Ansel Adams’ Eyebrows
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Ansel Adams (no relation to the famed photographer) lay on the cold, marble floor, bathed in sweat. The bank’s other customers lay all around him, some shaking, some whimpering, all terrified of the heavily-armed robbers standing above them. Ansel wasn’t sweating in fear of the robbers, though, at least not directly.

Most of his life, he’d struggled to master a “gift” (as his mother had called it), or a “curse” (the term the parish priest had used). For twenty-five years, he’d fought for control, always unsuccessfully, always paying the price in the end―ever since that first fateful day on the playground...


Suzy Greene had been her name, a pudgy little girl with bright red pigtails. They’d been in the same kindergarten class for months but had never spoken or played together, each having their own friends. That day in early October had been a windy one; Suzy had been wearing a short, plaid dress, and, while playing on the jungle gym, her dress had blown up, exposing what Ansel thought must have been an uncomfortable (if not painful) “wedgie.” Without thinking and out of a desire to help, he’d done just what he would have done for himself. Though he’d been a good ten feet away at the time, he reached out as if to grasp the elastic of Suzy’s Wonder Woman Underoos and...

Suzy’s yelp startled the entire class. She immediately whipped around, expecting to see someone standing behind her―only to find Ansel standing at the far end of the play area, his hands clenched outward as if clutching the bottom edge of something and pulling down. Not knowing what to do, he’d smiled and waved, causing her to immediately break into a loud fit of tears.

Ansel turned and ran as far away as he could, all the way to the other side of the playground, not really understanding what had happened. He’d understand eventually, though, when it happened again...and again...and again. And he would never forget that day on the playground.


That night, after he arrived home from school visibly upset, his mother asked him what had happened, and he’d told her. She hadn’t believed him, of course, at least not at first. It wasn’t until she made him prove it (and unintentionally taught him what a “girdle” was) that she began to appreciate his “gift.” She immediately carted him off to Mass, where their priest also demanded proof (inadvertently teaching him what “boxers” were). The priest, upon regaining his composure, had labeled Ansel’s “gift” a “curse.”

Hours later, after more time spent with the priest and then the bishop―followed by the application of what seemed like gallons of holy water―Ansel vowed never to speak of his ability again.


Years passed. He grew older, from a child to an adolescent, then an adolescent to an adult. He never outgrew his ability, though. An uncomfortable wiggle, a surreptitious hand gesture, and his ability instinctively intervened, trying to help just as he’d tried to help little Suzy on that playground, many years before. No matter how hard he tried, his “gift” always proved beyond his control. So he decided to hide it as best as he could.

He swore off pool parties at a young age, never forgiving whoever had invented the Speedo. He also swore off gymnastics tournaments and football games. And while control of his ability constantly eluded him, he eventually learned to control his appearance, developing a poker face that would serve him well in college. He also learned to restrain his hand movements so that, by the time he was in high school, the only indication of his reflexive ability was an odd movement of his eyebrows...almost as if they were reaching up to pull something down.

He even managed to reconcile himself to it, learning to shrug off the squeals and curses as a part of life, an almost natural occurrence that didn’t really hurt anyone and certainly wasn’t a matter of life and death.


The fates were laughing at him, mocking him from the heavens. He could feel the extent of their hysterical amusement to the marrow of his bones.

Ansel wondered for a moment what the other customers must have thought of him, falling immediately to the floor, face-down, before the robbers could even yell out their instructions. They probably thought him terrified at the least, a complete coward at the worst. And perhaps they were right. He was terrified, after all. Though it hadn’t been the guns he’d been hiding his face from.

One glance―one quick glimpse, that’s all he’d seen, all he could afford to see. In that moment, his mind registered the guns, the ski masks, and the black clothing...the tight, black, polyester clothing.

To look could spell certain doom, he knew. So he did the only other thing he could. He hid his face, hoping against hope that the robbery would end, the robbers would leave, and the only people he’d be at risk of offending would be a bank teller or two.

As the minutes ticked by, he heard the robbers moving from teller window to teller window, heard them yelling loudly at the tellers, heard the terrified tears of human beings staring down the barrels of guns. Still, he knew he couldn’t look.

When it happened, it was as instinctive as always. The closest teller’s heart-wrenching sobs forced him to look up. As hard as he tried, he couldn’t help himself. The need he perceived in her sobs had him lifting his head, turning to look in her direction, and finding himself staring squarely at the skintight-clad derriere of a plus-three hundred-pound man, a man who, Ansel couldn’t help but notice, appeared to be wearing a thong.

The robber, holding a menacing Glock 9 millimeter with what must have been a hair trigger, spun away from the teller exclaiming, “WHAT THE FU....” At the exact moment that the gun went off, Ansel also noticed a S.W.A.T. team entering the bank, an image he was extremely grateful for, as he’d have hated it if the last thing he’d seen had been that thong!

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