The Audition by Caroline Galdi

THE AUDITION
Caroline Galdi

 

Amanda’s violin complemented her. It seemed the perfect size, as if it had been made for the space under her chin. “It fits you so well,” I’d told her once. “You could be, like, a violin model.”

She’d shrugged at this comment and continued to hash out another peal of scales. Amanda was always practicing. “Five hours a day,” she’d told me when I asked. “But that’s a minimum, you know? If I have time I’ll practice more.”

The scholarship competition was today, at a college half an hour away, and her parents were busy, so I’d offered to drive her there.  She’d told me not to bother watching her perform, but I insisted.

“Don’t you want moral support?”

“Moral support? Really?”

“Sure. I mean, you’re gonna do great, though. You don’t even need moral support.”

She rolled her eyes. “Then don’t watch me, ‘cause I’m gonna suck. I haven’t practiced this enough.”

“You already practice a hundred million hours,” I said, turning into the parking lot. “And you’re good at this. You’re talented.”

“I mean I’m not really, but thanks,” she said, staring out at the gridlock of cars. “I guess.”

She was so modest.

 

The college had practice rooms. Tiny, windowless closets. A muffled cacophony came through the walls: the clamor of piano keys, the high-pitched whistle of flutes, the low rumble of basses. I lounged on the piano bench in the room Amanda had taken, picking absentmindedly at the peeling layer of black nylon to reveal a layer of sickly yellow foam.

She pointed at a key on the upright piano (“That’s A,” she said, “no, not the black one. The white one. There.”) and asked me to press it again and again while she plucked at each string, listening carefully and making tiny turns to the scroll pegs. I droned the A, watching how intent she looked as she tuned. I felt good about this—I was helping her tune. I was supporting her.

“Stop,” she told me. “Piano’s out of tune.” She pulled up an app on her phone and had it play an electronic tone for her, and tuned to that instead. I returned to picking at the patch of exposed foam, which looked kind of like a map of what Florida might look like if sea level rose a few feet.

“How do you know it’s out of tune?”

She shrugged. “I have a pretty good ear. It’s just something you learn to do.”

I wondered what it was like to have such a deep connection with the music. It must be spiritual, I figured. Or sexual. Could playing an instrument turn you on? Weren’t there vibrations? I’d once known some Modest Mouse songs on guitar, but all I remembered was getting blisters on my fingers.  

She picked up her bow, drew tone after tone out of the violin’s hollow body; long, keening cries. I marveled at the concentration in her petite face. We were the same age, but I dwarfed Amanda. It wasn’t hard: at five foot one, she was shorter than an upright bass. And dressed up in her tidy black dress and stockings, with her straight brown hair drawn back into an immaculate bun, she seemed like a doll.

She spent ten minutes on scales, each one of them an immaculate staircase, the notes running on tiptoes to the heaven and then back down like so many ballerinas. “Why do you have to practice those?” I said. “You obviously know them already.”

“If I don’t practice them, they’ll get worse.” Her answer was terse; her chin moved against the chin rest when she spoke.  

“Pff. No, it’s like riding a bike.” The bald patch on the piano bench grew bigger. I peeled away another thin strip of vinyl.

Amanda removed her violin from her chin and, holding it by her side, turned to face me. “Oh, so you can still play guitar?”

“Well, no, but I don’t have that talent. You have talent. That’s something that can never leave you, Amanda. You’re always gonna know the music, deep in your soul.”

She rolled her eyes and looked away, raising the instrument to play once again. “You really don’t get it. You’re saying runners shouldn’t stretch before a race because they already know how.”

“Okay, okay, point taken.” Amanda had to have the lowest self-esteem of anyone I knew, besides myself. How could you be so talented and not know it? Had no one ever told her before how special she was? How unique?

I was silent for a while as she began to run through her audition piece. God, she sounded like someone in a movie.

“The beginning’s still out of tune,” she griped, and I couldn’t help smiling at her. How was she so humble? How could she nit-pick herself for flaws like this? Couldn’t she see that she was making music?

 

Amanda was scheduled to go backstage in five minutes.  “God, I’m just—I haven’t practiced this enough. I really haven’t.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked. The patch of foam was nearly the size of my palm now. “You practice five hours a day, Amanda. You’re going to do fine.”

“I haven’t gotten the cadenza up to tempo. The cadenza’s the most important part, and if I mess up the cadenza, I’m toast.” She’d been playing the cadenza for the last ten minutes. It sounded fine to me.

“But you’re talented,” I said. “Can’t you see it? You’re just… overflowing, spilling with talent. And that innate talent is going to come out just at the right moment, and the judges are all going to see how good you are and they’re going to be left speechless. Believe me.” I smiled. I didn’t have many chances to give motivational speeches, but I decided I was pretty good at them.

Amanda’s frown contorted further into a scowl. “You don’t get it,” she said. “You don’t get it at all!” And she stormed out of the practice room, leaving me alone, wondering what I’d said wrong.

 

I thought it was so beautiful, the way musicians experienced music. One time my buddy Mark and I were listening to Animal Collective while we were high, and I kept waiting for it to click. Mark got really into it, but I couldn’t. I mean, it was pretty cool, I guess. But I didn’t hear stuff the way musicians did. It was all just sound to me.  

Anyway, Amanda had some kind of connection with the music. Something deep in her soul. I could see it when she played, and I knew, I knew she just needed to—to tune in. To tune into that connection. She was too uptight, too insecure. But I believed in her.  

I took a seat in the back of the auditorium where the auditions were happening. There were only a few people in the auditorium: parents, mostly. There were a few people set up right in the middle, towards the front. They were all making marks on identical clipboards. I figured they were the judges.

The kid up first was okay, but he wasn’t really feeling the music like I knew Amanda would. He still sounded good, though. All that stuff sounds good to me.

He left, and I started to clap until I realized nobody else was. It was just dead silence in that auditorium, me and my loud hands and those judges and the big arching ceiling overhead. Then Amanda walked onstage.

I tried to give her a big two-thumbs-up, but she didn’t seem to see. She lifted her bow and began to play: long, mournful tones, thin as tightrope-wire. Every note warbled breathily. She closed her eyes, but I kept mine open, fixated on this tiny figure on the stage drawing such power from her instrument. She and the violin were one: I could feel it.

The piece became more frenzied, and her tiny face screwed up in concentration, bidding phrase after phrase to rise from her instrument. Then, she began to ascend: this was the cadenza. I recognized it. The strings seemed to vibrate into the stratosphere, all the way up, and Amanda’s fingers crept closer and closer up the board, higher and faster until—

until there was a noise like a very tiny chair scraping across a very tiny floor. She frowned, and tried again, going back down a few notes to make the ascent. The noise came again. I saw her lips move and her tiny, perfect eyebrows furrow.

She resumed playing, moving past the broken spot. The cadenza ended, and then, in its time, the piece. Amanda walked off the stage. There was silence. I felt my hands curl up where they rested on my knees.

 

I met back up with Amanda in the lobby, where audition hopefuls still milled about. She was staring resolutely at a spot on the floor. “You sounded great!” I told her.

“Shut up,” she said. “I ruined it.”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” I said as we began walking back to the parking lot. “You were really, really good.”

“I flubbed the cadenza,” said Amanda, her voice breaking. “I flubbed the cadenza. I knew I hadn’t practiced it enough.”

“Don’t worry,” I told her. “I barely heard it. I doubt anyone noticed. Judges probably missed it.”

“Shut up!” she said. “You don’t get it at all. I had scholarships riding on this.”

“It’s not that bad,” I tried again.

“No,” she said, louder, the word breaking off into the beginnings of a sob. We arrived at my car. “Just don’t talk anymore, okay? Just—just don’t talk. Please.” She buried her face in her hands.

I drove us home in silence, wondering what I’d said wrong.

 


Caroline Galdi is trying really hard. She reads your tweets as @cyclostome

Toll by Caroline Galdi

Toll
Caroline Galdi

did I fear the sound of my own voice?
I was the bell that told the dogs to drool,
tongue clapping against the sides, a
discordant clash. in school they called it the oral cavity,
the warm wet cave spitting harshly shaped words,
cracking and sloshing against the silence.
yes, I feared my own mouth, feared what I might hear
when it opened.


Caroline Galdi is trying really hard. She reads your tweets as @cyclostome

A Gift Can Be Tricky by Kelly Jones

A Gift Can Be Tricky
Kelly Jones

My father calls and I don’t answer. He calls again
and again. I turn my phone off and in the morning
there are voicemails marked urgent, but
all they say is call me back, I want to ask you
something. This is a reality my relatives
do not accept, a harassment they think
harmless. Love is not
where it should be.
I don’t feel any for my father,
but pity pulls out of me
a sense of duty and a lonely man
is a sad thing to behold.
When the world cracks around me
two things may occur:
.                                       I will look for help
                                     or I won’t.
My father believes that he is fine.
He buys my cousin’s wife fancy jewelry at Christmas
and gets mad if I don’t call him daddy.
I can’t accept anything from others
without wondering what it will cost me.


Kelly is a queer poet who is studying in the MLIS program, with dreams of being either a librarian or vagabond in the near-ish future.

When I said I was ready to settle down by Kelly Jones

When I said I was ready to settle down
Kelly Jones

I think I meant I wanted to put down roots
and stay somewhere long enough

so our neighbors would know our names
and our dog’s name, instead of just nodding

politely as we walk by. And they’d say hi
and strike up conversations. I meant

I wanted to host a backyard barbeque and
project some silly movie on an old white sheet

hung haphazardly from a shed. I think what I meant was
I wanted a shed, with gardening tools in it

and a mower that breaks down at least twice each summer,
making the yard become that thing people point at

and complain about as they drive down our street.
But they’d also comment on our patch of sunflowers

being lovely, and I’d daydream about growing more of them
so I could sell them at the farmer’s market

or to the owner of my favorite coffee shop.
I meant I wanted to learn how to stay somewhere

long enough to have a favorite coffee shop. I
want to develop routines without getting bored.

I want to have a favorite mail carrier, and
a favorite flowering tree in spring. I want

to feel like everything isn’t about to
come crashing down any second now.


Kelly is a queer poet who is studying in the MLIS program, with dreams of being either a librarian or vagabond in the near-ish future.

Untitled by Ali Ismail

untitled
Ali Ismail

In a tank there is most
often liquid.
The walls metal
the inside dark
and in fluid ounces suspended
from choice.
I hold my breath
in observance of the
propane tank
gagged with a nozzle and
yearning to explode.
If given the chance
it would kill you
at the next family cookout.
Out of hate? Not at all.
The propane didn’t know you
were out there
enjoying a saturday.
It simply grew curious.
After soaking in the dark
for so long
it wondered of a liquid
God.

thispoemhasonlyonefunction by Michelle Everette

thispoemhasonlyonefunction
Michelle Everette

 

This is a poem that destroys.
It will not claim to be living.

It is
just. a poem. Or is it?
You want it to be more.
You want it to tell you that you are right.
You want it to tell you that you are important.
You want the structure of this poem to make you feel safe.
And understood.

But This Poem Will Not Tell You That Your Mother Loves You.

It will not confirm whether the God
that she taught you to worship is Real
or Not.

This is a poem that kills message.

It absolutely slaughters
meaning.
It fucking laughs at analysis.
But you will try to analyze it anyway.
And when this poem will not budge,
you will look to its author to determine
Its center.
You will learn that she subscribes
to a basic form of Womanism
and that she has penchant for
thedeconstructionofallliterature
and you will wonder if, perhaps,
her poetry reflects these sentiments of hers.
You will look very hard at this poem,
and you will dissect its images
with the same narrow focus
you were taught to bring
to your interpretation
of The Red Wheelbarrow.

And yet

This poem will not mock you for it.

Because this poem does not judge.

The only thing that this poem does

Is


Michelle Everette is “that scary Womanist bitch.”

Insecurity by Lauren Estes

Insecurity
Lauren Estes

I
She tires of writing
melancholy thoughts. Time moves
and the memories,
unhurried, curl around the
pen. Writing their own story.

II
She hasn’t showered
in two days. Instead, she will
coat puffy-pink eyelids
in soft peach powder. She hopes
today will be easier.

III
One Hydroxyzine,
anxiety killer. Puts
a grin on her face
and keeps it there. Some will say
that sativa does the same.

IV
From desperation
she draws from the Camel Blue
cigarette. It fills
her mouth with an earthy smoke.
She promises, It’s the last.

V
Freshly grown, those stripes.
For some, it is pride. For her
it’s a pain. Twenty
new pounds she’s gained. The aged
navy jeans still fit, unzipped.

VI
For so long she will
ponder. She brushes polish
on broken nail beds.
She prunes in the chipped mirror,
When will I be beautiful?

VII
A half-eaten plum
in seventy-one degree
weather, decomposed,
is much like a defeated
spirited woman. She pleads.


Lauren Estes is a black writer who dreams of spreading awareness of mental illness through creative writing.

Anxious Angel by J.J. Knight

Anxious Angel
J.J. Knight

Now I lay me down to weep,
I pray my mind will let me sleep.

And if I die sometime this night,
I only ask you dress me right.

Now I lay awake in bed,
With churning, turning angst instead.

If I should sob, or retch or scream,
Convince me this is all a dream.


J.J. Knight will write for food. That’s why they’re perpetually hungry.

 

Honest Mistakes by Kelly Jones

Honest Mistakes
Kelly Jones

 

In the garden, our dog paws at the groundhog, its face juicy like cherry pie. I’m not lying when I say he doesn’t know his strength, as the dead thing is wrapped in plastic and placed in the bin outside. That phrase falls heavy from my mouth, a combination of words I never imagined I’d use again. My ex and I were rough. Often drunk and reckless. Sometimes he’d bind my wrists too tight, leaving behind purple lines, or he’d grasp my neck until I thought I’d die. He taught me to key-up bumps from the baggy as he drove through the night. When he wrecked, the airbag deployed and left chemical burns on his forearm. Pink blisters that popped and peeled, a pulpy mess of flesh barely attached to bone. I collect animal skulls. Our dog found one on our walk yesterday. It is still in a plastic bag, on the front porch, waiting to be cleaned and boiled. Sometimes I paint them gold or yellow and cover them with glitter. My grandpa used to call me Bones, because it rhymed with our last name and I was spindly and fragile in my youth. The night my grandpa died my mother waited in the kitchen for the news to arrive. I used to believe in premonitions and I’ve had a few dreams come true. Nightmares. The first time it happened was after my one and only orgy. I kept falling in and out of sleep, starting the same dream of being in line at a funeral. It is ok to fuck on cocaine, but not on ecstasy. I would never get my clit pierced because I’m afraid of losing feeling. My ex and I called it quits for good after he started using again. The night my girlfriend died, I woke up from a dream that I was choking. My dog is snoring near me in a chair, dreaming of what? They found her body a few days later, abandoned by a river, the life squeezed out of her.


Kelly is a queer poet who is studying in the MLIS program, with dreams of being either a librarian or vagabond in the near-ish future.  

Flashes by Jamie Biggs

Flashes
Jamie Biggs

 

The stoplight was red. I stared out the window at the city park, past the railroad tracks, to where the trees were all silhouetted by the sun sinking deep behind them. They looked almost black now, and the branches stood stark against the last bit of daylight. I looked back in front of me, finding the light had turned green, but that was okay. There weren’t any cars waiting behind me.

The walk to the bar from the parking spot I found would take fifteen minutes. It was dead-of-winter cold in fall, wind stinging my skin. My jacket wouldn’t button any higher around my neck. I weaved through people on sidewalks, shoved my numb hands deeper in my pockets, and stared straight ahead as a man smoking a cigarette asked me if I had any change. Usually I walked slowly to the bar, contemplating turning back a handful of times before I ever even made it there, but the prospect of a heat-filled room propelled me forward.

“You made it!” Clay grinned when he saw me walking towards our table in the corner. I felt the warmth rush over me as I undid the top buttons of my jacket and slid onto the stool next to him.

“I always do,” I said.

Every Friday night, after work, the same bar—the four of us would meet up. Clay treated it like the highlight of his week, ending up too drunk to drive himself home half of the time. Devon and Catie saw it as their one night away from the baby. They’d have a drink—two if it’d been a rough week—and usually walk out of the bar shortly after ten. At this point, it was obligatory to me—like a contract I’d unintentionally entered into and didn’t have a good enough reason to break away from.

“Beer?” Devon asked.

I nodded. “Beer.” We walked over to the bar, and so the night went.

Drink after drink. Catie got promoted at work, so the first round was on Devon, but Clay and I both offered to buy. We were all finally at that point where buying a round of drinks for the table wouldn’t be a devastating hit to our wallets. I ran into a guy I’d had a class with in college on my way back from the bathroom—small talk ensued until I made up an excuse to walk away. There was a pretty girl in a purple shirt at the table to the left of us and I watched as a guy spilled his drink on her. She and her friends rushed off to the bathroom. Friday nights were a low budget movie, and I’d memorized the script a while ago.

I didn’t hate it, but I was bored—bored in a way that made me feel like there was something wrong with me. The people were all the same at night, and there was this look in their eyes that I couldn’t possibly have mirrored—even in the eyes of the people who were one drink away from being on the bathroom floor. This look of contentedness, whether it happy or sad. People were the same during the day, but it felt different to me at night. They were indistinguishable—all outlines and no real details, like the trees silhouetted at the park. Different and beautiful and boring all at once. I’d have a conversation with a girl and not be able to pick her out of a crowd five minutes later. I knew it was my fault.

Devon was asking me how my work week had been.

“It was fine,” I said, and there was nothing else to add. Four years in the same career and I had repeated the same static day at least five days a week for all of that time, ending each night with the knowledge that there was nothing else I would rather be doing, but that I didn’t want to be doing this either.

“How did that wedding you were shooting last weekend turn out?” he asked.

“Good. It was a small wedding. Short and simple,” I said.

Devon worked an office job and frequently expressed how jealous he was of me for having found bill-paying success in a career that allowed me to do something a little different each day. Freelance photography—it was what I had said I wanted to do even when we were young. At this point, I felt like there wasn’t an inch of downtown I hadn’t photographed, not a single couple left in the city that I hadn’t taken engagement pictures of—but there always ended up being something else or someone else.

I rushed to ask him about his week before he had the chance to question me further about mine. I’d already lived it. I didn’t want to relive the mundanity of it all through a recount.

Time ticked on. Catie started yawning. She and Devon hugged me goodbye, promising to see me next Friday. Maybe we could meet up for coffee one day this week, Catie suggested. Empty words—they never had that kind of extra time on their hands, and if they did, it went to the baby, as it should. But I said sure, knowing it didn’t matter.

Clay and I ended up playing pool. Neither of us had ever been any good at it, but it was the way we always wound down the night. He wasn’t all that drunk, but he was loud and talkative, telling me all about his week and the girl at his work and the new show he was watching. He thought I would like it.

“Hey, Ryan,” he said, the tone in his voice shifting. I looked up from the red felt fabric of the table and saw his face. “How are you doing?” It was that change in his expression, the way his gaze was intent on holding mine—he was asking a whole different question.

“I’m doing really well, actually,” I said.

“Yeah?”

I nodded. He took his shot.

“I just wonder, you know. And worry,” Clay said, something catching in his throat. “I still can’t believe it some days, man.”

“Me neither.”

“You must really miss him.”

“Yeah.” I gestured with the pool stick. “Eight ball. That pocket.”

My dad was great at pool. One of his greatest disappointments in life must have been when we went to a bar together for the first time after my twenty-first and he realized just how much I sucked. “Is it because you’re drunk?” he’d asked, looking dumbfounded, and I had laughed for the rest of the night.

I looked back at Clay after I missed the shot. “Hey, let me give you a ride home tonight, man. You drank a lot.”

He laughed. “What? No, I’m fine. You don’t need to do that.” He laid his pool stick on the table and demonstrated his unimpaired ability to walk a straight line. “I’m good to drive, officer.”

I knew he was fine. I’d seen him drink double what he’d had tonight and still drive home. “You should let me drive, Clay.”

“Really?” He suddenly looked like he was doubting himself. “Am I drunk? Do I seem that drunk?”

No. “Yes.”

Clay shrugged. “Whatever. Bring me back for my car in the morning?”

“Sure.”

For fifteen minutes we were in the cold, then we were finally back to my car, slamming the doors closed as quickly as we could. I maxed the heat, but my hands were still icy when I touched them to the steering wheel. Clay was rocking back and forth in the passenger seat, sitting on his hands, and loudly cursing the weather.

We were warm in just a couple of minutes. It always occurred to me how ungrateful I was for this. Like how I was never thankful for my health until I was sick—I never felt grateful for warmth until I was cold. So the car heated up, and normally I would have relaxed back into my seat, but I tried to hold onto that feeling of being cold and uncomfortable and frustrated. It only lasted a moment before it faded and I couldn’t feel anything. Clay was settled back in his seat, content, head leaning up against the window. He could fall asleep anywhere, and the fifteen minute drive back to the neighborhood we were both renting little houses in was more than enough time for him to knock out.

Normally I would have let him fall asleep.

“Clay,” I said.

He lifted his head. “Hmm?”

I had nothing to say. I pointed at the moon. “Is that a full moon?”

“Uh.” He leaned forward and squinted. “Looks close. Maybe not quite.”

“Yeah, I think you’re right.”

He made a noise of agreement. When I glanced over at him, his head was slumped back against the glass.

I sighed and kept driving further out of downtown. The stars were never visible around here, and tonight was no exception, but the moon stayed bright and high in the sky as I drove further away from all of the lights.

I remembered being young, leaning my head against the window in the backseat of my parent’s car, thinking that the moon was chasing after us. Everything felt fast-paced and exciting then. We were moving and the moon was racing to keep up, but now the clueless, childhood appeal of it had disappeared. The moon was there, static—it was all static. Moving, but barely. Sometimes it all felt as still as a photograph, like I was living in a frame and the world around me was frozen, unchanging.

I thought about the wedding from the weekend before. Weddings were supposed to be stressful to photograph—they were the definition of fast-paced. The couple usually requested that every second of the day be caught on camera. Somehow, I was never rushed. Each click of the camera felt unhurried, and when I went to develop the photos later, they appeared exactly how I remembered them in the moment—completely still, individual snapshots. Moment after dull moment being captured from a series of different angles. All of this black and white and smiling combining in front of my eyes until it turned into one easily displaceable snapshot in my memory.

“Your dad sang this song.” Clay speaking from the passenger seat almost made me jump. I looked over and his eyes were closed, but there was a small smile forming as he uncovered a memory. “He sang this at Devon and Catie’s wedding, right?”

I hadn’t even noticed that the radio was playing softly. I turned the volume up a notch and there it was—one of those songs I avoided now.

“Yeah, he did.”

“He was hilarious that night.” Clay yawned. “Well, to be fair, he was always pretty hilarious.”

I only took one picture that night. It was on my cell phone, it was blurry with a blinding flash, and I didn’t know I had taken it until I was scrolling through my phone a few days after the wedding and a picture of Clay passed out in the parking lot of the wedding venue appeared. My parents and Devon’s sister were posed around him, pointing and laughing. I remembered all of the important moments that I photographed in brief flashes—weddings, school portraits, maternity shoots—, but I remembered all of the important moments that I didn’t have a photographic record of with this intense clarity. I could see my dad, tie loose around his neck, throwing his head back and laughing after he stole the microphone from the wedding singer. I could see him holding his drink high up in the air, telling embarrassing high school stories about Devon and me. I could see him looking around the room, searching, until his eyes caught mine and he grinned.

I could see him in May, in his hospice bed. I could see it in my mind like it was happening in real time, right in front of me. The smell of the room, the sound of the nurses voice, the pattern of the wallpaper—all recorded in my mind, ready to run on a loop at any given moment.

“You must really miss him,” Clay said again. “I miss him.”

How was I supposed to explain to Clay that I had sat there for days, listening to his breathing slow—this horrible, unforgettable noise—and then pick back up, wishing that he could just hurry up and die so that I could start grieving? Had I known that every moment from then on would feel like it did—like I was constantly looking through a lens, unable to commit to or feel present in anything I experienced—then maybe I would have clung on to that moment and willed him to keep suffering, so that I could keep feeling like my life was more—more than just flashes of moments in time that leave me with a black and white wall full of these pointless, empty frames.

Sometimes I would close my eyes and wonder if I was even missing anything. The world seemed motionless when my eyes were open. Like now—I was driving, but how long had it been? I knew from the clock on the dash that we had probably only been driving for about ten minutes, but it could have been hours. My shoot from earlier in the day, the conversations I’d had with Devon and Catie in the bar—they felt so distant, but they had felt distant when they were happening too. Just flashes of happenings. I could close my eyes and it would just be another flash.

I could close my eyes, but Clay was beside me. It would just be the shutter of the lens, and then I would open my eyes.

I could close my eyes.

Ryan.”

Suddenly, it was slow: My eyes shot open and there were headlights blinding me. Clay’s hands were grabbing for the wheel, frantic. I found the brake. The car laid on their horn as they skidded past us and we came to an abrupt, crooked stop. My headlights were trained on a house. There was a porch swing—someone was sitting there in the dark, smoking a cigarette, staring at me.

“Ryan,” Clay was saying, but his voice sounded muffled. My heart was pounding in my ears. “What happened? Did you fall asleep, man? We were just talking. Ryan, weren’t we just talking?”

“Yeah. We were just talking.”

When I pulled into his driveway a few minutes later, he was still asking if I was okay and what had happened. I must have dozed off, I kept saying. Every few seconds he would hold up a space between his thumb and his index finger, illustrating how much distance had been between my car and the other car on the road.

“That was scary, Ryan,” he said, unbuckling his seatbelt.

Scary. He was right. It had been scary. I was scared. It was replaying in my mind—each distinct second—with a vividness that made my pulse quicken.

“Are you sure you’re okay to drive home? You could always stay here and go home in the morning.”

“I’m okay.”

“If you say so.” He pushed open the door and climbed out, shaking his head as he did. Cold air was rushing in, but he leaned back in to look at me for a moment. “Well, shoot me a text when you get home, buddy. Please?”

“I will.”

“Alright. Thanks for the ride.”

My heart was still pounding. “No, man. Thank you.”

I fumbled with my keys in the dark when I got home. Once inside, I went around turning on all of the lights until I got to my office. The walls were lined with pictures from years of shoots. I stood at my desk, staring at the ones above my computer. They were all black and white, 5×7’s, matted on the same white background. Couples and families and babies, weddings and parties and all of these milestone moments.

None of them were mine.

“Where am I?” my dad had joked the first time he had come over to check out my new place. He had circled the room the same way I was now, leaning in to look closer at certain pictures. “Where are you?”

“These are just from work.”

“That’ll get depressing,” he’d said.

It had been depressing then, but now I was looking around and I couldn’t breathe with all of these strangers eyes on me. All of these important moments that I had observed, but that didn’t belong to me in any way, surrounding me. I tried to live in them, imagine myself there, but they weren’t mine. I’d always felt this way, but then I had let that feeling start to seep—to infect all of my moments.

I logged onto my computer and started scrolling back through my photo library. One year ago—there was Clay, passed out in the parking lot. My dad’s eyes were red from the flash. I printed it in color and went around the room, tearing each black and white photo down, throwing them into a pile in the center of the room. When the picture finished printing, I taped it above my computer, sat on the floor, and looked up at it.


Jamie Biggs is Gibson’s owner. Gibson is a three-year-old Border Collie. He’s a good boy.