The West |


by Ben Loory

edited by Mathew Timmons

Carla wasn't a waitress, but she played one in the diner. What she really wanted to do was take photographs. She used to tell me all about it as I sat there at the counter, ordering dishes almost blindly, and trying to make her laugh.

Carla was very thin and very, very pretty, and her voice seemed to come from far away. I'd try to ask her out as she came back from the tables, but I could never seem to find the words to say.

Then one day Carla told me a story. A story a friend of hers had told her. She said that if you went out to a field and closed your eyes, and tried to walk straight, you'd actually go in circles.

In circles? I said. Why would that happen?

I frowned; it didn't make any sense.

I don't know, Carla said. It's something about the brain. Maybe one side is more powerful or something.

Oh, I said.

It seemed to make sense.

We should try it, I said. Bring your camera. You close your eyes and do your best to walk straight, and I'll take pictures and document it.

And Carla looked at me—-kinda funny, I thought-—but then she gave a smile and said yes. And in the morning I brought my car and we drove out to the country, found a field, and went and stood in the middle of it.

Close your eyes, I said, and I raised the camera.

And Carla looked at me and closed her eyes. And then she raised a hand, and she covered them to be sure, and then she took her first step forward.

I stood there with the camera, wondering which way she would turn—-left or right-—when something different happened. Carla didn't circle; instead, she seemed to stumble.

Then she collapsed and fell to the ground.

Carla! I cried.

And I dropped the camera, and I ran across the field as fast as I could.

I knelt by Carla's side. Her eyes were closed and still.

I couldn't even tell if she was breathing.

The ambulance came and took Carla to the hospital. They hooked her up to all these machines. There were bright lights and long tubes and doctors and nurses.

But no one would tell me anything.

For weeks and weeks, I sat there with Carla. She was in a coma; it went on and on. I sat there every night, in a chair by the window, just watching Carla's silent, sleeping form.

And as the time went by, I felt worse and worse. I knew that it was all my own fault. If I'd never taken her out there-—to that pointless, stupid field—-Carla would be all right; she'd be fine.

So I got back in the car and went out to find the field. It was harder to find this time around. The weeds had grown much taller, but finally there it was.

Carla's camera was lying in the grass.

I stood there in the field, in the spot where Carla had stood; I stood there with the camera in my hand. And then I closed my eyes and I stared into the dark, and then I took that first step forward.

I think that I was hoping I'd collapse like Carla had, lose consciousness, and wake up in her arms.

But that didn't happen; so I took another step.

I walked for an extremely long time.

In my head, I think I saw myself traveling in circles. I wondered if I was turning left or right. But I didn't peek at all; I just kept going on.

When I opened my eyes, I was at the hospital gates.

And so I went on back inside and up to Carla's room. And there she was, still sleeping in the bed. She looked so thin and fragile—-even more so than before.

She looked like she was wasting away.

And so I set the camera down and turned and went downstairs. In the basement, I found the hospital cafeteria. I turned on all the lights and I opened all the cabinets.

Then I started taking items down.

I'd never really cooked anything before that day. I don't know why. I'd always eaten out. But now there was a thing inside that seemed to open up; the knowledge seemed to flow into my hands.

And so I started cooking, and I cooked up a feast. I made steak and lobster, gooseberry pie. I made Baked Alaska, mango tarts, and a great big Jell-O mold.

Then I piled it all on a tray.

And when I got back to her room, Carla was awake. She was sitting there, propped up in bed. And she looked at me and smiled and then she raised the camera.

She put it to her eye.

Smile, she said.