking green from a small printer on the floor. It must have turned on by itself. Fran searched for the light switch again. This time, it worked.

The workshop lit like a Christmas tree, hard-edged yellows and oranges and reds and blues lining the wood-paneled floor and boarded ceiling, a series of dark, glistening poles connecting top and bottom. It was like a quiet night under the stars, but with soft rainbows mixed in. There were wheels upon wheels of some sort of plastic strips, stringing around the room, converging near the far wall where two large spotlights made them glow. Fran couldn’t believe her eyes. Each of the strips were made of square after square of faces, each face unique, each staring back at her in miniature from some unknown past. There were women with straight hair, curly hair, brown hair, dyed hair. Mothers and daughters. Fathers and sons and grandsons. A businessman balancing a cigarette loosely on his lip. A student, pug-nosed, glasses, scratching her neck. A boy wearing a Mighty Ducks baseball cap. Each of the little images was like a spirit, a presence—or, no, it was the opposite. Fran was the spirit, looking into the frozen moments of these little lives.

There was a lever to her right, fashioned from a fire poker and strips of leather. She pulled once, unlocking a hammer-handle crank, which she began rotating clockwise. The strips started moving, some left, some right, all seven of them simultaneously. The whole house shook with it, an electric hum like fan motors, the wheels spinning on all sides of her. The film-reel faces whizzed by. As she cranked, time flowed. Trends came and went, haircuts, jewelry, snacks, fashion, naivete, wisdom. People of all ages and all creeds lined up in perfect little squares, little windows.

It was the most magical thing she had ever seen. It could save Oogclara.


Three Days Remain

The next evening, the entirety of Oogclara crowded the living room and kitchen of Leather House, sweatily awaiting nightfall so they could view the mysterious face museum.

“This man is a creepy pervert,” said the Spooner. “What other reason to take pictures of strangers for thirty years?”

“Maybe he just did it out of boredom. We all get bored.” The Partitioner was juggling a paper cup of Guarana and three mini-coxinhas nested in his napkin-ed hand. His Guarana had been spiked with vodka, a secret everyone knew.

“This is history,” said the old Registrar, “that’s the way I see it. Yep, old Francisco here, he’s been logging the history of Oogclara, much like we have with the registry. And what are we if not a town of history?”

“This isn’t history,” spouted the Carver. He held tightly to his secret vow to sabotage the town. “Names are different than unlawful pictures!”

“They are,” agreed Fran, sliding into the middle of the room. She had set this meeting up herself, flying through town half naked and full wet. No one in town refused her. However, after she had gotten home, it took a great deal of talk, and a greater deal of ear nibbling, to convince the Inspector to give Francisco’s pet project a second look. She organized a small bit of catering—miniature coxinhas, brigadeiros, cookies, bags of chips (potato and tortilla), soda, wine—and spent the day making Leather House into a small exhibit. She still wore Francisco’s clothing, as if to blend in. “I agree. Names are simpler than pictures, less intimate. The registry is just data. This, however, is art, my friends! Can’t you see it?”

“I don’t understand.”

“The fact that you don’t understand is what makes it art,” Fran retorted. Her toothy smile seemed to ease a few of the dissenters.

But the Carver wasn’t swayed by her charms. “To call it art would be to call Francisco an artist. Seeing as we have had the displeasure of knowing him, and you have not, I can inform you, young lady, that Francisco is not an artist. It’s like the Partitioner said: boredom is the culprit!”

“You yourself should know that art is judged by the product, not the artist,” said the Woodcutter. “After all, your fine carving work has been considered art long before you were born. The art, in this case, predates the artist.”

The Carver scowled with such heat that the Woodcutter immediately dismissed himself to the bathroom.

“Art takes many forms," said the Garfeiro’s wife.

“How, I ask you, is a picture of a tourist art?”

“You’ll have to wait and see,” Fran assured everyone with a wave of her wine glass. “It’s almost dark. We’ll be able to enjoy the display soon, and you’ll all be glad I brought you here.”

Ten minutes of drinks and snacks went by, restless murmurs becoming restless barks. After the Partitioner’s fourth vodka-Guarana, he was forced to sit on the sofa next to the Spooner’s daughters, if for no other reason than to stop him from bumping into people.

“What’s the implication, even?” the Partitioner said a little too loudly to the youngest daughter. “Like, legally? What’s the implication?”

“The... impulcashun?”

“These tourists didn’t consent, did they?”

“Hm. Very true. In fact, they signed papers expressly forbidding it,” the Registrar agreed reluctantly. “No photography allowed... as far as... well, as far as they knew.”

The Carver wasn’t going to miss his chance to come back on the offensive. “They had no idea their picture was even taken! This is highly unethical!”

The Spooner, who had had nothing to say since his first remark, felt primed to repeat it: “This man is a creepy pervert. That’s all there is to it. Voyeurism!”

The room exploded into arguments.

Fran’s phone alarm played a song by Anitta. The living room and kitchen lights flickered to life. Fran’s eyes lit as well. She danced to the workshop door, set her glass of wine carelessly on the floor, and held the knob with theatrical anticipation. “Enough talking. I can’t wait to just... show you!”

Inside was a nighttime festival of lights and streamers. Fran had fancied it even further with cloth carnations and peonies, plastic orchids and dandelions, strings of fairy lights, wings of tissue paper. All of it, by itself, was a sight to behold, a shrine that brought about feelings of raw nature, but with all the safety and comfort of home. And to Fran’s credit, the Inspector thought to herself, it didn’t distract; rather, she had added to the strange machine in a way that covered its dusty, oblong mechanisms. The focus was guided, almost supernaturally, to the center-back wall where, as before, seven strips of cracker-sized images hovered.

The little crowd squeezed in. One by one they inspected the room, inspected the photos. A couple of the wives couldn’t help but ooh, and then ahh.

“I recognize these three,” said the lady from the gift shop, careful not to press her finger too hard against the second strip. “Funny group. Friends from the University of São Paulo, passing through for a big post-graduation trip. So full of life. Left an impression, didn’t it?”

“Sure did,” her husband agreed. “I wonder if we could find our very first customer here.”

The Spooner crouched with his daughters, laughing at people on the lowest strip. The Woodcutter took control of the crank, pushing forward or backward through time upon request. The Inspector stayed near the back of the room with her arm wrapped around Fran, fighting a cautious smile.

The Carver wasn’t having it, however. He refused to look, set on its destruction. “We already have the burning permit, isn’t that right? Let’s get this over with before it expires.”

“But, you gotta see this,” said the Spooner, “I think I found you down here!” His wife and daughters giggled and pointed.

“Can’t be. I never took a tour, I live here.”

“Must be you.” This time it was the Woodcutter, leaning against his cane. “Or else a twin.”

The Carver made his way through and, despite an aching back and weak knees, bent down to see the lowest strip. And there it was. A picture of him, thirty years younger. Next to him, in the neighboring square, his beloved sister, whom he hadn’t seen since she left. It was her last day before running away to find a better life. The Carver had convinced her to take the tour, hoping it would convince her to stay. They hugged, kissed cheeks, and she disappeared along her own path. Yet here, in this strip, history stayed alive, frozen, her and him side by side, younger and dumber.

Fran helped the Carver to his feet and wiped his wet cheeks as she escorted him to the sofa outside.

They each took turns fighting over the wheel, searching through faces, admiring the old fashions, pinpointing friends who had come to visit, musing over personalities. The Partitioner managed to find his grandson, son, himself, his father, and his grandfather all in that brief window where they were still alive, each image set next to each other like a stack of IDs. The Knifer’s son found his grandmother, alive and well in a moment ten years before he was born, looking almost like another person entirely.

Fran gathered everyone back into the living room and closed the workshop ceremoniously.

The Registrar had been taking notes. He determined that if he cross-referenced this to his records, they could make a guide that dictated how many turns clockwise or counter-clockwise were needed in order to find different months and years. “We could calculate the time the Brazilian president visited,” he said with dawning excitement. “Or even better, Ayrton Senna! That could be part of the attraction. People could spin through history themselves looking for celebrities or or or family members... and then add themselves... for a fee!”

“So, you like it?” Fran was glowing.

Everyone groveled. They had seen the magic—and if not the magic, the money. Fran bowed deeply as if on stage. “It took me all day!”

The Inspector, too, was feeling better about this plan. But it wasn’t in her nature to take a gift without questioning it. Through all of this, where had Francisco gone? Was he out recollecting leather, like he had promised? Why wasn’t he back yet? And why hadn’t he dismantled his machine? Had he gone missing? Had he run away? This troubled her, yet she couldn’t deny herself the pleasures of the current atmosphere, the mystique, the overall good cheer. For the first time since the Inspector had taken this position, Oogclara felt like a living community. And she took no small amount of personal pride that it was her darling Francielly that had brought Oogclara back to life.

The Inspector no longer had any doubt. In a few days time, they’d be saved.


The Governor Arrives

The governor signed his name in the registry and followed the Inspector and the Registrar along the cobblestone path into Oogclara. Each stride was accompanied by an inane factoid about the town’s history—“these stones were shipped from a quarry in France in 1892”; “that jackfruit tree is the largest tree in the valley”; “Oogclara’s city limits are undefined in the municipal records”; “Caetano Veloso wrote a song in this very spot, inspired by the valley air and midday sun, but felt the tune belonged to Oogclara, so he never released it.”

“Is it true?” The governor was pointing to the only piece of signage in sight, white and blue: Photos Not Allowed. “Not even the visitors?”

The Inspector coughed. “Erm, well, n-no... no, it’s not allowed, but... let’s move on for now.”

The Spooner’s eldest daughter put on quite the show, sweating and wincing in the heat of the midsize forge. She hammered and cooled, hammered and cooled, measured and filed, measured and filed. She had several spoons already made, each at a different stage so that she could demonstrate within the hour how the full process might look. She moved gracefully from the filing to the buffing to the finishing, all while her father proudly explained how to bring a piece of cutlery to a professional shine. The end result was shineless. The eldest daughter, so excited by the end, gifted the twisted and scratched finger of metal to the governor in silk cloth. He had no choice but to carry it with him to the next house.

The Knifer provided much the same experience, his son as the apprentice. The governor, obligated by the precedent, accepted the knife as well. He slid this into his pocket without any worry of being cut.

The Garfeiro did the work himself, notably sloppier, notably quicker. Yet, somehow,  he provided an exceptional fork that surprised everyone as it fell out of his sleeve. The Garfeiro even said “ta-daaaaa!” and tipped his tophat. When wrapped with the other cutlery, the fork stuck out like an orchid in a weed patch.

The Woodcutter was the first among them to display skill. Even the governor, who knew nothing about working with his hands, could see the difference in how the Woodcutter measured each piece, slid them along the benches, sawed through them with experience and precision. The Woodcutter personally carried the pieces to their next stop.

In fact, they had accumulated quite a retinue. Every time the governor and Inspector finished at a house he would leave with another piece of the cutlery set and another piece of the community itself. Select metalworkers stayed behind to extinguish their furnaces, but even they eventually caught up, so that by the time the group reached Carver House there were twenty heads and thirty-nine feet (the Woodcutter had only one leg).

The Carver, an older gentleman, had all of the grace and demeanor of a tired bull. He said very little, did nothing to impress his guests, and complained that the wood itself was too cheap. Soft sections of the wood splintered and peeled. He cursed, he threw blades at the Woodcutter’s head, he wiped his neck with a faded rag. In the end, the Carver managed a skillful design along the bottom despite a few necessary deviations to the traditional print.

The Partitioner barked orders at his own apprentice, the Spooner’s youngest daughter. She locked pieces together, almost straight. It was a shame that the wood itself seemed brittle, and smelled a bit like algae. One of her bolts fell out as if the wood itself were rebelling. The Partitioner then sprayed the box with varnish and set it to dry in a heated container.

The governor thumbed through his smartphone. His secretary had added a short list of notes to help guide him through the tour. There should be one more workshop and a gift shop. And then, he thought, a miserable two-hour drive back to blessed civilization.

“One more stop,” he said, placing his three eating utensils into the crooked cutlery holder.

“Leather House. Just beyond that courbaril.” The Inspector straightened her tie and launched into the next part of her prepared speech. “Historically, that’s where the leatherer would cut strips and bolt them on as a handle. This is an indicator of class that separates it from your average cutlery holder. The handle allows the house staff to easily bring it to and from the dining table, as needed. It’s an elegant sight.” 

“I look forward to it,” the governor lied.

The Inspector wiped her forehead. “Yes, well. That was the original history. We have something a little... different planned, at the moment. Something unique.”


“We even got a special permit to turn on the electricity.”

The governor was surprised. He had no idea they needed a permit for electricity. What else was missing in his notes, he wondered.


Facing the Faces of the Past

At Leather House, the whole village and the governor were greeted by the lovely vision of Fran, young and cheery and full of song and dance. She guided them in, glowing brown eyes and bright teeth. She wore a long-sleeve button-up shirt like a dress, cinched with a belt, both articles of clothing having belonged to Francisco, who was still missing in action. She had even gone so far as to free the decorative rain boots from their patio imprisonment—they happened to be just her size!—despite the Inspector’s insistence that they should stay within regulations as much as possible. But there was no stopping her. Fran clomped between the kitchen and living room, delivering snacks and drinks and cheek kisses to anyone and everyone.

“This is a good deal more welcoming than the other houses,” said the governor, eyeing Fran from head to boot. “What’s the idea here?”

“We have something brilliant prepared,” Fran said with a little spin.

“And who are you?”

“This is Fran.” The Inspector wore a tight smile. “I hope it’s alright if she takes the reins for this next part.”

The governor glanced at the notes on his phone. Fran.. Fran..? Francisco, the leatherer. He was expecting a man. Oh, well, at least she was stunning. He was already planning where he might invite her for the weekend. “Let’s see what you’ve got, young lady.”

A sense of pride grew among the townsfolk as Fran led him to the workshop door. 

The door opened. The lights activated. A hum, a glow, a bloom of color. The governor handed his custom-made Oogclara cutlery holder to the Spooner’s youngest daughter. He stepped in.

“What... is... all this?”

“Here,” Fran swept her slender arm around the room, “we have Oogclara’s history. See these strips? Each panel is a person—a real face—every visitor for the last 30 years!”

“W-what about the leather equipment?”

“Unfortunately, that part had to go”—Fran fanned her arm again, like a wing, like a gentle wave, like a wizard casting a spell—“to make room for this!”

“But... how do the boxes get finished? Who puts on the handles?”

“Oh. Well...” The Inspector hesitated. She could sense the governor’s attitude souring. “You see, we outsource that to a little factory in the city. Your father approved it, before he retired. Didn’t you know?”

The governor’s face twisted as he scrolled through his notes.

“Very authentic craftsmanship!” the Knifer yipped from the living room. “We sell them in the gift shop for a—for a large profit margin.”

“It’s our biggest source of income,” the gift shop owners agreed.

“Let me get this straight. You show off every step of this process, but don’t actually make anything?”

The Carver, feeling the axe about to fall, stepped forward. “Truth be told, sir, we don’t even do that much. The showing off was just for today. You were the exception.”

“Why, you sellout!” The Spooner grabbed the Carver by his shoulder. “We work hard to keep this village alive!”

“You call that hard work? Hiring your children to butcher the craft? I saw that spoon. So flat syrup wouldn’t stick to it. No one could even hold it squarely, I swear on my name.”

“The cutlery holders of Oogclara are not meant for the hands,” the Garfeiro intervened, directing his words toward the governor. His voice took on a flowery affectation. He imagined himself still as a magician performing the spell of the sell. “The cutlery holders of Oogclara are for the eyes, sir. For the sensibilities. The sophisticated man keeps his Oogclara cutlery locked safely behind display glass in an ornate, hand-carved hutch, befriended by crystal champagne flutes and bone china.”

The governor put his hand to his forehead and sighed. “Well, I guess that ends the tour.”

The crowd erupted into pleas. The Spooner’s daughters got teary, the eldest running to the bathroom and locking herself inside.

Fran, calm, swam through the small crowd like a fish and locked her deep brown lenses with the governor’s. She held his fingers in both hands. “You can’t see the beauty. The room is too well lit right now. The lights don’t have the same magical effect they do at night. Come closer.” She eased her hand around his waist and pulled him toward the display strips. “The pictures themselves are worth the attraction. 30 years of patronage, my friend. History at our fingertips. Someone, shut the door.” The door closed. “See, Mr. Governor? Take a moment. Breathe in the people, all their unique faces.”

The governor bent down, inspected the top strip. Then the second-to-top. Then the third. He wiggled the handle a little, saw the images move. Fran gave him soft-voiced instructions, her hand on top of his, guiding his movement. He spun the wheel three full rotations, stopped, looked at each strip again, bottom to top. He straightened, turning to the cramped, quieted crowd. He frowned.

“But... they’re all so... bored.”

No one made a sound. The Inspector immediately started sweating. 

“I saw my father in there,” the Partitioner said, shuffling his feet. “It was like a time machine, seeing him like that.”

“You don’t have pictures of him at home?” The governor waited for a reply, but none came. “They’re all bored, dammit! You can see it on their faces!”

This time the Registrar spoke up. He advertised the registry, the math he used, the amount of turns it might take to go forward and backward through the months and years; you could find celebrities using the registry, or loved ones. 


The governor nabbed the registry. Pages fluttered like butterfly wings under the soft blues and reds of the fairy lights. He pointed at a name. The Registrar nodded. The instructions required them to turn the handle 17 times clockwise and inspect the third strip. The registrar rotated the crank carefully until, at last, the desired square was centered in the spotlight.

“Ha!” the governor bellowed. “Look at that! It’s me! As a kid!”

The group let out a cautious chuckle.

“Look, see? I was brought here as a child, ten years old, look at it.” Everyone in the room crowded around breathily, oohs and ahhs. There he was, the governor, small, smooth-skinned, big-eared, dark-haired.

“That’s you alright!” agreed the Carver, too caught up in the spectacle to remember his mission. “Just a kid, look at that!”

“I had the same experience,” said the Knifer’s wife.

“Who’s that in the other picture?” asked Fran. “He looks just like you.”

“That’s my uncle,” the governor said with pride. “God, I loved that man. And he had a soft spot for Oogclara, you know. The only reason my father never sold this place was... because of my uncle. I remember now. Rest in peace.”

“Rest in peace,” the Inspector murmured, miming a cross over her chest for the first time in her life.

“And look at my expression! Right next to him!”

The crowd leaned in even closer, all touching, eyes squinted.

“I’ve never been more bored in my life!” The governor began laughing. “I remember now: the excruciating walk through this dull husk of a town. It was just like today. Nothing’s changed. Every aspect of everything and everyone here is a bore. Look, there’s zero life in my eyes. Haha! I almost killed myself forty minutes ago waiting for that varnish to dry!”

“Please, think of how this might interest visitors,” the Inspector said. She was getting desperate. “We can even charge to add their own picture. That would be extra revenue for—”

“No,” the governor interrupted, wiping a joyful tear from his eye. “Pocket change. This is nothing but evidence. All of these bored faces are proof that this town should have been flattened decades ago. It’s no wonder tourism is so low! Showing anyone these photos will only guarantee they understand what a waste of time and money this all has been. I should have sold this place off the minute my uncle passed away.”

The Inspector made another cross. “Rest in peace.”

“It’s still too bright. You have to see it at night,” Fran insisted. She was chasing the governor as he walked out of the house. “It’s magical!

“I wish you would have shown me this from the start, it would have saved me a lot of time. Now it’s abundantly clear that this land is of no use to the city in its current form. I suggest all of you start planning ahead.”

The governor had only made it a few steps off the patio when he heard a soft, child-like voice.

“S-sir, don’t forget to take this with you.”

The governor stopped, turned. The Spooner’s youngest daughter held the cutlery holder on her flat palms, raised above her little head, like a gift to the gods. That gift was a crooked box with blistered edges and malformed chunks of metal inside. The governor couldn’t contain himself. He burst into laughter once more.

That laughter echoed through the valley as he disappeared along the cobblestone.


Oogclara’s History

“Well,” Fran said, kicking off the old rain boots and changing from Francisco’s too-big shirt to a slim beige dress, “that was fun while it lasted.”

Fran danced away from Leather House, the Inspector droopily in tow. No one had the spirit to muster a complaint, or even a word of goodbye. They all sank back to their residences, uncertain, fogged, disappointed.

Leather House emptied, and stayed that way for another hour or so until the sun disappeared behind the horizon. And then the clock struck 8PM. The room glowed brighter, magically—as Fran had promised—in the nighttime. Beautiful colors and shadows, the photos shimmering and sparkling. 

Francisco eased his weary body out from his makeshift attic. He unloaded his cameras. Water bottles and food packages flopped and floated to the floor as a thin rope ladder unfurled. He stretched, used the toilet, and got to work. 

He connected his computers and printers and laminators—all the meticulous preparations he had done time and time again. A total of 25 people had come and gone into his little workshop over the past few days, and now he had to choose the best pictures, the clearest and most evocative. Seven hours were spent sorting, printing, cutting, laminating, and, finally, connecting the cracker-sized photographs precisely onto the spool of images that coiled all around him.

He looked at each face in the spotlight. Some were happy, some angry, some disgusted. The Inspector was in awe, pure awe. The Spooner was concentrating. The Knifer was giggling. The Garfeiro was gasping. The Woodcutter was wincing. The Carver was snarling. The Partitioner was fighting off tears. The governor, near the end of it all, had a complex mixture of emotions—twinges of a smirk, smugness, disdain, joy at seeing exactly what he needed to see in order to make the decision he was going to make anyway. 

Importantly, none of them were bored. Not one.

Francisco attached a picture of himself, half smiling, half sad. He was gaunt, faded. His clear eyes didn’t so much sparkle as sputter. He was a ghost. It was the final piece. His monstrous photo album was complete.

“Well,” Francisco said to himself, dismantling the machine, unraveling the spools, “it was fun while it lasted.”

He then burned the pictures, for they no longer had use to him, and at least burning things was something to do.

A year later, there was no Oogclara. Just a field full of cows.


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