She didn’t look at the photograph as she handed it to the man who would frame it. She didn’t want to. Not here. The man smiled and said that she could return to pick it up tomorrow. The man was handsome. The girl in the photograph would have asked for his number, but the woman standing before the man simply nodded, turned on her heels, and left the store.
The man stared at the photograph. It was a close up of two women on a bench in what looked like Central Park. He wondered why the woman would choose to have it framed. It was not a pretty picture. It was obvious that whoever had been holding the camera had a shaky hand, as everything was blurry. One of the woman in the picture was wearing glasses and there was too much glare so you couldn’t see her eyes. The other woman had red eyes from the camera’s flash. The person taking the picture must have been covering the lens slightly with their finger, because you could see it in the top left-hand corner of the picture. At the same time, there was a certain innocence and beauty to the picture. Both of the women were laughing. They both had long wavy hair that was flowing in the wind, and they looked so free. The man could tell he was looking at pure joy.
He took the photograph to the back of the store to be framed.
The woman pulled her phone out of her purse as she unlocked the door to her apartment. As she set down her keys and took off her jacket, she dialed the only number she had memorized. The contact picture of the number showed up as the phone rang; it was the same picture she gave to man at the frame store, her favorite picture. The woman listened to the voicemail recording, but she did not leave a message. She never had, and there was no reason for her to start today.
The two girls met when they started middle school. They had both been outcasts all of their lives. The woman vividly remembered her soon-to-be best friend approaching her during recess and asking what book she was reading. After showing her the book, her new friend had laughed and pulled the same book out of her backpack. She sat down read it alongside her. In that moment in sixth grade, the woman had known that she was no longer alone.
The picture was taken right after the girls had graduated from college. They had always known that they would get out of the small town they had grown up in. They dreamed of somewhere grand, somewhere amazing. Graduating cum laude from NYU was a dream come true for both of them. The woman knew, with or without the picture, she would always remember that moment.
The woman laid out her outfit for the next day. She brushed her teeth, washed her face, and got into bed, alone in her apartment.
The woman dreamt of her friend that night. They were back in Central Park, where the picture was taken. They were running around and giggling, but soon the woman couldn’t tell where she was. The streets were getting more and more crowded, and it seemed as if they were getting smaller as well. The woman was having trouble breathing. She turned around and her friend had disappeared. She was pushing through the crowd for what felt like hours trying to find her, but her friend was gone, so she went back to the bench where the picture was taken and sat down, alone.
The woman woke up shaking, but she was unsurprised by the dream. It was not like this was the first time she had this dream.
The woman rolled out of bed. She wasn’t expecting to sleep well anyway. She put on the outfit that she had laid out the night before. She knew that it didn’t really match the occasion, but she didn’t care. She made a cup of coffee. She drank. The woman felt numb.
She gathered her things and left the apartment to pick up the frame. When she arrived, there was a different man at the front of the shop than the one who had been there the day before. As he handed her the framed picture, he looked at her critically. It seemed almost as if he were judging her picture because the quality was poor, but he didn’t understand. The quality of the picture didn’t matter. What mattered was the quality of the moment. The woman didn’t care that the picture was blurry or that you couldn’t really see her eyes or her friend’s eyes. She didn’t care that part of the picture was covered by the finger of the stranger in Central Park they had asked to take the picture. Her friend hadn’t cared about those things either because the moment was perfect. The woman took the framed picture and left the shop.
The woman didn’t walk or hail a cab or do anything for several minutes once she was on the sidewalk. She couldn’t believe where she was about to go. She took a few deep breaths, called her memorized number, and waited for it to go to voicemail.
“Hi, you’ve reached Charlotte’s phone. Thanks for calling. I’m sorry I’ve missed your call, but I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Have a great day.”
The woman felt relaxed the second she heard her friend’s voice. She loved how her personality came through even in her voicemail. She was glad that it did, because it was all of her friend that the woman had left.
The woman hailed a cab.
Everyone at the venue was in black. The woman was not. She felt out of place, but her friend would not have wanted anyone to wear black. No one listened when the woman said this.
She placed the framed picture in the lobby next to all of the other pictures of her friend. None of these pictures were blurry. None of them had glasses with glare or red eyes or fingers covering parts of the picture. All of the pictures were quality pictures, but none of the pictures were quality moments. Still, the woman felt ashamed of her picture and of her colorful outfit. She could feel people noticing and silently judging her.
She knew that this was not what her friend would have wanted. Not at all. She doubted that her friend even knew all the people in the room. Most of them were probably friends of friends of friends. Friends of friends who didn’t understand. They didn’t have a right to come in their black, somber outfits, with their flat, emotionless “quality” pictures and judge her for her grief. They didn’t have a right to come in and judge her for doing what her friend, her best friend, would have wanted. The woman knew that none of this was right. She left. The woman didn’t know exactly where she was going. She ended up finding herself at that bench in Central Park, but this time her dream had come true.
She was all alone.
Anabel is age 16 and lives in Pennsylvania.