#4: Perhaps

Thursday / 25 July 2013 / 10 am / Long Island Rail Road, NY

Perhaps it was transit. That thought occurred to her as she sat in the train, her back facing her destination as if its metal body was dragging her there against her will. She noted the train’s horn, as frequent as it was distant, and wondered why the repetition was necessary, what was there that needed to be warned or frightened. (She got her answer later – she had to make sure the sound was really called a ‘horn,’ so she googled-with-a-lower-case-g just to make sure, and found a press release stating that they were trying to minimise its use, but that it served to warn motorists, pedestrians, and passengers on station platforms.)

She also noted that the air conditioning – “AC” here, “air con” back home, she reminded herself – was far too cold. It might have been perfect relief for the archetypal summer’s day, but it wasn’t the archetypal summer’s day. It was too cold and grey, and threatening to be wet; it was a summer’s day that belonged elsewhere, a setting from a book, perhaps.

Perhaps it was the weather, then. Or the fact that the weather was so different from what she had hoped. That one day out of the entire summer that she was to make this trip, this trip that she was unlikely to ever make again, and here was the kind of weather she hated! Not because of its physical or psychological effects, but its photographic ones. Yes, she hated the weather for what it did to the images that she had otherwise anticipated, the ones that would have otherwise served as proof-of-presence-at-presence, the ones upon which she would have otherwise looked back and said, “That place was so much more than I had initially dreamed!” She had already built a myth around her destination that her camera was supposed to fulfill – the promise of a William Egglestonian landscape or interior, those photographs awash with lush, quiet gold. She had dreamed of sunlight overflowing into a room, but only into a part of the room; a window would resiliently restrict it to an area of geometric strength as the rest of the room remained content in its relative darkness. That photograph would never materialise, at least by her hand, and at the time she didn’t think about all the other factors that would not allow that photograph to materialise – she only blamed the weather.

Why did she think of Eggleston? Perhaps, at the back of her mind, it was that quotation: “I only ever take one picture of one thing. Literally. Never two. So then that picture is taken and then the next one is waiting somewhere else.” What happens when one is unable to locate the picture that is “waiting,” or the picture that one imagines to be “waiting somewhere else?” In the midst of her manufactured regret, she could not understand that the quotation also conveyed a certain serendipity, and that the incidental photographer must not know that the picture is waiting.

Then she realised – it wasn’t transit, or weather, or missed opportunities, or remembered quotations, or the unrequited love that had started it all. Perhaps, she hoped this would be the final perhaps, it was all of those things subsumed under the category of ‘flux.’ She found herself just shy of being absolutely sure that this was the answer after all. ‘Flux,’ a destabilisation that took place between two secure points, and when it was tenacious enough to entrap her, or when she was weak enough to succumb to its throes, she would write; write, in an attempt to gain some impermanent control through the act of description, and then it would be alright again, too alright for her to string words.

Berny Tan