Through an Eye of Glass

May 5, 2008
By Sam Blahnik, Racine, MN

Night here was black velvet. Softly, tenderly caressing all of Mother Nature’s offspring till they befell to the same still, uncomplicated state as the blackness that breathed gently onto all. The dreary streetlights stood like woebegone canes that could no longer support a staggering body, and they each flickered defeatedly. Their mild light casted a skewed circle, which faded rather jaggedly into darkness. Near the outer exterior of the light another flicker of a shadow appeared, engulfing the petulant light as it trodded unsteadily onward. Crickets chirped gaily, dogs barked frantically, and occasional muffled strains of conversations escaped from cheaply painted houses. All these sounds, though, were blended together into the painstaking monotony of summer nights, and overshadowed by this object's? This man’s? dogged tread.

Quite suddenly, his legs stopped moving, and his body was still. Directly under the weak spot light, his appearance was made evident. Rugged hiking boots, ragged, dusty jeans, and an un-tucked, stained flannel shirt made up his rugged, don’t -give-a-damn physical appearance. In this neighborhood, where dust was a ubiquitous love-hate companion, everyone dressed just like this man. No one could afford a better look, and no one cared enough to. He blended in perfectly.

His feeble spotlight revealed the beginnings of a delicate black cobweb on his impasse face. A strong, square jaw led the way as the man swiveled his neck towards the receding sun. Black eyes were intent and calculation as they roved over the splashed of gold, red, and orange that smeared the twilight: a lion’s glorious head. Shifting subtly to the left and right, he assessed a tree with thousands of dead arms reaching for their resting place, a rusty blue bicycle half buried in the ground, and a tipsy flower pot containing a single, resilient carnation.

With the quick movements that routine are made of, he brought a flash of worn metallic onyx up near his head. The man’s right eye bore down n the lens, his right index finger on the shutter, and his left to hold the camera in place. Years of mistakes and adjustments had taught him, with just one fervent glimpse, where to position his camera to fully utilize all aspects of his surroundings. In this case, he squatted down till one knee tickled the dry ground, and vertically aligned his camera next to the tree. Then his index finger welded into the shutter button, and pushed it down in one fluid movement. Click. An observer would not easily be able to tell the difference between the man and his camera; he handled it as if it were an extended appendage which would cause unbearable pain if severed.

Quite abruptly, the man stood up, and tan, elongated fingers brushed the dust off his knees. One could now clearly see that his camera was permanently attached by a finely worn lanyard knotted to death around his wrist. It swung lightly back and forth as the man made his way down the deserted street. Thrice more he completed this odd ritual of positioning his body perfectly- standing, crouching, lying, leaning-then snapping the moment and walking away. No ounce of pride or simple joy squirmed through to his expression. Photography for this man was not an art form, and not just a way to document life’s little moments. Maybe it had been, but those days were long gone to areas of more lush foliage. Photography was now his life.

The stoic man gently let himself in through a bruised, beat-up door that whimpered at his touch. But before entering, he maneuvered fluidly backwards and snapped a picture of the golden aura of dusk mingling with his dust streaked dwelling. He then entered. The walls of his exhausted residence were fiercely mesmerizing. Dramatic, Omni-colorful pictures of all forms sang forcefully, each competing to capture the senses. Dry river beds, skeletal shacks, fruitless trees, abandoned running shoes, sun soaked hill tops all captivated the eye from one wall. Another was dominated by greens: lush forests, rain drenched leaves, twittering birds, whispering hammocks strung between willows all beckoned. The most striking ocean glimmered form a third wall. Aqua’s, violets, azures, and teals shone from shots revealing all forms of water detriment, which blended into a sparkling array of blissful rapture.

And the fourth wall. A poster size picture hung front and center, futilely surrounded by lesser shots. The word picture doesn’t even fully do this work justice. This purest, truest snatch of life featured a young woman reclined in her own contentment, leaning against a moss covered rock, while rain streamed down, unstoppable, on her waiting face. Her bare feet were curled up in the clutches of the dense grass, and her naked arms were outstretched, palms up, as if waiting to be handed the world. Rivulets of wetness were collected on her upturned eyelashes, and her bare lips were turned slightly up in euphoria. It hurt to look at such bliss.

The man, though, seemed to notice nothing. He retrieved a drink from his mildewey fridge, and began to noisily gulp it down. Wiping away the residue with a cracked, dry hand, the man then proceeded to shove a cheaply made TV dinner in the microwave. He kicked back in his oak chair, eyes serene and bored, as he waited patiently for the remnants of food to heat up. As the timer shrieked and squealed, the man’s eyes, for one micro moment, bore down on the freeze frame of ethereal purpose. A barbaric pain, an intangible prose of lost time, a yearning for a redrawn life, and tenacious despair at the set, invincible outcome of an unyielding path consumed his peaceful eyes, set lips, and craggy black brow. Then it disappeared, dispersing back into the fine contours life had unmercifully sketched upon his face in nights slept lone.

The man sat still for a moment, perhaps still consumed with his deep running regrets. He shifted upwards at last, to silence the shrilling microwave.

When this man went to bed the same night, nothing was astray. He changed into disheveled boxers, ineffectually brushed his teeth, threw back the covers on the double bed, and mechanically climbed in. His camera lay beside him, still knotted around his wrist. This odd companion had occupied his side for more than five years now. It was a poor, unsuited substitute for the phantom body that still shaped itself into the folds of the mattress. Hard, rigid, cold, silent. All the unappealing attributes shunned by the majority of mankind. This man was, quite obviously, in the minority. He loved his bedside companion, life partner, camera, but time had pried his steadfast necessity from his heart with sticky, eager fingers. What was left was the tarnished regimen of thoughtless routine. An adaption at this point was fruitless and unthinkable. His basic human nature was plunged too far in the jellied disarray of what he merely knew; so far that he had lost the ability to clearly grasp and dissect his desires.

Regardless, the man slept on, his breaths laboriously long and loud, like an irritated animal. His face was, like all who slept deeply, calm, carefree, and peaceful. It was the blissful face of a resting angel. One angel of many, who trapezed the faces of the slumbering when the blanket of night was cast over the earth. Stars, luminously bright and radiating an unconquerable twinkle, winked through the netted window of the house. Their glow was reflected on the dusty wooden floor, dillusioning eyes with a vision of shimmering sunlight. Night here, anywhere, was unquestionably the most beautiful and powerful time of day. It is also the time when one closes their eyes to the world’s disjointed facades. We are blind at night. Shame, as our selves could do with an occasional quench of unobtrusive solidity in the ways in which one classifies beauty. True beauty shines at night, though minimal light may encompass it. This man never took pictures at night.

The man still slept. It was now little past midnight. Robust cricket chirps lulled him to an even deeper slumber, and kept him still and ever peaceful in the night. Other works had different, contrasting plans. The mischievous, slyly skittish eyes of fate bore down on the man’s still form. They sparkled impishly, and pranced around, conjuring up horribly sadistic thoughts of demise, horror, and a cracking, crumbling structure teetering, and then succumbing, with a loud, emphatic BANG. These merciless eyes continued to twitter. And think. And prance. And mull. Behind each twirl, each flick, was a throbbing undertone of menace. Menace, mingled with regret. The ancient way of life bore through these eyes, so that grief was a match for the cruelty it wept over. The man slept on.

Finally, decisiveness shone from t he still eyes of fate. It unperturbedly blew gently on the peaceful man’s from. He sighed contentedly, and turned over to his right. He didn’t stop. He couldn’t. He kept rolling, right off the bed, and was awakened by the sound his camera made when connected with a hard, dutiful floor. The man abruptly struggled to sit up; he was still handicapped by the realms of his unconscious, dream-filled state. The silent, scream of agony and rancor, however, cut straight though his drowsiness, like a knife through flesh. The man’s eyes were in premature denial as they traveled carefully to the floor.

His camera was clearly broken. Tragically, completely unfunctional. Grievously dead. Utterly, thoroughly unrepairable. The weathered black plastic frame had cracked apart on impact. The tattered interior was not in much better shape. Sutures, super glue, or any plausible remedy would not be enough to make this fragmented victim whole. If any were, though, the camera would forever display, proudly or shamefully, the lasting effects of fate through the cracked, jagged slice that could never properly heal.

Our minds forever work in incomprehensible ways. One person breaks a camera, and shakes his or her head regretfully, but then moves on. They buy a new camera. The man, sitting dazedly on the cold floor, didn’t just break his camera, he broke his life. What do I do now? He wondered in a trance. What am I going to do? Visions floated aimlessly to the forefront of his incapacitated mind. Great grey eyes stared at him wordlessly from the corpse of a young woman. They are dead, but full of purpose. He pictures his capable fingers gently roving over the sculpted surface of a newly brought camera, an impulse buy…everything was impulse to him then. Grief then was little by little replaced with a twinge of hope. A new day had come a last, he remembers thinking.

This demise was the antithesis of his previously placid existence. A life through an eye of glass ceased to be. He could plainly see two paths stretched ahead of him. One was paved with hardships that forwarded rewards and eventual self-contentment. This path curved irregularly, no rhyme or reason to its juts and slopes. The other path was his old life in new light. The routine, the familiar repetitiveness, was all there, unshielded and shameless, going straight on for eternity. What to choose. What indeed. His body involuntarily turned to face the picture of his late wife. The look of utter desperation that savaged his face and languished his humanity was one that could not be forgotten.

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