She was an artist in the general sense. More specifically she was a photographer. She loved taking pictures with friends when they made wild faces, at school when she thought the classroom had a certain aesthetic, in the park when the grass felt cool under her bare feet. She loved the limits the polaroid’s frame offered after it slid out the other side. It provided her with a sense of perspective on the things around her that she couldn’t ever fully understand. She loved the feeling of solidity that it gave her, the things in each shot existed outside of what she saw with her eyes, they were independent of her life. It gave them life. She loved photography.
She also liked to organize the photos into albums in neat symmetrical patterns in a strictly chronological order. She liked to get out her clear blue ruler and measure the exact number of half-inches in from the sides in order to align the four photos on each page in the perfect place. She enjoyed the patience and diligence that went into this work and the feeling of self-accomplishment that followed. She enjoyed the hours she poured into these albums, adding captions and borders and pages of more photos. She did this when there were quiet moments alone, or when there were quiet moments in class, or when there were quiet moments at the park. She loved photography.
He hated her for her love. He only ever saw her for an hour and a half in the one class they shared. Unless either was sick or he skipped to go smoke, then it was slightly less. But he hated her for those few hours. He would watch her from across the room, watch her mindlessly measuring and adjusting and re-measuring and pasting her photographs into her albums as their teacher tautologously preached ethics. He hated the way she would only look down at her photos, not blinking for minutes at a time. He hated her self-absorption and the way her tongue would sometimes creep out from behind her lips as she slowly pasted down a corner. He hated everyone else in the class for not hating her the way he did. His hate consumed him for those few hours each day. But once in a while his hate would spill into the evenings and ruin his cigarettes. Or sometimes his hate would leak into the weekends and ruin his nights. And sometimes after that his hate would surge through his mind and send electricity through his bones as he had sex or when he masturbated or when he day dreamed. Some days after school when he would light up his cigarette, breathe it in absentmindedly, and say to no one in specific, “I’m gonna burn those fucking photos some day.”
And then one cool October day he did. It was more of a sudden impulse than anything planned or thought out. She was sitting on a bench outside the school taking a photo of the trees becoming vibrantly bare when the hate boiled up in his throat. He ripped the album from off the bench and flipped it open. He saw a photograph of her painted toe nails in the nearly green grass lighted by a summer sun, a photo of a merry-go-round with two young children smiling widely, a photo of a sunset intensified by the deadly fires of the west, and a photo of the girl with an empty smile standing next to some friends with emptier eyes. His body flared with hate and then his lighter flared from butane and then the album flared with flames.
She didn’t put up a fight, she didn’t protest or even stand up. She hardly even blinked. She met his eyes and held them for a long moment with a passive stare, her eyes glossy like a camera lens. The acrid smell of burned chemicals stung his eyes and sent tears streaming down his cheeks. He wanted her to feel something, to hurt her badly, he wanted to grab hard onto her cheeks and drive his thumbs deep into her eye sockets, to crush the glass lenses. But he just stared, letting the cool October breeze put out the little flames of the album and pushing his tears off their course. The girl raised her camera, clicked, and walked away.
She was an artist in the general sense.