I experienced the soft colliding of bodies as more of a pleasure and less of an annoyance. In the crowded gallery, I immediately made out the sound of the bass, the piano, the drums, and the saxophone. I saw flashes of brass in the gaps between bodies.
I said hello to a few people I knew as my limbs softly bumped into theirs, and I sensed Daniel trailing behind me as I made my way over to Eden to congratulate her on her photography exhibition. Daniel explained that he had spotted a jealous ex to our right and that he had to go say hello, alone, to avoid any interrogation involving his association with me. He promised to search for me afterwards.
“At the hands of a unilateral desire for sharpness in photography,” Eden started, “I’m witnessing the dying of, what should be, a creative industry.” She elaborated, with a hint of exasperation: everyone, nowadays, is so intent on snapping twenty sharp photos per second of their golden retrievers mid-jump on a sunny day. “I’m just hoping I can change that. There’s a certain truth in the blur, in capturing real movement.”
She led me towards the drinks, where we passed by Daniel and the jealous ex. They were standing in front of a photograph. “The fields,” he kept saying, “look like glass”—it sounded as though he was underwater, the sound waves of his voice reaching me from far away, making it harder for me to detect where he was in the current even though I could see him to my left in my peripheral vision. Eden handed me a glass of wine and she continued, this time updating me on her own golden retriever until her eyes widened. She had spotted Alex across the gallery. I didn’t register that it was him until he looked my way, and I was overcome with the compulsion to feign nonchalance, to pretend that I didn’t care that he was back from Seattle for the holidays or that he had once locked eyes with me as we biked around our old college campus, tears streaming down my face as I told him about my entrapment in an endless cycle of literary labor, or that we had once lived in the same Upper West Side brownstone, learning to breathe each other’s air. I lifted my hand to wave but he didn’t wave back, so that’s what that feels like, I thought, and to recover from this momentary humiliation I raised my wine glass to him from across the room, lifted it to my lips, missed my lips, and looked down to see my brown boots stained red. I excused myself and congratulated Eden once more before I made my way across the gallery.
I joined Alex to his left. He was looking at one of Eden’s photographs, to which I also directed my gaze. “You didn’t wave back, just a couple of minutes ago,” I said.
“I did. It was just a low wave.” In the corner of my eye, I saw him demonstrate with his hand. “It must have been too crowded to see.”
In the photograph, streaks of ruby intermingled with white streaks of light from passing cars, though it seemed like these streaks had no source, that their sole purpose was to blur the foreground and the legs of the girl standing in the center so that her upper body was in the present moment while her lower half was in another temporality. Her gaze was fixed to the left and her arm lifted to her ear, as if she was listening to someone on the other line, but there was no phone in hand. A clock tower was blurred out of focus behind her, casting a shadow over her, and I wasn’t sure if she was feeling the presence of the past or the absence of it, but regardless, I felt as though she was relaying a message backwards in time, something urgent.
I kept my gaze directed forward, towards the photograph, and I sensed Alex’s unwavering gaze towards the photograph as well. There was a palpable tension in our silence and in the shared direction of our gazes—we were, once more, in the same space with the same role, the role of the spectator, looking at the same thing, perceiving this photograph and the way in which it captures a moment, a moment that will only happen once, mechanically reproducing it for infinity.
“I’m reminded of watercolors,” he said.
“The blurriness. It reverts the photo back to its bare bones, of sorts: color and light. And the colors and the light, they’re all bleeding together. Like watercolors.”
I was overcome with a sadness that was as sudden as it was total, and I sensed my legs dissolving into that other temporality. The introduction of dynamic movement in an image, the rejection of hard lines, the capturing of the in-betweens; it all caused me to somehow become stricken by the ineffability of life as blurred moments came rushing back to me, the saxophone blaring in the background, rising to a crescendo: here was love, here was hurt, here was art, here was time.
I imagined Eden behind us with her hands encased around the bottom of her camera, one eye squinted and one eye widened, the latter fixedly looking through the little hole to limit, to frame, and I wondered what she saw milliseconds before pressing down on the shutter button—was she struck by an artistic vision? I listened to Alex as he told me about his promotion at Microsoft, about his brief marriage, about his mother’s financial troubles in Kenya, and I listened to myself as I talked about my deadlines, my parents’ divorce, my reconnection with an old college professor. I saw myself with Alex through the keyhole in Eden’s camera, I saw him awkwardly rest his head on my shoulder despite him being a half a foot taller than me, I saw the joint experience of the observed subject and that of the subject observing, and I longed to press the shutter button, to be the observer before too much time had passed, but the moment soon blurred and was gone.