By Patrick Jahnke
We walked all around the town. We walked across streets during rush hour and across abandoned dirt roads. We walked down the road to Ms. Harris’s Convenient Store, on some days, and all the way to the horizon, on others. We walked through rows and rows of cornfields—you liked the way the corn felt on your body—and through open fields, because you felt free. We walked as the blacktop melted our shoes and our ankles were frozen in the snow; we crunched the leaves with each breath and soaked our clothes in rain—you always said you swore you could see each rain drop. We walked until you said you were tired, which always seemed to be far after I wanted to stop.
We walked that first day to the cemetery because you wanted to see your wife. She could no longer take you on these walks, so you hired a young man to take her place. I still see her next to me when I’m walking, you told me in front of her tombstone, and many times later. I always wanted to ask how you know what she looks like, but I knew that was not polite. I took the job because my parents wanted me to do some good in the world, even though I was only thirteen. Arguments transpired until my dad said, “Take your camera on the walks. You’ll get some good pictures.”
We started out taking walks every Wednesday. I would take the bus to your house after school and be home for dinner. As I got older, our walks started getting longer and occurred more often. Once a week became nearly every day and my dinner time got moved to after dark. You told me stories of your teenage years and how you met your wife. Of how one day, on a bench in the park, you heard the voice of a woman asking why you were staring at her—she did not know you were blind. The world came into place with her words. Her voice painted you the picture of your hometown, so that you could see the beauty of it. And in return, she never hung anything on the walls of your home or started a garden in your yard. She never complained about her life and learned to listen to the calm and innocence around her.
We walked up until I went to college. You bought me a new camera, though I do not know where you got the money, as a going away gift. You told me never to stop taking pictures. That the town was too small for my camera and I had so much to see, to experience. Once school ended for the summer, I moved in with you. I wanted to turn my pictures into stories for you to laugh and cry at. I wanted to bring my experiences to your ears. I told you about life in the big city and all the art museums I had visited. I told you about my new friends and the pictures they were able to capture. I told you about the girlfriend I had, until she broke up with me because I looked at her through a lens, instead of with my own eyes. I told you about everything. As long as we were walking, I had something to tell you.
One day, you woke me up early in the morning and told me that you wanted to go on a walk.
“It’s 7. I’m going back to sleep.”
“Let’s go see the sunrise. You haven’t seen it here since you went to college. That’s what happens when you sleep until lunch every day.”
“Tomorrow. We’ll see the sunrise tomorrow.” I cocooned myself into my blanket, hoping that you would go away.
“Fine. I’ll go walk by myself.” I could never let you do that. Though I knew you could navigate through the town, having memorized the area long ago, I never knew what circumstances would occur that required the use of sight.
“Okay, okay. I’ll go with you. Let me get ready first.”
“Every time,” you said with a smile on your face. You always knew that I would give in to what you wanted.
When I finished getting ready, you were already outside waiting for me. You told me that the cold, quiet air was your favorite part of each morning. While the world was sleeping, you were consuming its presence. Without noise to tell you where everything is, you could imagine your own world—with your own imaginary friends and stories. A world where you could be with your wife. A world where anything was possible.
Dust whirled around our feet as we walked down the dirt road. Though our town was small, the best spot to view the sunlight was still outside of the town limits. Away from the lights and the buildings, we could see the yellow energy swarming over the nature. The light rose over the corn field, like eye lashes blocking the view of their opening lids. A tree stood next to the field, bringing a home to the birds and wild life. Leaves of different shades and sizes filled the sky, each reflecting the sun rise in a different way. As the wind worked its way through the branches, one leaf broke free from the only home it had ever known. Like mother holding baby, the wind rocked the leaf back and forth, safely bringing it to its destination.
I took the shot mid-fall. Sun-rise in the background, the corn rows awoke from their night sleep while the tree reached out to grab its fallen member.
“Perfect picture?” You asked, like you always did.
“Not even close, but I like it a lot.” And I did. Something about the picture brought out the true emotions of the scene. It was calm, peaceful, and wait. Behind the tree was something that I had not seen originally. Looking at the picture longer, bringing it closer and closer to my eyes, the white blur began to show some features. This was something I had known; something I, and everyone else, possesses—it was an arm.
“Who are you talking to?”
“I think I see someone. I’ll be right back, wait here.” The arm became clearer and clearer as I neared the tree. But there was something different about this arm. It lay there motionless, even more than during sleep. Pale skin, more pale than I had ever seen before, glowed with the rising sun. I could feel my heart beating, camera in hand, taking each step slower than the last.
The arm connected to a body lying behind the tree, back on ground with head rested up on the tree. No movement in the chest, a red stain bled through the lower level of his shirt. In the center of the stain, a hole dug through his shirt and into his abdomen. The blood had not fully dried yet. Eye lids still open, the man seemed to be looking up at me.
I had never seen a dead body before. I did not scream. I did not cry. I did not walk away. I stood there, as motionless as the body. Though darkness filled the air, I could just make out the final moments of the sun rise through the reflections on his eyes. There is something beautiful in knowing that his final moments were in such an innocent environment. I imagined that all his pain dispensed in the morning air—nature proving to be supernatural. As the body lay there, the world continued to live. I raised the camera up to my eye.
I never told you about the body. When you asked if I had found the person I was calling out to, I told you I must have been seeing things. You told me you wished you could do that. I told you I was satisfied, and you said you were tired, so we walked back. We walked away from the corn fields, across the dirt road, past Ms. Harris’s Convenient Store, and back up to your house, still as plain as the day I met you—leaving the body behind the tree.
I never forgot about the body. Who shot him? Why? Did he know the person? What were his last words? Day after day, these thoughts consumed my mind. Movies played in my head of every scenario that might have possibly happened. A confrontation between two drunk men, arguing about the woman at the bar; an employee retaliating against the boss that fired him; a drug deal gone wrong; or a suicide, perfectly planned in front of the sun rise—the only spot that gave peace to a tortured man’s mind. I read later in the newspaper that they never found the killer.
I dreamed of the body coming to life. Some nights, the body reached up and shook my hand. His cold fingers wrapped around my palm, squeezing with what little energy he had left. Other nights, he was not dead at all. He was just a man, sitting up against a tree, enjoying his favorite book. He and I spent hours talking about our lives and loves, mine for photography and his for literature. Once I dreamed that the body was not there. Looking at my picture, the arm still stuck out behind the tree, but no body was there. No body or blood or gun hole, just grass waving in the breeze. I woke up screaming. Sweat covered my sheets and my lungs were having trouble. You had heard my yells and shook me awake, asking me what was wrong. “Just a bad dream,” I said.
The dream I remember most vividly was when I showed you the body. At first you did not believe me, why would you? But still, you grabbed hold of my arm and followed me to the unknown. I took your hand and placed it on his foot, which seemed like the least scary part of his body to me. Once I knew you believed me, I let you feel his face. This is how you knew what he looked like; how you saw his eyes staring at you; how I gave you the dreams that I was having. You said that he felt so cold—colder than the morning air that you so loved touching your skin. I could tell that you were thinking about her, your wife. You felt the same coldness, picturing his cheek as hers, like when you told her goodbye for real. A memory flashed through your mind as your hand slowly fell away from his chin: your first date—when you kissed her on your porch, feeling the true connection of another human being for the first time. Wanting this connection again, you slid your hand down to the wound and placed a finger in the bullet hole. Feeling the man’s death brought new life to you. I wonder how you would have really reacted.
After some time, it became harder to remember what his body looked like. I began to forget the color of his eyes, where exactly the wound was, or even how his body was placed against the tree. The thought of forgetting him was heart wrenching, so I printed the picture off and hung it on your wall—where I knew you would never find it. Each walk from bedroom to kitchen was paused by a quick look at the picture. For the first time in my life, I did not care about all pictures, just this one.
You knew something was different about me, but you never said anything. I started going on my own walks, but would leave my camera behind. I stopped telling you stories about my college years and stopped asking for yours. Our walks grew shorter and shorter and occurred less often. Instead, you would sit on the couch, next to my camera, both collecting dust. Once I did not come back to the house for days, which you accepted my apology for, without asking any questions. I was less concerned in the life portrayed in pictures and more in my own life.
One night, I stumbled into the house to find you waiting for me. You told me that you could smell the alcohol on my breath. I responded by swishing another gulp down my throat.
“I have not said a word this whole time. You are not my son and you can make your own decisions, but I feel obligated to say something.”
“Say something about what? Nothing’s wrong.”
“You haven’t touched your camera in months.”
“This camera?” I asked, picking it up, “I don’t need this shit anymore.”
The camera broke into pieces—like the vase that Ronald broke—as it slammed into the wall. Each piece falling to the ground, just as the leaf fell towards the body. I walked out of the door, leaving behind the broken pieces, the picture of the body, and all the memories.
I walked past Ms. Harris’s Convenient Store, across the dirt road, through the corn fields, and to the tree. It seemed so bare. All the leaves had fallen off by then, so the tree was naked in the wind. I walked to the back of the tree and lied down. Making sure everything was perfect, I rested my neck up on the bark, moved my arm so that it was noticeable from the front side of the tree, and stared off toward the horizon.
I remember the first time I met you. Your house was so normal, even I did not want to take a picture of it. The single storied house painted in solid white sat in an empty yard. No trees for shade, flowers for beauty, or even a fence for security surrounded the house—like an artist gave up on his painting half way through.
“I’ve never met a blind man before,” I said to my father.
“He is just like you and me.”
“But what if he doesn’t like the fact that I take pictures?”
“He’ll be fascinated by it. Don’t worry.”
The wait between our knocks and the turn of the lock seemed endless. I closed my eyes and walked around the porch, trying to see what it was like—my dad told me to cut it out after bumping into the wall the second time. You looked like a normal man. Besides the extra dark glasses covering your eyes, I would have never questioned anything. Your hand stuck out, shaking my dad’s first, and then mine, moving from him to me like you knew exactly where we were. Inside your house was more shocking to me than the outside. No pictures hung on the walls, no lamps shown in the corners, and no vases sat on tables, waiting to be broken by a kid and his imaginary friends. No TVs could be seen, but radios were placed in each room. Classical music played through one, while a man spoke about the upcoming presidential election on another.
“I know it isn’t much,” you said, “but I don’t need much to look at.” The edge of my lips curved up, but I kept quiet, not knowing whether it was the time to laugh or not.
“It looks just fine. I’ve never been one to fill my home with decorations either,” my dad said. I could tell he was nervous about this too.
I inspected one of your radios instead of listening to you two talk. I thought about what it would be like to only listen. Eyes closed, I turned the knobs of the radio, trying to imagine the noise that would come out. The music would get louder or softer, until I figured out the perfect volume. I needed a picture of this. I knelt, giving me an upward angle towards the radio. By placing the radio at the top of the picture, the eyes automatically look up, giving it a sense of power. Once I thought all the variables were perfect, my finger came down.
Your head snapped over to exactly where I was standing, like the click drew you a map to where I was buried.
“I hear you have a fascination for cameras, Elliot.”
“They’re my favorite thing. I don’t go anywhere without one.”
“How about you and the camera walk me somewhere? We can go right now.”
“Where are we going?”
“I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”
About the Author
Patrick Jahnke is a student at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, IN, where he studies creative writing. He writes short stories and poetry and incorporates his experiences of living in a small town in the Midwest in his Facebook – Patrick Jahnke, https://www.facebook.com/patrick.jahnke.3
Twitter – @Just_4_Learning writing.