“Gin and tonic?”
“Make that two.”
B., the photographer, looks over her shoulder. Another woman stands there, clad in a black skirt and a tight black polo, straight brown hair tied back slickly. The woman slides into the seat next to B., settling in.
B. raises an eyebrow. “And you are?”
“Come here often?”
The bartender delivers their drinks. M. takes the glass, condensation staining her pale fingertips, and gulps the liquid down.
Fixing her trousers, the nice ones that sweep and flop around her ankles like curtains draping over an open window, B. lets the silence linger as the liquor begins to take its course. Then she gestures at M’s clothing, the sleekness of it. “Why the whole ensemble?” M. chuckles. “You look exactly the same.”
B. is wearing a frilly dark shirt to look professional and appease her clients. Her frizzy hair is tied down into two ball-like clouds at either side of her neck. She takes another sip, letting the taste linger on her tongue before swallowing, the alcohol dripping down her throat. M. stares at her like B. holds the single key to a weaponry.
“Do you come here often?” M. says.
B. gives a wry nod. “There’s no better place to let off some steam after a shoot.” It’s M.’s turn to be surprised. “First the outfit, now this.” Her voice has the quality of the newest sound system, low and personal and in no hurry. “What’s your biggest pet peeve?” B. assumes she’s talking about photography. “When a person walks right into the shot.” M. nods, the downward motion of it swept easily into catching the rim of the cup with her lips and sweeping the gin in. B. watches her devious tongue sweep out to seize it through the glass, and something within her transforms into silk.
M. tunes in with her own guidance. “Just have patience. That’s the key. Slow and steady wins the race.”
“I have patience,” B. snorts. “The people don’t.”
Raising her glass, M. says, “I can attest to that.”
Their cups clatter, a musical of possibilities. They drink.
“The funniest thing,” B. says, “is the amount of focus it takes. Most people think it’s just looking and pressing down. No, you have to make sure the light is right and not affecting your view or the shot, that your subject is still, all that.”
“Not to mention the labor afterward,” adds M., perfectly manicured nails tracing around the edge of the glass. B. finds her gaze locked on it. The edges of her mind’s eye fizz out. “And
you gotta clean the lenses and everything. Use high-quality lenses, the more high-quality your shot.”
“The best thing?”
“The satisfaction of getting it right.”
Glasses clink again. B. can feel the vibration of it traveling up the pads of her fingers and straight to her head.
“Want some advice?” B. suggests, delighted when M. nods. M.’s hold is still on the glass, the rim brushing against her red lips as she listens, dark eyes intent. “You always want your target in focus, so you need to stay still, or everything else will just go wrong. And the distance and scope! Especially the distance. Always have to take that into account.” “I’ll keep that in mind.”
“So what are you doing here tonight?”
M. shrugs. “Looking.”
“We do a lot of that.”
M. hums, leaning closer. She smells like the musk that floats into your senses as you walk into a dark room that’s laid empty for ages. She looks like shadows and the grotesque way they bend to fit the light.
“Looking for something. And I think I’ve found it.”
A fire burns. B. shivers. Raises her eyes to meet M.’s.
It’s an odd thought process, all in the blink of an eye. She’s thinking, So your place or mine? which leads to her creaking bed she ought to replace, the chipping tile in the shower, the rent due next week, to money, to why she even takes such an on-and-off job in the first place, to– “Why do you do this?”
M. understands. “I like lining up the shot. I like the calculation it takes. The logic that goes through my mind. And once I do it well, I make sure to get paid. It pays well.” They’re the same. Always thinking of the same thing, it seems. This time it’s money. “So you get paid well for your pictures?” B. asks.
M. freezes, peels back like an apple skinner, sharp.
Kaia Boyer is a Chinese-American author born and raised in California. While she’s not reading and writing, she can be found on the softball field pitching wildly, and or trying (and failing) to manage their parakeets. They’re currently revising their second novel.