24 | from Split

Split (excerpt)

Squaring the vibrant world or winnowing it to light and shadows. Amy glues to a color here, a contrast here, a soul slipping away over there, on the outside of the box. If she can only trap it in the square of the viewfinder, she can remember it for all time. The soul of the light on the box that speaks to all of us. 

Amy glances down, fiddling with her SLR camera, a cross look on her face. The first set of negatives she developed came out faded and plain. Muddled. Nothing at all like she thought when looking through her camera’s tiny perspective. She dreamt in dramatic cliff edges; black mountains swelling, reduced white edges of waves softening at the bottom as they met the wall. Instead, the photos were a bland gray, without much distinction and little life. 

Dan tracks Amy’s hair falling to her arms. In the streetlight and surrounding smudged darkness, her hair looks brown, red, yellow, and orange, depending on how she tilts her head. Ambient light, but they’ve missed the magic hour for filming. He angles to remember this moment—maybe he’ll capture it in a song later.

Behind Amy looms the library. It could be any library anywhere at night: blackened, large, silent. 

Dan wishes Amy was backlit; as it is now, her image is too melded into the vacant building. He imagines her in soft focus anyway, separated from the background, her face tinted and her eyes blurred as she looks at him. Natural, to then feel music in his body. 

Half notes, quarter notes, sixteenth notes made alive, rolling out of the trees around them. Music notes floating out of lumpy buildings. Note after note peeling off the outside of the box, showing Dan the soul made visible.

Amy bounds toward Dan’s face, laughs, stops and snaps the camera at him. Startled by the sharp motion and its cessation: a continuity flaw. Dan needs to continue her motion, watch where Amy is going, keep moving with her. But the flash of the camera makes him mad. Catches him unguarded. What does he look like? But she’s so cute…

In the available light, she sears his image: spiky hair crescendos, dark eyes rebel. Pale, glowing skin and black hair, a living chiaroscuro. Though Dan is in shallow focus, sharp and edged against the blurry background, a superimposed Dan echoes, surrounded by the horns in ska music. Amy sees red, black, yellow, and green as a plaid pattern overlaying Dan’s second face. The plaid stretching out in blocks in all directions. 

It’s too dark; Amy won’t get any usable shots. She’ll be frustrated later by the limits of her camera, her own talent, and how the world is able to show such hidden truths out in the open, until you try to pin them down. Life doesn’t want to be posed. The negatives will be solid blocks of black. Possibly, she screwed things up by exposing the film reel on accident.

Positive people call it grit; negative people call it stupidity. Amy keeps at it. 

It’s her middle finger to talent, to fear, to being understood, to being labeled. 

Or maybe it’s just a search. A search for self, a search for home, a search for how to share what she views by taking a photo: a tiny object pulsing with the world. 

Dan and Amy share big, pulsing imaginations. He is her subject; she is his subject. Dan is making a film, and he asks her to act in it. 

Amy wilds the line she’s supposed to read seriously, but she can’t help it. Dan tells her to inhabit the idea of another person. She’s too much herself to pretend to be someone else. Self-definition. It’s easy to be anti. But she knows what it’s like to have reality bite down the size of your imagination with limit after limit, so she struggles to help him. She doesn’t care whether he’s going anywhere or whether he’s talented. She doesn’t care where she’s going and whether she’s talented. They each make things with their own hands and minds. That’s what matters. Anybody can do this. Chordal harmony, rather than the tune.

Light gleams on Amy’s face, near her mouth, as she acts. Dan zooms in to see a huge mouth open, laughing, and somehow worried. Her left upper lip creases and he knows she tries hard. He thinks of what his own mouth must look like when he plays the saxophone. 

Amy watches Dan watching her. She sees his eyes crinkle at the corners, his mouth smiling. She knows he’s happy, but it still looks like the kind of smile that floats on his face, fixed just before a grimace. She thinks of what he looks like when he plays the saxophone. His eyes brightening and darkening with the syncopated phrasing. His rhythmic feel flowing and subtle. 

For fun, Amy shoots a Dutch angle photo of Dan directing. She wants to get a new view of him. He smiles again when she flits over to show him the picture. His smile fades quickly as he returns to work. He’s activating his cadence—now’s not the time for a solo. 

Quite a still shot. It doesn’t have a hold on him. Such a small view—so what if the Dutch angle shows a new look? Dan likes the expansive time-feel that film offers. Amy’s casual use of the uneasy angle bothers him. Disorienting tricks alienate people. They are too discordant. But he looks back at her, and a chord thrums through his body. 

Wide view—like when Amy’s character walks on pavement, and Dan sets up his camera above her at the edge of the building’s roof. She winds the path, a dark figure in a winter hat, picking her way between the piles of snow, the blocks of shadowed buildings, the inky trees and matted mountains, and the drab sky. No birds in the sky today. 

Dan makes the tracking shot of Amy below. He’s the observer, the capturer. A medium groove.

Off set, off location: Dan and Amy are in the house. She dances to music freeform. 

“People at raves don’t dance like that.”

Ever the director.

“Well, if this was a static shot, you’d be the focus—I mean your skills. Like me, when I act in a comedy bit. Even the bloopers are funny.” 

From an eye-level shot, Amy asks him to get up and show her how to dance then. She sits, looks up at Dan from a low angle. As she watches him, she hears an intro, then a lick. He moves into a jump beat. She knows this beat—shades of breakneck tempo in punk. 

Her movements are now no longer as raw.

Though Amy dislikes watching herself in the film, it’s incredible because it’s a moving record of their lives at that time. A mainstream path here, a pond there. Their core group—always together. Friends, acquaintances. Outfits. Favorite restaurants. Apartments. Chromatic harmony. 

“I don’t know how your relationship with Dan works, Amy. I couldn’t have a partner like that.”

I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. Things seem to be going well; I think we are happy. Why are my friends unhappy? We all like to hang out together. But maybe the way we see things will divide us someday. 

And maybe Amy’s friends are right—maybe her relationship is not as perfect as their relationships. But there’s the rule of thirds: subjects off-centered in the composition draw your eye in and allow it a direction to move forward. 

She’s a terrible actress, but Dan puts her in the film anyway. And when they need an image for a piece of the film, Dan asks Amy to shoot it. To him, it’s a natural role for her. The ground beat.

“Why didn’t Dan let someone else do it? These other guys working on the movie can do it.”

Maybe a small thing—he sees me in this, wants to share it with me. But they don’t. 

Such a simple moment. Dan leathers up, supports her work. Amy wonders why the good in their relationship seems invisible to their friends. 

When you’re young and happy, you don’t notice the Now. You’re clearly occupied. It’s still working, though. The Now is tireless. The Now is waiting behind a bush, and it could be your friend surprising you with a gift of chocolates, or it could be a giant, ravenous dog. Only time will tell.

“The world is not multidisciplinary, so you have to choose.” 

It’s easier for some to divide people into segments. Vignettes. 

So how can people like art and music and sports at the same time? Remember: unacknowledged parts of people become visible and connected. Amy flashes when she skates and when she runs. Dan slams at basketball and solos at the gym. They both exude joy when they inhabit their bodies. One dances to ska, the other thrashes in the pit. 

The more Amy watches hockey, the more she spirals into its world. Amy loves feeling the movements and getting to know strategies so well you feel you can guess about something amazing a split-second ahead of time. Time crystallizes just before the goal is made. She wonders if that’s what Dan loves about baseball—that split-second guess.

“See, Amy? When it’s a full count and the bases are loaded, it’s obvious he’d bunt. Maybe too obvious. That’s the choice they have to make, depending on the number of outs.”

There’s always more at stake than you think there is. 

Amy watches him watch the game. There’s a fight—the players charge the mound. Nothing like the fights in hockey, but still rough. Moving things faster. She leans in, hearing a kind of anarchy in Dan’s body—not his words. 

“Did you just see that play? A great catch, as usual for him, and then a terrific throw to get the guy out at home. The right fielder’s DRS—that’s defensive runs saved—is now the highest in the league so far this season.”

I used to understand when people thought baseball dragged on and could be boring. Finding the right melody. But the deeper you get into any world, the more interesting it becomes. Stay open. Find people who like opening. 

There’s a hard, relentless, fierce look that comes over Dan when he’s watching sports. Amy wonders if she ever looks like that, too. 

Amy goes on a trip to Zambia in Africa for a few weeks. She gets to see Victoria Falls and camps out with the safari animals. Dan stays behind. More than she expects, she feels her trip missing an important cameo appearance. She spots matching wooden bowls with animals carved on the outside, paint dabbed into the rough forms. Amy is drawn to how alive the bowls look; with their individual carvings and imperfect strokes, she feels the attention and care of their creator. One bowl has three animal mothers: giraffe, elephant, and zebra. The other bowl cradles three animal babies: giraffe and elephant calves, and a zebra colt. She takes them with her on the buses, the car trips, the flights, and the train rides from Africa back home. 

Dan hears Amy coming down the stairs into his basement bedroom. She enters the point of focus in the doorway a moment—centered in the crosshairs. The hallway light behind her floods the stairs, the doorframe, the rounded ceiling light that’s off. Deep focus clear; her hair and curved face in as much detail as the wood grain of the doorframe. 

Amy hears Dan rising from his seat on the bed. His face is in freeze-frame as he stares at Amy with wide eyes and an open mouth. Dan either zooms toward her or Amy dollies toward him, the room stretching past as his dark eyes suck her in. Their hug so tight she’s not sure who’s stronger, fiercer. 

As they hug, he imagines an arc shot spinning around them, closing in on their feelings. A nice nightcap to the month for Dan. Happy she’s back, he nuzzles into her bronze wavy hair. A brief moment for them—an afternoon with medium light and short shadows. 

Amy, with a pink face, gives Dan the mother bowl. She keeps the other and so childishly hoards it, its meaning tied to her like an umbilical cord. In her is born a hybrid genre: for her, it’s not split into two well-known genres but is a blend of many. She likes the in-between, uncategorizable nature.

Dan likes different genres but enjoys them as separate, whole, known categories. While Amy was gone, Dan continued as his same self. Sometimes he heard diminished notes more than augmented ones, but his axe remained unaffected. Maybe he didn’t have his money shot, but he felt the mise-en-scène was whole nonetheless. A collection of one perfect pour after another.

Clutter surrounds Amy and Dan. Laundry on the floor of his room, books piled on the bed behind them. A flag hangs askew above the bed. Some of the bulbs in the string of lights under the flag are out. The tired, dusty window overlooks dried grass. Outside, the trees are budding and birds flit about. Still early, a step past winter, the sky is that dim, just-waking-up yellow. Nearby townhouses lie under a carpet of dull air. 

The openness of a hybrid existence draws Amy in, and up and out and away. She leaves again, this time for a job offer out of state, to work at a college as a photographer. She doesn’t care that she doesn’t know anyone there—she’s following her passion. Dan’s support for her inner core makes it possible. They stay together, talking on the phone with bursts of laughter and longing. When they visit each other, their connection is intense. Sometimes, it’s like a filter casting over their time alone, diffusing any confusion or sadness.

Over time, though, as they stand at opposite ends of a long shot, Amy feels further from Dan. He exists so much without her, it starts to feel natural. It’s more disconcerting when they are together. 

Dan pulls out a map to trace just how far apart they are. The distance always looks so small: a fingertip here, a thumb space there. He can point to exactly where he is, still in one spot. Dan traces his finger to where Amy lives. Yet he can’t see her on the map. He feels she could be anywhere. Indeed, when she calls, she tells him about restaurants she’s at, friends’ houses, new places she’s discovered—and it’s jarring. 

Meanwhile, Dan enters a rowdy doorframe into a party scene. He pans across the room, taking in the stock footage of drinking, dancing, shouting. 

Dan hardens into a still image. He becomes a few backstory scenes Amy rewinds. 

Or is it Amy who becomes still, and turns into the static backstory?

The Now is like a tsunami. It keeps coming. It rages out of the ocean. It will absorb you or flow over you, depending on your size. It will give its force to you or take your force; it will bend your knees. It will make you use your muscles and your mind at once. It will force perfect harmony in you. It will give just enough to your body, just enough to your soul to keep both satisfied and calm. And then it will push you over and make you taste salt so that you can breathe but you can’t really breathe and the only thing left for you to do is choke. 

“I can’t believe you would ever say that.”

“Well, I’m sorry you couldn’t trust me.”

I never thought you would hurt me.

“I never thought I would be saying this.”

You’re saying this out loud and I can’t believe you’re saying it and there’s no way to make you stop saying it.

“I never thought it would be so easy to let you go.”

Like an under-valued employee? 

I never thought my hands would separate from your body as if they hadn’t been glued down for years.

“I don’t know what else to say.”

“I have nothing to say.”

There are no words for this. Now stop.

The Now is not a story. It doesn’t have an arc, or plot, or character, but it does have rising and falling action. It has climaxes sometimes, and it has excitement. It carries pain, brings delight, shows us what is most important. The Now takes over like a bouncer. It grabs your elbow and escorts you outside if it thinks you’re causing a ruckus. 

But the Now is also like music. It has tonal shifts like you wouldn’t believe. You could listen to the Now and hear screeching, but there is always an undertone. The trouble is, you can’t tune your ears. All you can do is try to hear what the Now has to offer, even the screeching, and keep in mind the next moment with the Now is brand-new. 

Sometimes the Now is slow and endearing, like cookies cooling off. Other times it stops you sharp and hard and you don’t ever want to get back to know it. But the Now plunges on with violence, pushing you down, and the worst part is the caress it gives you after you fall—insisting on hope just when you’re getting used to the cold, slick ground.

Heidi Kasa writes fiction and poetry. Her work has been a finalist for a Black Lawrence Press award, shortlisted for a Fractured Lit award, and sold at City Lights bookstore in San Francisco. Kasa’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Meat for Tea, The Raw Art Review, and Ab Terra, among others. She edits nonfiction, sells handcrafted necklaces, and is learning how to take good care of native Texas flowers and plants. She currently lives in Austin.