I know we often built it up in our heads, her and I, Audrey and Me. We built it up so many stories high, too many stories. We were magnificent architects of horror. The obstructions got so tall, we would say, “Stop.” And we would stop. “There are too many stories in our heads, “we would say. “Stop.”
I also knew this. I knew this was the hardest life we or anybody else ever had to live. And I should be quiet. I could be loquacious though and she often knew better than to continue like that, stirring alphabet soup like a mad man. But Audrey let me do it without objection because I think she knew I needed to. I was like a small, wired dog running in circles until I lay down exhausted, looking back. And forth. And back at her again.
Audreys a photographer. Not of people, who feel foreign and unfamiliar and separate. Of objects and of rust, the uprooting and settling of time, of doors that creak, of distances that scream, but are close, seem important, and feel like family. She usually finds what is already there- an old rusting tractor with a patina finish beneath a blushing sunset. Oak trees whispering “times up” to an abandoned house seemingly hopeful the family in the sepia photos will still return, as branches and roots in no small irony, axe away at its naivety, reaching through broken windows, floorboards, and flake paint rooms.
There was a moment it all clicked and all the horror, all those stories we built, so many stories high, disappeared. It was at the beginning when I proposed “but what if we are great,” while she thought to decline. It was then the great phenomenon took place. Before, when Audrey was sad, the world she knew presently was sad. All the past was sad. Everything that lay ahead would be too. I could relate. We had both come from mothers of infinite warning, biblical premonitions of darkness, and fear guiding stories. The blueprints to construct all the buildings in our minds. Doubts and dark cloud promises that reached toward a heaven-less nebulous sky.
Because of this we wanted to be fish swimming with eight seconds of memory safe from any haunting, any loss, and all things past. Or maybe more like a bird. Maybe we wanted to be birds. Untouchable birds. It meant that we could fly until whoever the boy or the girl with a pellet gun was out of range. We could coast at a sweep eventually so far up that we would laugh and say, “look as them still firing. Haha.” Or if we were a fish, “look at them still dropping lines, Ha Ha.” We wanted to be a fish or birds or anything but human. And we were human for wanting to be fish or birds or anything else.
It was in that “what if” moment, that exact sunspot, that the earth groaned differently. The buildings that paralyzed us were not erupting from the ground but were returning to earth. Every skyscraper, all that we had built, began sinking into the ground until the earth enveloped where the monstrosities had once stood. Nothing but green.
It was a profound moment that we both felt. A possibility that had never occurred before, suddenly and feverishly, roaring in verdant blankets. Hope.
It all hit like an enflamed arrow in a napalm field. The phenomenon. Our “befores” suddenly became glittered in good memories and everything that had happened in our lives felt purposeful. Previously unavailable thoughts that were deaf and mute suddenly began talking and taking sound. Invisible lines in the stars appeared and constellations materialized. Words like “destiny” or “fate,” became a thing.
We were like people at comedy clubs on the edge of the seat, so ready to laugh, hitting a small squeal right before the punchline, to break open into guttural bellows. We were that two second pitch become eternal, running a loop. We went alleviated to hotel rooms, upscale restaurants, alley dives, to hangover diners. We raced through whiskey, wine, each other as if we were afraid if we didn’t we would evaporate or wake up from a dream. Always afraid of that. But most of all, the best part was this. That wherever we went and whenever we went there, we looked at people looking at us wishing they could have what we were having. The vanity and voyeurism that comes with being without envy is the best terrible thing there is.
Every time I looked in her grey slate eyes I seen azule and pallid slivers reaching toward the center. I saw places there. I saw the mountain sky we would be winding under. I saw the ocean feeding the eternal fountains of St. Augustine. And I could see the Parian marble carvings of Venus De Milo. I secretly logged a thousand trips as we often lay breathless but full of life near empty bottles of wine in the back seat of her car at the forefront of the world.
But things are different now. Time happened. The dark lines started on her first and then were drawn on me. For a while I somehow found a comfort in her skepticism, sadness, and desolation. It was a familiar feeling I knew for so long. It made me feel curiously less lonely. It was strangely soothing. It seemed broken things could restore the broken, if only temporary.
For a while I hung on o the idea of us. A suspension of disbelief that that eternal pitch could be reached again. I believed, like it was a drug, we could return to those places and that time. I could see though, despite all my denial, the blue and ashen slivers receding from the center of her eyes and the light extinguishing. Miles of sand replacing fleeting visions of palms and puddles.
Yet here we were. Driving down a dusted old road just before the sponge painted fires of autumn lit the sides. We had an old rustic door with a weathered face that slid in the bed of a 1972 Cheyenne heading to the lake for her photoshoot. She needed me. She needed me to carry a door.
I reached out “Campgrounds?”
She retracted in brevity, “yah.”
Back and forth.
“When’s this project suppose to be done by?”
“Where do you wanna set the door up?”
“You wanna tell me whats going on? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, It’s fine.”
We drove on in silence. Dust kicking and blurring all the road behind us. Nothing left in the rearview mirror.
The pickup, was not far from being another one of Audrey’s photographs, eroding in a field, forlorn for a spark and rush of air, as chaff reached up to pull it under the earth and loam. Wishing to hammer at the coils once more and roar “I am here, I am here, I am here,” in some eternal pitch.
Years of unpaved roads loosened it from its once tight rumble. As we were driving, I could see the sun starting to set. I looked at the flourish of green about to turn to malachite, to amber, to embers as if a blaze to a smolder. It felt metaphorical and ominous, sad and beautiful. The rumble of the motor was familiar too, like buildings breaking upward.
I got out of the car as soon as the engine cut off to escape a silence for another one. When I went to lift the door it startlingly weighed more than what I remembered. It was awkward, heavy, and felt like something that wasn’t meant to be carried alone. Nonetheless, I pushed forward toward the lake while she grabbed her bags of equipment and tripod. As I got there I leaned the door on its edge in the sand while the lake gently reached like a tired kitten for it. When she caught up I thought I seen the color in her eyes again.
“This is perfect. Right here”
It occurred to me I hadn’t heard her say “perfect” for a long time. I thought maybe, just maybe, we could get through, maybe we could get back to that place, that pitch.
“How far you want me to bring it?”
“Go like fifteen twenty feet”
I started wading into the tired kitten pawing at the shoreline. The door felt lighter. When I stepped in it wasn’t shocking like it should have been on an empty beach with an onshore breeze, a gentle zephyr. It was a foot and half feet deep for about ten feet and then the lakebed lifted and I came up with the door on a small sandbar that was nearly lake level. It was like a river ran between us, or as if I was on an island. I posted the door upright so that the door would swing open toward the shore.
“Is it cold?” she asked sounding concerned.
“No, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be,” I answered.
Audrey seemed excited, “Right. THERE. Perfect.”
I felt eager. I could feel the earth swallowing skyscrapers.
Suddenly she said more than I heard in weeks,“I’m gonna need you to bend down behind the door and leave it on the sandbar so it almost looks like its sitting on the water. Also open it up so that way it looks like you can walk through.”
I could finally see what she was seeing. It would look like you could get to some magical place or go back to some magical time if the door was open.
I went to turn the knob, but it wouldn’t budge. I shunted it with the palm of my hand hoping something would open up. In futility, I turned it left and right again.
“I said to open it up” she yelled.
I rattled the handle some more hoping a mechanism would slide into place or break and free the door.
“I want it open” she said now sounding annoyed, bored, and impatient all at once.
“I can’t. It’s locked.”
And when I said that I knew. The minute it came out of my mouth it was like breaking a spell. I knew some doors just can’t be opened when they’re shut. I knew the moon would sink away and the sun would come back and the water would sing into the sand and by morning it would be as if nobody was there and all the footprints would be gone and the etch-a-sketch edge would be begging another canvas walkers walk upon its wake. I wished though that that summer sun would hang there forever. Hang there with this glow, this breeze, and this warmth. Just pause. Everything still but this sound. This lapping. This continual rebirth washing over. and over. and over. As I walked away from the locked door.
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Your imagery is so beautiful! Even the descriptions of the hindering things paint such clear pictures that they're beautiful in their own right. Also, the part where the narrator "reached out" and Audrey "retracted in brevity": so well done--i like that, particularly. Thank you for sharing your story!
Thank you Melissa for your kind words. I am so grateful for you! I took a long hiatus from writing and to be received with warmth like this is a much needed encouragement to kill the doubt that grew over that time away.🙏 I can’t express and thank you enough for taking your time to read my story!
This is so great! I wish this was a whole book because I never wanted this story to end.
Thank you Luna🙏 What a wonderful comment😊
Beautifully expressive. Great imagery.
🙏 Thank you Alice! I worried that it might be too much expression. Im always afraid I put too much into prose, too little into poetry. So I’m genuinely grateful/relieved when somebody doesn’t think so!! 🙏
There's a lot of really nice stuff in here, P.J. First, I absolutely love that she photographs decaying structures (I used to LOVE doing this in college) while also building and rebuilding new, terrible edifices in her mind. This? "We wanted to be a fish or birds or anything but human. And we were human for wanting to be fish or birds or anything else." YES. And you capture so, so much in this single line of dialogue: It occurred to me I hadn’t heard her say “perfect” for a long time. So good. Well done!
Thank you Hannah! Genuinely grateful and honored to have such a talented writer give me feedback. Your work is soooo good. Note to anyone that reads this in the future- check out some of Hannah's stuff. You won't be disappointed.