the visual quality of the out-of-focus areas of a photographic image (Ed.)
by Anna Keeler
Aabharana went by Abbey for short; she changed her name the way she changed my life. A nascent lesbian in pretty uncertainty, she made everything wax nonpareil, even if I never quite knew where I stood.
She sat before me now in blue velour and red choker, pouring over my image to duplicate it on a page. Her earrings fell intone along her shoulders as she hunched. Pushing a strand of my hair back, she told me, “Stay still, please.”
It was still strange, letting her hands touch my ear, fall down my cheekbone. Taking her hand, I pressed a kiss onto her knuckles.
“Stop,” she laughed, nervous. “You’re making me lose my focus.”
As she went back to work, I pulled my camera out of my bag, taking bits of her own spirit for myself. We worked in this way—converting body to image until we were amalgamations of differing strains of the humanities.
I had ample photos of her, but there were never enough. She glanced up as the shutter snapped, letting her grin fit in the box before pushing back her own hair and resuming her work.
We’d been sitting on the patio of her pool, cross legged and bodies parallel. I played with my hair, short yet falling in obsidian curls, wishing my fingers were running through Abbey’s.
She wasn’t looking at me, but her eyes were still visible bulbs, a brown macchiato of ambition and sweet design. They were mesmeric, and it took considerable effort to stare for too long. Not that she ever let me, or anyone else for that matter. Her boundaries were respectable, even if that kept us at a forced distance.
Taking a few more pictures, I scrolled through, watching those eyes shine against lenses too thick to for accurate arrest. Setting it down, viewing screen out, I caught Abbey’s attention. She said, “This is less in-depth than you intended.”
I asked her what she meant and she picked it up, pointing. “It either has to be bokeh or not.”
“So now you’re a photography expert?”
“There’s no compensation spot. It’s too exposed.
“Who cares? You look beautiful.”
She picked up her pencil. “Here, you weird girl. Watch, learn something.” Working around the page, she drew a backdrop behind my bust. “Focus on one entity or the other. Not just the eyes, or the flowers or…”
The conversation dropped off as she began fixing her errors. Teasing her earrings, I tried to get her attention again. She shrugged me off the first time with a grin, but the second with a swat.
The third time, irritation. “Allison,” she said, tongue thick with concentration. “Please, let me focus on my work.”
“That’s all you ever do anymore.”
This made her stop and sigh, but not meet my gaze. “It’s not on purpose. I’m not trying to hurt you.”
Pouting, I crossed my arms. “You’re so wishy washy.”
“Quite the contrary. I’ve been straightforward. You don’t see the point in listening.”
Asking her what she meant, I made sure to keep my distance.
“Remember why I said I went by Abbey instead of Aabharana?”
“Yeah, because people pronounce it wrong all the time.”
“That’s partially true. The other part is a deficient identity.”
I had no idea where she was going; sometimes our talks went on these tangents that only made sense to her, and I knew better than to interrupt.
“People see parts of me,” she continued, sketching as she spoke. “Like you, always staring at my eyes. Most people, at my hands. Other girls, at my hair, my mama and dadi at the output of my intellect. Sometimes I stop talking, others, I can’t see.” The pencil drops. “This…it’s been weird for a while. I just didn’t know why.”
Bringing my knees to my chest, my voice went limp. “Are you breaking up with me?”
She blinked up in surprise. “Of course not. But if you wanted that…well, I’d understand.”
Not knowing what to do with my body, I stayed put, took a breath, and asked her what she meant.
She chuckled, shook her head at the ground. “There is always a bigger picture.” She shut her sketchbook without letting me see the picture. “I have something called Asperger’s.”
My mouth stayed shut.
“Other than my parents, you’re the first person to know.”
She stared at me, expectant, but I didn’t know what to say except, “You really think that I’d leave you because of that?”
“I have no idea. People can be…” She picked up her pencil, chewing on the eraser.
I wasn’t going to let her stall out on me now. “What does this have to do with your name?”
“It feels weird, having a name, and when people misrepresent that, it puts me on the edge, feeling fractured. So… I adapt because I’m given no other choice.”
“Which do you want me to call you?”
She slammed her hand on the notebook’s face. “Allison, I think you are misunderstanding my point.”
Flipping open her sketchbook in frustration, I caught glimpses of her drawings of me, blurred by ash and her feeble attempt to teach me a landscape lesson. I glanced between that and my camera, the sensory projections juxtaposed how I captured her— living, loving light in noon – with how she saw me— Mardi Gras eyes and microwave hair.
I told her I was sorry, she said it was fine; didn’t expect me to understand but was glad I stuck around like a surrogate name. I tried to look into her eyes, but pivoted at her collective image, making sense of her in my mind, asking if there was anything I could do to help.
“You are here and that’s what matters.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
She kissed my cheek, the certitude a feeling I hoped would last.
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Anna Keeler is a poet and fiction kicking it for Christ in the greater Orlando area. Her work has been published or is upcoming with Poets.org, Deep South Magazine, Cleaver Magazine, After the Pause, The Indian Review, Pegasus Magazine, and more.