By Beth Boyle Machlan

June 29, 2020


My father decided he wanted an airview, a photograph of our summer home taken from a tiny plane on a clear, bright day. In these pictures, the skies are always blue and the houses have been carefully groomed like children for class pictures – no cars in the drive, no toys in the yard or towels on the rail, flowerboxes full, no pets, no people.

We were told to be invisible for an hour while the plane sailed overhead to see and show what we owned: our square of land, our box of house, our thin brown path to the sea. I don’t remember now where we waited for the plane to pass. Are we deep in the picture, away from the windows, doing the mean, messy things all houses try to hide? Are the cars in the garage, or did we drive out of the frame, as we would a few years later, for good?

In the shot I still have, you can see windows, not rooms, doors, not hallways, colors neat and flat as paper, uncomplicated ground. I don’t know why this man took these particular pictures, which seemed to require no gift – he didn’t hover like a hummingbird to take the house by surprise, to catch it in in some characteristic pose, to make us say “Yes, that is what our house is really like.” He simply flew overhead and took a picture we now point to and say, “See, there we are, absent and perfect.”


Beth Boyle Machlan teaches expository writing at New York University. She is working on a book of essays about real estate. 


Photo provided courtesy of the author

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