Writings & Whatnot by Rob Hill
We were taking an awful chance, going out in public that day. But I was going stir crazy in that confined apartment and needed a respite. Holly tried to talk me out of it but she understood how claustrophobic I had become. We counted on the vastness of the city to keep us anonymous, strolling along the rainslick streets, inhaling the heavy air like it was a precious commodity. I almost felt normal again. We headed down to the edge of the park where I could look out over something green and alive for a change. Then, all too soon, we turned back.
We passed a couple leaning against the wall of an insurance building, arguing over something ridiculous, like whether to take the subway or a taxi to wherever they were headed. I felt a twinge of envy. They could yell their heads off and not care who saw them at it. I remembered that sense of freedom, the kind you take for granted until it slips away.
Holly tugged my arm. I looked in the direction she indicated. A gaunt woman with solemn eyes, her dark hair pulled into a rigid bun, held a strange box close to her chest. It took me a moment to realize it was a camera. She had been taking a photograph of the quarrelers and we had stepped into the shot.
Without hesitation I strode over to confront the woman. “I’m going to have to ask you for that film.”
She looked startled. It occurred to me that she was accustomed to being an observer and didn’t know how to react when the attention shifted onto her.
“I said I want that film,” menace creeping into my tone.
She shook her head firmly. She was frightened but determined. With a swipe I grabbed the box out of her hands. She fought back but I shoved her away and she fell against the curb. I couldn’t figure out the mechanism to open the back panel. Angrily I smashed the camera against the pavement. It was sturdily built and didn’t break easily, but I can be persuasive when necessary. I pulled the spool of film from the wreckage and shoved it into my overcoat pocket. The woman looked at me like I had thrown her newborn from a high window but she had sense enough not to make a move.
Holly and I hurried along the sidewalk. We had to get away before the cops were summoned. We turned at the end of the block and soon were safely back in our building.
“We can’t take any more chances like that,” Holly said. “From now on you don’t leave this apartment. Anything you need I’ll bring back here.”
I nodded, glancing around at the stifling walls that once again were to hold me captive. It had seemed so easy at the time. But now, nearly six weeks since my funeral, I felt my sanity fraying. No amount of grift was worth this anguish.
[Written for PEN Center USA’s “That Day” contest]