By the time I conceded, there were already white freckles multiplying on the sidewalks, as if in alabaster suntan. At a generous estimate, the limbs arching above the street had twenty-four hours left in bloom. The sweetness lingered in one’s nose after heading indoors, recalling the neighborhood’s savored bits of redemption in the days before gentrification. I retreated from my apartment to the financial depths of Manhattan, reluctant agenda in mind.
The old man on Liberty Street saw me the moment I entered his cavernous shop, and withdrew the Pentax from beneath the counter. “Late, this year,” he said.
I counted out the crisp bills from the ATM and passed him the sum we had established.
“I ordered the battery,” he said. “If you want it.”
I wound the lever and depressed the button. The shutter clicked with youthful arrogance, despite its manufacture date. The pulse in my forearms quickened. I said something about the natural mechanism of the camera, and the odd magic of something capable of functioning without power. He nodded solemnly, first looking to the digital devices available for browsing, then to the so-called antiques behind glass. There were a variety of 35 mm on display near the register, as if to beckon shoppers to reconsider their purchase. To view photography as an art form, instead of a mere recording method. The cartridges held a visible film of dust.
In less than an hour, I had returned to Brooklyn and piled the full assortment of filters into a satchel. For years I’d kept to the existing supply, but none of them had proven sufficient. I visited forgotten corners of the city with the aging photograph in hand, curling at the corners, seeking council as to the proper tools to recapture it. The world had gone digital. I located novelty shops selling saturated lenses, and purchased them despite the absurd names. Devil’s Eye. Indigo Army. November Hayride.
Beneath the branches of Havemeyer, there were technicolor bathtubs filled with soil. Weeds spilled out of their painted lips. I crouched beside one of them and emptied the bag into ordered rows according to film exposure and filter number. A father walked by with his child, one sipping coffee, the other a milkshake. The aging morning light swept over renovated brownstone rooftops as the ideal hour approached.
My hands moved slowly, knuckles aching. I thought over past attempts, trying to determine my error. I counted the stickers on a streetlight, not thinking of a lazy Sunday morning, an oversized sweatshirt, a suggestion to take a walk. Not hearing car horns. Not smelling burnt rubber. Not witnessing the haphazard flight of a bird.
I tilted the camera as the light hit the lowest canopy of blossoms and snapped the first of the roll’s exposures. Focusing on the targeted frame, I employed upwards of twenty filters across all combinations of shutter speed and aperture. My fingers slid with forced familiarity as I exhausted roll after roll. A thud hit my stomach whenever one image was captured, then lifted with the promise of the next.
A misplaced summer gale threatened the endeavor, but for every gust that pulled my charges off course, there was a momentary lull in its wake.
The light shifted over time, casting shadows where there should have been none. I stared, heartsick, as the wind continued to rage, robbing the trees of their blossoming children.
That evening, I unlatched the darkroom in my vacant apartment. With sickening precision I slid my hands into a black bag, wherein I expelled the strands of film from their canisters, wound them around a reel, and slipped them into a developing tank. I shook them in the appropriate solutions at the appropriate temperatures, washed them as though nursing a child, then strung their haggard corpses from the ceiling.
I woke early the next morning, and confirmed that the branches of Havemeyer had indeed been stripped bare. The leaves were lush and vibrant, and could not be faulted for their hunger for life. The tumult of spring would end soon, and the sun would stroke their backs.
I cut and assembled the negatives. I left the apartment, camera on my shoulder. Approaching the subway, I passed an intersection. The same one I’d passed every morning since the original photograph was taken. There was a crossing guard guiding children.
The old man on Liberty Street furnished prints within the hour. He returned my bills from the previous day, as I returned the Pentax. My eyes clung to the inscription on the case, watching my daughter’s name disappear beneath the counter. I slid the pictures into my pocket without looking, and left the store for what I hoped would be the last time.
Nathaniel Kressen is a novelist, playwright, and screenwriter who lives and works in Brooklyn. His debut novel Concrete Fever (Second Skin Books, 2013) will be released on 6/6/13 at an event at Brooklyn Fire Proof featuring live music and an all star line-up of local writers.
Ariel Braverman is an award-winning illustrator, printmaker and graphic designer. A Philly native, Ariel graduated with honors from Vassar College and has an MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art. She’s a proud Space Camp alumna. You can find her at arielbraverman.com
Sunday Read is a weekly literary feature curated and edited by Wesley Salazar. We are accepting submissions of short stories, poetry, essays, script excerpts, comics, etc. (max: 1000 words) on a rolling basis. We are also looking for artists who would like to illustrate for Sunday Read. Please send submissions to wesleyATbushwickdaily.com.