A Photograph as a Photograph as is by Sarah Arantza Amador
Erika and I sit on a bench in front of the high school. I am in my sunglasses in the heat of the day, the day that I am going to the Los Angeles Zoo. Erika is also going to the Los Angeles Zoo. The whole art class is – we are congregated in front of the high school waiting for the slowpokes and the flakes. I am in my sunglasses seated next to Erika and my dark green t-shirt is making the heat of the sun on my back unbearable. I arch my neck up to look at the pine tree bowing over our heads and reach up behind my back with my fingers to rake at an itch between my shoulder blades. The heat on my back burns –
I remember years ago sitting on sandy, metallic bleachers with peanut butter and honey sandwiches in the zoo’s California Condor amphitheater– five girls squinting in lunch break sun and glare as freckle-faced Elise pragmatically states, “If you wear white, the sun will reflect off of it and you’ll be cooler.”
We sit, fiddle with the nametags hanging from our necks. We all think about the color of our shirts and shorts and Keds and sunshine bouncing and (or) sinking. I am proud of my white socks and smugly think, “see how cool I am” –
I let this memory run its course and smile as I sit on the bench in front of the high school with Erika. We shift around on the splintering wood planks.
Kira and Chris and Beth stand facing us. Beth has a camera in her hand and Erika says, “Hey, Beth. Take a picture of me and Andrea.”
Kira shifts her weight on her feet and Chris looks away and stares at the school bus humming in the parking lot.
I say, “Yeah, Beth. Take a picture of me and Erika,” squinting behind my sunglasses as they slide down the bridge of my nose.
Beth slowly looks down at the camera in her hand, turns it over, and turns it on. Erika and I again shift our weight on the bench and quietly giggle as we smile and watch Beth’s face.
The zoo trip is yearly. Yearly we go to the zoo and pretend to ignore the sad animals and cages. We stop to stare at the polar bear pace in the heat reflecting off his white, rock diorama. We nap in boredom on the grassy picnic area in front of the elephant habitats.
I remember two years earlier, we watched Alan make quick sketches of the monkeys behind thin wire. After he left, we drew the monkeys’ attention with shiny, gold candy wrappers. They clung to the fence and Beth took photographs of their eager little faces with her huge lens. This is the fourth year of the art trip. As it is my last trip to the zoo, I want to do something special. I think of patiently sitting in the dark and cool koala exhibit. The gratification of finally seeing a koala move in there for the first time.
“Wait, wait. Beth, wait – I’m not ready yet.”
“Yeah, wait, me neither.”
Erika and I continue to watch Beth’s face, and we exchange giggles and snorts.
“Okay, okay. Ready.”
And we sit very still as Beth lifts the camera to her left eye.
“No, no – wait. I’m not ready yet.”
And I bust out laughing and turn to Erika who is now rubbing her nose with the back of her right hand. Smirking, she rubs her nose and then looks at her right hand. And she rubs her nose again.
“Okay. I’m done.”
We sit very still as Beth sets her mouth and slowly raises the camera to her left eye once again.
I watch Beth focus the camera and wonder how long Erika and I can hold off the taking of this photograph. We have stalled twice already and I wonder when Beth’s patience will end. The cracking of Beth’s patience will occur after –
Beth and the camera are replaced in my mind’s eye by second grade and cramped bleachers on the big lawn at the zoo’s entrance. Erika stands next to me in blinding sunlight and a cameraman faces us with a black camera. I feel her sweaty arm stick to my sweaty arm and hear obnoxious Paul two rows back taunting the cameraman.
Our teacher, in a crisp, white dress and skin toned panty hose walks up to the bleachers from behind the cameraman. She reaches up past me and Erika, “stop that.” I can smell her body odor rising warm off her underarm.
The class picture comes home two weeks later with Erika and me squinting and frowning in the front row and obnoxious Paul dead center, sticking out a bright green tongue. We tried to learn in those years, but the sun makes you restless and why stand still when –
“Hey. Hey—this is me. This is me posing for the picture,” I make a ridiculous face, doubling my chin and lifting my upper lip off of my teeth. I begin making wheezing noises in the back of my throat as I look up at Beth’s face, and I hear Erika next to me erupt in mischievous cackling. I begin to cackle as well, behind my slipping sunglasses, and Kira takes a step back and subtly smiles at her sneakers. Chris snorts and turns away. Beth frowns behind the camera. Erika and I continue laughing and Beth frowns and brings the camera down to just below her dimpled chin.
Erika and I continue laughing moronically and we can’t control the snorts from coming out of our noses as we say,
“Okay, Beth, now – take the picture now,” Erika crosses her eyes and drools a little.
“Beth – hey, Beth. I’m ready for my photograph – Beth. Beth. Take the picture.”
I think of the photo that we are in the process of taking as I stick my tongue out of my mouth as far as it will go and wheeze. It will be an instant in time that will slowly fix itself on Polaroid. The sun will shine in Erika’s black hair and give me a long and distorted shadow.
I can feel my face contorting into an almost painful grimace as I continue laughing. Tears are coming to my eyes and my sunglasses continue to slip along the bridge of my nose – and it’s almost painful, almost.
Kira laughs at us nervously and takes two more steps back.
I look over to Chris standing with his back to us, “Hey. Look, look. This is Chris, and, and—this is me being Chris.” I bring my chin down to my chest and pout my lips, narrow my eyes. I’m trying to hold in the laughter, but my throat starts to hurt and I can’t anymore.
Beth stares blankly at us, frowning still. She blinks.
I turn to look at Erika. She too has tears welling in her eyes, and her nose is scrunched up in a tight contraction of muscle. We laugh uncontrollably, in hysterics now. There is no escaping the laughter and the restless fidgeting, waiting to board the bus. Waiting to board the bus that will be taking us to the Los Angeles Zoo. There is no turning back from the hysterics –
I suddenly think of me and Erika and Derek and Julia running through the supermarket aisles late at night. Running under bright, burning pulse of fluorescent lights. Julia runs along the aisle ends with a disposable camera, laughing between gasps for air, taking photographs every time the camera’s flash rejuices. Erika has darted from my side, she has disappeared. I am left by myself, running along the cereals and fruit preserves.
“I’m gonna getcha!” I turn and see Derek charging down the aisle, wielding a large loaf of bread in paper wrapping. I pump my legs hard but stop short of the end of the aisle, ducking my head under my arms. My head ducked low and my body cringed waiting for impact.
Derek paddles at my denimed ass with the bread. The bread swings and then pops as the paper wrapping rips in two, bread halves scatter. Julia shrieks and the camera goes click as the flash goes off. Erika emerges from behind a cheese display, “Oh my god.”
“What the hell do you think you’re doing! Are you kids high?” A man in uniform walks through the automatic doors and Erika reaches for my hand and we start running. We almost forget about Derek and Julia, but we call their name, and tear out of there laughing. Derek trips over his pants, drops his car keys, and I don’t know if I’m scared or proud –
I feel beads of sweat cling along the nape of my neck and I wish to squeeze the life out of Erika’s laughter and keep it in my wallet.
“This is Beth being the total butt of our big fat stupid joke,” and Erika brings her index and middle fingers up to her open mouth, making croaking creaking noises.
I whoop out loud and my sunglasses clatter to the ground, “Oh shit Erika! Oh shit! You gotta be nice to her, she’s taking our picture!”
Beth opens her mouth in a big, surprised O. Her open mouth, looking like it’s been slapped. Kira blanches. Chris cranes his neck back around to watch us. He stands there with Henry and Brett and the Brothers Gordon and glares.
I hear them and these words burn. I am ashamed and I bare my teeth and grin widely as I slap my hand over Erika’s mouth. She pulls away, laughing, “Oh my god. Oh my god. Don’t touch me. Sorry.” We laugh, high-pitched screeches now. These words burn.
“We’re friends, right? Beth? Right?”
“Yeah, Beth, just a joke between friends right? Beth?”
I bend down to pick up my sunglasses and look up at Beth. I think about how pissed off she looks right now, right now she is so mad. I rub the sunglass lenses on my t-shirt and think about how mad Beth and Kira and Chris are and I know Erika and I will be by ourselves at the zoo. We’ll be by ourselves on the last zoo trip. And at the zoo, after Erika wanders away from me and I am alone, I will go to the new orangutan exhibit and I will put my hand up against the glass, where the orangutan lies in a sad heap in the sun. I will put out my hand and I will whisper, “look at how sad you are in there.”
We laugh, hard.
The bus revs its engine in the now-empty parking lot. It toots its school bus horn. Beth suddenly brings the camera back up to her eye.
“Beth!” I shriek, “Beth! I’m not ready yet! Beth, I’m not ready!” Erika and I are so loud now, so hysterical, that we’re not laughing anymore; we’re screaming. I steal a glance at Chris and Henry and Brett and the Brothers Gordon. Erika shrieks up at Beth “No!” and Beth snaps the picture –
Sarah Arantza Amador is a graduate of the Creative Writing BA program at UC Santa Cruz and is a former Ph.D. Candidate in Spanish and Latin American Literatures at NYU. She lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains with her dog Roscoe. She’s most recently had flash published in The Airgonaut and Word Riot. She tweets @ArantzaSarah.
Wow this is a fantastic piece of writing.
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