2018-12-06 20:40 photography fiction flash-fiction Benjamin Brood

Penumbra

I believe photographs steal your soul. I slink between CCTV cameras. Every foray into the outside world is a terrifying excursion. I could suddenly be caught in the background of some ubiquitous selfies. I could be captured behind an ATM transaction. I could be doomed to limbo from the tinted window of a passing bus of tourists, patrolling the capitalist battle zone. A single slip and my immortal essence would be ripped from me, uploaded to Instagram or lost in some surveillance database, perhaps exchanged for a ruble in some future data breach. I can't claim to understand the contemporary obsession to record everything, from minutiae to tragedy, from salacious to the mundane, every wink, every faked smile, every greasy meal.

It has seemed clear to me, for quite some time, that what was said in the past, when photography was new, that the capturing of the human image so easily, so mechanically, so absently, is dangerous. To agree you don't need to believe in the metaphysical soul as I do.

I plan my routes carefully. I have considered a disguise, but rejected it as a trick of surfaces. It would be me. I would still be stolen.

One day I saw her, dodging the CCTV, weaving in and out of the camera coverage bubbles with a deft guile that was exhilarating. I saw her adjust then adapt with the abrupt intersection of young revelers, phones in hand, arms permanently thrust out like the stalk of a blind, hungry plant. She weaved into the penumbra, hiding in an invisible shard. I knew the only viable location closest to her was the old camera shop.

Wait, a camera shop? Yes, one of the safe places was an outdated camera shop — the aged owner didn't have video monitors. He sold long since discontinued film cameras and used to do processing. The place was out of the way and nobody went in there anymore. Someone from his generation wouldn't just take a stranger's picture without asking, that would be incredibly rude.

This is where she would go, I suspected.

I was right. She must've known too. She must've had the same surreptitious map. After she entered the shop, waiting for the inebriated selfies to pass, I carefully made my way over. When I entered she looked at me, sharply. It's you, she said. It's me, I replied. You avoid them too, I've seen you, she said. Yes, I said.

We began to meet at the camera shop regularly. The owner sat at the back, quietly. We would pretend to look at cameras, the owner would pretend that we wanted to buy something.

One day she asked, what if we stole each others souls? What do you mean, I said. With this old Polaroid, what if I took a photo of you and you took a photo of me, she said. Would you promise to keep my soul safe? I said. Yes, I promise, she said. And you promise to keep mine safe forever too? she asked. Yes, I said.

We paid the owner for the Polaroid and he gave us his last pack of film.