At thirteen, I started a magazine. Okay, so it was more like a diary where I collected things that were important to me and arranged them in what looked like an appealing aesthetic. There are artsy magazines that do that now, like FLOW that costs about seventeen dollars a pop. Then, no one took me serious when I walked around the neighborhood gathering gossip and trying to capture images with my dad’s Polaroid from when he worked collecting records for the census. Oh, I got in trouble for that little bit of misappropriation but the few snapshots I was able to record were more than worth it.
One was a picture of my grandfather sitting on the back step, the felt hat he always wore momentarily in his hand as he wiped sweat from his bald head. To accompany the picture, I’d written a few lines about sun damage that was merely a regurgitation of facts I had heard in class in a discussion about the depleted ozone layer, facts that sounded important but meant nothing to me. It was hard to think about global warming when it was eight five degrees everyday, even when it rained.
Not wanting to limit my subjects to family members, I had poked my head through the hibiscus fence and snapped a picture of Miss Reiner scrubbing her mad son in the aluminum bath pan in her backyard, his wails evident and understandable as she soaped his hair with one hand and kept him restrained with the other. I’d written a poem about the joy of the outdoors that was meant to be sarcastic although I am not sure I even completely understood what that was about.
Eventually none of those pictures made it in the scrap book – the one of our neighbor, Daddy called pornographic and ripped it to shreds, foaming at the mouth and glaring at me even with disgust or disappointment that made me cry even before he cracked the belt. Mummy took the one of Grandpa and asked if I thought he would want other people gawking at him bareheaded when he kept his hat on all the time. I didn’t point out the irony when I noticed the picture had made its way into the family album. By then, Grandpa had died and it didn’t matter anymore.
But I did get to keep a few pictures from my foray into photography. Maybe because there weren’t any people int them, my parents didn’t look close enough at what the pictures told. There were a few landscape scenes – a school of banga swimming in a makeshift aquarium some kids had left in the commons behind our house and for which I wrote an paragraph entitled small fish in a big pond; a blurry action shot of a cricket game on the street in front of our house, a car and its driver patiently waiting for the removal of the boulder the players used to signal traffic to a halt. That one, I had used to illustrate my essay on why sports did more harm than good. And the one I had taken out of my window, the first picture I took when I had seized upon the idea of borrowing the camera in the first place, and had opened up the louvre windows to see what lay outside waiting to be captured. Mummy had been washing for a few hours so the clothesline was already full even though she was still elbow deep in suds at the side of the house, the pounding of the scrubbing board a constant rhythm as she washed even more clothes that would sit in the rinsing water until the first set was dry and ready to be taken back into the house.
The picture was probably ho hum – pants, shirts, dresses, all hanging from a taut piece of wire by tiny wooden pegs. It wasn’t a particularly interesting scene but even through my thirteen year old lens, when I shook the test picture dry and then waited a little longer just to be sure the image was set, even when I first saw the black and white image, I knew it told an interesting story but didn’t know what that was. Only later, after my more artistic images had been confiscated, did I remember the test shot and returned to it. I might have been crying then, the pain of loss mixed with the pain of the belt as my parents inflicted my punishment. The tears might have been what blurred the image enough so I recognized not just what it contained but what it didn’t. The clothesline, this scene from domestic life, betrayed no intimacies. And so I had written not an article this time, but a story, about a woman whose house had been burglarized and when people helped her retrieve items, she was too embraced to mention the loss of her personal items so she lied about them. I had just learned about puns in school so I entitled the story Under Where? and made it my cover story.
When the multipage spread was ready, I bound and wrapped it in newspaper printing and mailed it to the only editor I thought might understand me: Susan Taylor, c/o Essence magazine. She never replied and eventually I mourned not so much the failure, but the loss of my childhood masterpiece, even if only for the memories of a place and time that no longer exists.
By the time I got to college, writing wasn’t even a hobby; poetry was just the flickers of feeling I scribbled in the back pages of my notebooks while whatever Professor droned on. I barely had time to keep track of my homework let alone write journal entries. With a full course load for my major and two minors, it was enough of a hassle balancing the books in my hands let along trying to balance my schedule but I frequently made a beeline past the campus newsroom on my way to my real college experience. Spilling out the doors into the hallways, artsy kids sat on railings clutching semi-crushed cans of Coke, Twizzlers trailing from their mouths, tossing ideas volubly back and forth like they would a ball, wearing ripped jeans, flannel shirts and newsboy caps even in the years when that wasn’t the style, kids who would have looked like me if not for the fact that they were laughing, joking, creating and I wasn’t, couldn’t.
Anybody could write that. The voice crept under the pale blue door and filled the hallway in front of me just as I turned the corner that would lead me past the writers room.
Yeah? So find anybody.
Unlike most of the doors on campus, this one opened out so I had to twist away from it when it jerked open, but I underestimated the distance and bumped into him instead. So much for engineering approximations; I couldn’t even get spatial measurements right.
No books fell. My purse didn’t fall to lay open on the floor, my secrets spilled in front of him so he’d pick up the pieces of my soul and fall in love with me. There weren’t even any pocket sized volumes of Pablo Neruda poetry for us to bond over, like the scene where Angela and Shawn fall in love on Boy Meets World. But in that moment when he steps in front of me, our eyes meet with instant recognition. I feel myself smile wider than I might have if I’d planned it but then I watch his teeth appear as his dark, slightly chapped lips spread into an even bigger grin, a jog of candy appearing, wedged as it was at the side of his jaw, the sugary smell beckoning me forward. Starburst. Taste the Rainbow.
His Bob Marley T-shirt has seen better days. You can tell it’s not one of those artfully destroyed ones – the frays on the neck are authentic but then they match the ones on the bottoms of his light jeans, pen ink stains betraying the fact that he doesn’t just use a computer in that office.
I’ve seen him before, I think, but never this close. I would have noticed the small patch of white hair on his face, the way his brows are perfectly unsculpted and that when he smiled, a dimple appeared in one cheek but not the other.
I like order so even now, I am listing the three things of which I am certain.
- I’ve never seen him like this before.
- I will see him again
- The next time, he’ll ask me my name, or something.
For now, the knowledge that he exists is enough. All these months I’ve been coming along these corridors and I didn’t know why.
Excuse me, I say, and step away. I make one step. Then two. On the third_
Hey! he calls after me.
Yes! I say, but only in my mind, keeping the smile to myself when I turn around.
Do you write? He asks.
What? I take a single step back toward him and he takes a step toward me.
Can you write? He changes the question.
I frown, but not so much that I can’t smile too. It’s weird, the things I consider my abilities. Ah, I think so. College is tough enough to try do it as an illiterate student.
News, I mean. Articles. Essays. Capture the beat of the campus.
He looks past me, a fire kindling in his face. The knob creaks when he twists the door and pulls it back to himself, peering in.
Campus Beat, he shouts inside. That’s the name.
From the cavern of the room, someone responds but it could be a curse or compliment, I can’t hear which.
He continues. And I found her. I found Somebody.
It was Anybody, I think and he flashes his teeth again, grinning this time like he can read my mind.
I can tell you’re not just anybody.
Copyright (C) 2017 by Karen Wright
The above is an excerpt from an ongoing creative writing project which will probably be heavily edited in the future. Please do not copy or otherwise share this content.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
A few months ago, I started a new novel and shared some of these chapters on this blog. I am finally finishing up this project so I decided to start again at the top and release them to you. Over the course of April, I will share the entire draft here on this page. Come back tomorrow for chapter 7.