into the craters

A photo of a frozen pond sat upon Mark’s desk. The surface was turquoise. The thickness was blubber. The space beneath the sheen was dark and it made him wonder,

“Why do we avoid the unknown so much anyhow?”

Carol sat across from him, knitting as she waited for the water to boil. She poured oats into the pot each morning, congealed them and mixed butter, salt and maple syrup. She spooned a steaming stream of oats into a bowl for Mark. He read the newspaper with a frown.

“Why are they inventing new ways of taking photos anyway? Can’t anyone see that this is all another projection of reality? It’s so banal!”

She wore glasses and placed the oatmeal in front of him. The photo on his desk came from a fishing trip in Alaska they had taken together. They met in Tibet during a Peace Corps mission in 2029, the last time American young people had been allowed to travel there. Meeting each other was like a mental break, a pressure valve to the expectations of goodness they set for themselves. The missed mark of conversation was better than the void of meaning they felt around people they wanted to appreciate.

“I think it’s reductive to call photography the ‘projection of reality.’ I think as a form of art, photography can be considered an alternative to reality.”

Mark looked at her as she put the oatmeal down, taking in her loose blouse and the way she smelled like apples. She showered in cold water and lit a candle to relax her room as she put her clothes on for the day. Carol knew how to take care of herself, since an eating disorder in college left her stark in the face of her problems. She liked work to avoid her pain and she worked until she needed a break so badly that only deep, hermitude indulgence reset her. Then she lit candles and appreciated music until the work faded away and her life began again.

Mark resented her. She smelled so good and wore femininity so well. He spent his time plunging down craters of Alaska smelling of fish. He wanted to sleep until life woke him up and yet something pushed him forward. He changed his idea of man when he had time alone, which he rarely allowed himself since he had seen too many documentaries on the dangers of being alone. He watched Into the Wild at 16 and thought that he could be the next Jon Krakauer. He watched a film about supermax prisons in college and feared he would hear voices when he spent a week alone climbing in Colorado. His climbing trips grew colder and his desire for meaning grew oppressive and he joined the Peace Corps. Meeting Carol was a form of destiny for him, a challenge, and he thought love should feel more like a comfortable pair of socks.

“I hope you see why I find that problematic. What do you think about nature?” he asked.

She watched him sit as the oatmeal lost its steam and she wanted to leave the room and call her mother or walk until the scenery changed into a place where people were witty. Wit, that was what she missed most with his stoicism and his critique.

“I want to take nude pictures.”

“What?”

“I want you to rent a camera and take pictures of me when I am naked so that we can explore whether a photograph projects reality or whether it just captures what the eye yearns deep within the spirit of the Eye to see for longer, Longer until the image surpasses any mind-body-soul search for meaning and you become one with it and I am the photo and that is great because you can see me naked any time you want.”

He stared at her, without thought for a few moments.

“I hate to hear you talk like that.”

“Really?”

“I love you, you know. I love the idea of you more though. You are my blonde apple-smelling idol and I want you to make oatmeal for me in this moment as an infinite moment. For much longer though?”

Her chest tightened.

“That I think would be reductive for both of us. I want to look at pictures of the ice and hate them, you know?”

“Do you see me as the ice?”

“No,” he said, the scent of the burnt-vanilla oatmeal hitting his nose and urging his nausea. “I just see you as too warm for me.”