5 December 2017
Historical Fiction: Ava’s Journals
August 15, 1904
I passed by the Flat Iron building again, and it still hasn’t sunk in yet. How has the massive thing not toppled over yet? I know my strengths have never been in the fields of physics, but surely there’s something else at work here, keeping the structure upright? I’ve been passing by this building for a few years now, and I still speed up a little bit every time I walk by because my mind goes to the worst possible scenario of the wind picking up and blowing the skyscraper over like a sheet of paper. Why would someone want to build such an oddly shaped building in the first place? In terms of spatial efficiency, isn’t it terribly inconvenient to work in a triangular area? There’s that little corner where you can’t really fit anything because it’s so narrow, and the typical office layout would be kind of difficult to achieve with the increasing width of the room.
Whatever, that’s not really what I wanted to write about. It’s really hot these days, so I’ve been wearing my thinner skirts when I go outside, but those perverts are always waiting by the corner of the street there the building is located. I don’t know how much time they waste, standing there to wait for the wind to blow skirts up, but their lives must be pretty damn boring if they get some sort of excitement out of seeing ankles. I don’t claim to understand the mind of males. Obviously, I make an effort to hold my skirt down, but as long as they keep their beady little eyes to themselves, we won’t have a problem.
I’ve been taking a shortcut through the little park across the street from the building on my way home lately, and I always see the same man, standing beside his camera, walking aimlessly, or just sitting and watching the people walking past, as if one of them holds the answer to some question that has plagued him for the longest time. The few times I walked by him, he’s never had any reaction, but something changed today. I felt his gaze on the side of my head, but I would rather not be making eye contact with strangers in a park when it’s so dark that I can barely see five feet in front of me, so I kept my eyes straight ahead and continued on my path. As I approached the Flat Iron building, I pumped my legs to walk just the slightest bit faster.
August 19, 1904
He was there again. Like every other day I decided to throw caution to the wind and save a few minutes by walking through what would be the perfect set for a horror film, the man was just sitting there gazing at his surroundings. Nothing should have been out of the ordinary, except he spoke this time. To me. The paranoia manifested in a startled turn of my head in his direction, but it happened so fast that I swear I could have gotten whiplash. I didn’t even really hear what he said, but I heard the deep timbre of his voice and that frightened me into motion. My flight or fight instincts kicked in, and my body chose the former. My mind chose to entertain the worst-case scenario, and a little twig of a woman like me wouldn’t stand a chance. I bolted.
August 26, 1904
Okay call me a coward, but I didn’t take that shortcut for a couple of days. I’ll burn the extra calories if it means I don’t have to deal with the embarrassment of that man in the park. In retrospect, my hasty departure probably came off as extremely insensitive, and I’m sure he knew exactly what was going on in my head when I ran.
I think I was too tired from working particularly hard at the department store today to recognize that I was taking the familiar route through the park. I just kept walking without really thinking about what I was doing, and it only hit me when I saw him again. At this point, I was just wondering if this man was employed, because who has this much time on their hands to be sitting in a park doing nothing all day? Of course, I didn’t realize how many assumptions I was making until I started writing this journal entry.
I slowed down in my stroll, unsure if I should pretend that he wasn’t there, but he solved my dilemma for me because he called out again. It was only a brief “good evening” but he might as well have told me that he recognized me as the person who hightailed it out of the park, because the amusement was clear in his voice. I responded with an intelligent, “Uh” and that’s when the chuckling started.
“I won’t harm you.”
That’s exactly what someone would say if they were about to harm me, but I must have been extremely tired because I lowered my guard enough to stop in front of him. Not too close, mind you. I wasn’t that out of it.
He was standing by his camera, as always, and he must have noticed my gaze because the next words out of his mouth were, “It’s a wonderful scenery, but I prefer people.”
I didn’t really know what to say to that, but I’m going to assume he meant that people were his favored subject for photography. I looked at the complex setup next to him, completely clueless about the functions of his massive camera. The extent of my knowledge of photography begins and ends with the little Kodak Brownie camera stuffed somewhere in the corner of my room. They were being sold for a dollar, so I bought one with my earnings from the department store, but I don’t think I actually took any nice pictures with it. It’s not particularly difficult to use, so once I figured out how to work it (by pressing a button, unsurprisingly), I snapped a shot of a bush and that was that.
I’ve never had any artistic talent, but I can appreciate a skillfully painted work of art when I see one. Not that I see them often, mind you. I don’t really have the luxury of skipping out on a day of work to go see a bunch of color on canvas. Maybe in the future, when I can afford to lose a few hours’ worth of pay, and when art is more accessible to even the little poor people like me. But I digress.
I nodded, blurting out a, “Well… you have a good night then” and swiftly turned to continue my way home. I wouldn’t have remembered much of the interaction if I had stayed. That night, I was asleep before my head even touched the pillow.
August 30, 1904
I would bound to have a full-blown conversation with him eventually, but I didn’t think it would happen so soon. I was walking home from work as usual, and he was there again, but his attention was focused on the camera pointed toward something outside of the park. I slowed my tired gait as I approached him, and something possessed me to stop instead of speeding away as I have done every single time he so much as glanced in my direction.
He lifted his head from where it was practically glued to the camera and gave me a questioning look, which was a natural response, I suppose. I was surprised at myself as well.
“Hi,” I greeted. Safe. Unassuming.
The corner of his lip quirked up into a little smile, and he turned his head to focus on me. With a tip of his head, he returned my greeting and stopped there, but I could tell he wanted to say more. After what felt like an entire minute (but was, in actuality, probably no more than ten seconds) of awkwardly staring at each other, I decided to fill up the silence.
“So… are you reconsidering your preference for people instead of landscapes?” I inquired casually. I’m impressed with my memory, if I’m being honest, and the man appeared to be, as well.
“Ah, you remember! My words still stand, but I’ve found something worth photographing,” he responded, gesturing vaguely in the direction of his camera. I followed his hand, and I found myself looking at the same building I’ve been hurrying past for the last two years.
I tilted my head in wonder, remarking, “The Flatiron building? Is it that special?” In hindsight, I asked a really dumb question. I literally watched through the months as the structure became what it is today, oddly shaped as it is, and known as one of the first of its kind. Despite all the doubt surrounding its efficiency and status as a safety hazard, the building had been constructed and stood the test of time (and weather), never mind that it has only been two years. The one time I actually decide to strike up conversation with the man, and I expose the stupidity of my post-work thoughts. The man seemed to think so too, because he merely looked at me and gave me a few seconds to mull over what I just said.
“Well, I would hope I’m capable of capturing it in a way that makes viewers see something special about the building,” he stated, amusement lacing his tone. I’m pretty sure he saw me wince, because he immediately let out a brief chuckle and continued, “I think I would have to give up the name Edward Steichen if I produced something so meaningless that people would ask if there’s something special about it.”
At this point, I was ready to turn tail and forget this encounter ever happened. I got the impression that I should know who Edward Steichen is, but I don’t really keep up with the trends. I could only assume that I was speaking to some prolific photographer, and I just managed to insult him in some way. Who was I to question an artist during his creative process?
Stumbling my way through an attempt at an apology, I stuttered, “I didn’t mean to imply that—”
“It’s quite alright, I’m just having a bit of fun,” he insisted, smiling reassuringly. I looked away in embarrassment, but I was relieved that he didn’t take offense to my ignorance. “What do you see when you look at that building?”
Apparently, I wasn’t embarrassed enough to check my brain-to-mouth filter, because I still blurted out, “A sheet of concrete and steel on the verge of being blown over by a strong gust of wind.” If I could describe the feeling of self-imposed humiliation I felt in that moment, I would. Surprisingly, Edward Steichen still had that amused expression on his face.
“No need for the embarrassment; we all see art in different ways. Once I take these photographs, maybe you’ll see just how haunting I find the building, myself,” he revealed with an all-knowing gleam in his eye.
I wasn’t sure what to make of his words, but I was quick to put an end to our unexpected interaction, for I was not eager to embarrass myself further. I did walk a bit faster past the Flatiron building that night, though.