Portraits from Nepal

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Photos by Maria Bitarello.
Canon AE-1 / Kodak Portra 400
Kathmandu, Bandipur, Gurung Lodge,
Gurka Training Camp / Nepal 2014.

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Postcards from the roof of the world

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Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal

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Morning chat @ Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal

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Monks @ Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal

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Koras and wheels @ Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal

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Candles and wheels @ Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal

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Koras @ Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal

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Koras and wheels @ Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal

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Monks @ Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal

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Monasteries and temples @ Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal

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Candles and prayers @ Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal

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Happiness Guest House @ Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal

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Faith and prostrations @ Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal

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Morning paper, friends and Buddha @ Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal

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Monks @ Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal

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Market life @ Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal

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Writing refuge @ Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal

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Writing on rooftops @ Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal

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Real life outside Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal

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Real life outside Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal

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Cremations @ Pashupatinath, Kathmandu, Nepal

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Prayer for Kali @ Pashupatinath, Kathmandu, Nepal

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Market @ Pashupatinath, Kathmandu, Nepal

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Bodhi Tree @ Pashupatinath, Kathmandu, Nepal

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Across the river from Pashupatinath, Kathmandu, Nepal

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Librarian and business man in Bandipur, Nepal

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Business man in wallpaper in Bandipur, Nepal

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Warm hands in Bandipur, Nepal

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Laundry @ Fewa Lake, in Pokhara, Nepal

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Laundry @ Fewa Lake, in Pokhara, Nepal

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Row boats @ Fewa Lake, in Pokhara, Nepal

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Boat and oar @ Fewa Lake, in Pokhara, Nepal

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Rowing across Fewa Lake, in Pokhara, Nepal

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Rowing across Fewa Lake, in Pokhara, Nepal

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The Peace Stupa @ Fewa Lake, in Pokhara, Nepal

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The Peace Stupa @ Fewa Lake, in Pokhara, Nepal

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Parahawking @ Sarangkot, in Pokhara, Nepal

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Paragaliding @ Sarangkot, in Pokhara, Nepal

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Prem @ Sampada Inn, in Pokhara, Nepal

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Women weaving in Pokhara, Nepal

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Women weaving in Pokhara, Nepal

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My taylor in Pokhara, Nepal

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Chess @ Sidewalk, in Pokhara, Nepal

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Karma Cuts in Pokhara, Nepal

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Sadhu @ Riverside, in Pokhara, Nepal

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Holy cows outside Pokhara, Nepal

 

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Gurkha warriors @ Recruitment Center, in Pokhara, Nepal

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Gurkha training @ Recruitment Center, in Pokhara, Nepal

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NG, the sherpa guide to Gurung Lodge, Nepal

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Trek to Gurung Lodge, Nepal

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Millet drying @ mountain village around Gurung Lodge, Nepal

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Hindu temple and Himalayas around Gurung Lodge, Nepal

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Himalayas around Gurung Lodge, Nepal

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Hindu temple and Himalayas around Gurung Lodge, Nepal

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View from Gurung Lodge, Nepal

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Half-print of mountain view from Gurung Lodge, Nepal

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Sunrise, Himalayas and Bandipur, view from Panorama, Lodge, Nepal

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Sunrise, Himalayas and Bandipur, view from Panorama, Lodge, Nepal

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The cook and the fog @ Panorama Lodge, Nepal

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Orange pickers on the mountain villages around Panorama Lodge, Nepal

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Orange pickers on the mountain villages around Panorama Lodge, Nepal

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Orange baskets on the backs of women @ the mountain villages around Panorama Lodge, Nepal

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Chris and orange crates @ mountain villages around Panorama Lodge, Nepal

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Divine light on trek to Panorama Lodge, Nepal

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Drying corn @ mountain village around Panorama Lodge, Nepal

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Seti River @ Seti River Camp, Nepal

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Seti River bed and stones @ Seti River Camp, Nepal

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Seti River @ Seti River Camp, Nepal

All photos taken by Maria Bitarello in December 2014, in Nepal.
Films used were Kodak Portra 400s, in 35mm and 120mm.

Por acaso, o passado…

Se pensarmos a velhice como a constante presença do passado, e a infância como a estrita projeção do futuro, a vida deve ser o que acontece no meio, entre estas duas esperas; uma perda dos sonhos e um acúmulo sempre progressivo de memórias. O poeta mineiro, Murilo Mendes, tem uma frase em que diz que “a memória é uma construção do futuro, mais que do passado”, e a considero bastante pertinente se aplicada à leitura da peça de André Resende, Maçã caramelada, publicada pela Editora Cubzac (em uma edição digna de ser adquirida).

No texto – curto e pontual –, Eusébio, Greta e Adílio fazem de um encontro, ao acaso, em uma antiga emissora de TV, uma reconstrução do passado e uma recriação para o futuro. A partir do acervo da emissora, que está prestes a se perder, estes três personagens paradigmáticos pensam, conversam a respeito e nos fazem pensar – nós, os leitores – sobre a persistência da memória, o legado a que damos continuidade e que seguirá quando já não mais aqui estivermos, o mal-estar provocado por nossas escolhas e consequentes renúncias que implicam e o papel que o acaso, que a coincidência, tem em nossos encontros e trombadas entre a infância e a velhice, inclusive (e sobretudo) este que ocorre entre os três e que conduz Maçã caramelada.

Adílio, em busca das projeções da infância, nos obriga a repensar a construção da memória e se em nossas estórias existiu algum dia – ou existirá – a História, ou se não passam todas de interpretações, passíveis de cair nas peças em que nos prega a memória, tão esquecida e tão passível de criatividade espontânea, recriando-se. Seria por isso menos válida?

Greta personifica nosso mal-estar contemporâneo, nossa vertigem de possibilidades, a eterna indagação inútil sobre o caminho que não seguimos, as escolhas que não fizemos e a ansiedade que emerge de sua irrealização material, porém acompanhada de sua existência vívida em nossas projeções do que seriam memórias de um fato irrealizado. Reflexo e modelo do que passamos todos nós, homens e mulheres pós-modernos.

Eusébio amarra os dois extremos, o arrependimento e a insaciedade, a projeção e a nostalgia, em um personagem ciente de que “sem registrar os momentos da vida, o passado fica mais difícil de lembrar”, mas tampouco caindo na tentação de acreditar que “porque existe não quer dizer que é eterno”. E, acima de tudo, prezando e pregando o poder da coincidência, “a única coisa em que [conseguiu] acreditar e entender como possível”, “algo revelador das oportunidades que estão em nossa volta”, pois, justamente por “parecer acasos […], revelam um mundo desconhecido que, no entanto, não estava perdido, muito menos era inexistente”.

A chave

Tenho para mim que a chave está em Zaldok. O personagem que nunca sabemos ao certo se existiu, e muito menos quem foi, é uma pessoa distinta na memória de cada um, às vezes mais que um para uma mesma pessoa. Zaldok, personagem associado a valores mágicos de nossa infância, não envelheceu, não morreu, e tem acesso ao lugar onde nossa entrada não é permitida: o futuro.

Se para Eusébio “depois daquela maçã caramelada, tudo foi sorte na vida”, o autor nos diz também que, sim, ele, como nós, entende e sente a angústia da escolha, o medo do esquecimento, a preocupação com a memória no futuro, mas, acima disso tudo, está nos dizendo, nas palavras de Eusébio, que “[aceitemos] as coincidências”, que façamos do passado uma criação dinâmica no presente e uma reatualização no futuro, que deixemos as recordações museológicas de lado, pois não existe nossa História oficial. Seu (meu) passado está tão em transformação quanto o futuro, e aprisioná-lo no arquivo é privá-lo de vida, é assassiná-lo. A maçã caramelada é o presente de Eusébio a Adílio e Greta, é o presente de André Resende a nós.

 

* Esta resenha foi publicada no Le Monde Diplomathique Brasil de 13/03/2009.

Pas de Deux

Life companions, by Maria Bitarello

We get off to a bad start this morning when the running shower wakes him up, and as he passes me in the kitchen, an abrupt arm motion makes his frustrations noticeable. The door slams against the wall. I immediately feel like apologizing. Instead I go downstairs to our neighborhood bakery for some fresh croissants and hope he’ll appreciate the gesture. Croissants are his thing. And I came to love them too.

I come back home and decide not to apologize. What would I be apologizing for? The shower? Or for reheating tea, which he finds disgusting? Or, better yet, for telling him the other day: “It’s a cute shirt, but did you know that’s a woman’s brand”?  Not today. I should save the words for when I really mean them and not because I fear his reaction, which, to my own surprise, I no longer do. As I rinse the cereal bowl, the kettle starts to whistle and I let the house chores take over our silent confrontation. Every day, couples like ourselves perform a private pas de deux in their homes, hidden from an audience. Deprived of spectators, we let the little things take over.

The shower starts running in the bathroom, for the second time this morning, and I make a face at the teacups I’m placing in the cupboard, the only witnesses to this debauch. Their silence comforts me and I laugh to myself. I hear splashing sounds in the shower, and secretly hope there’s enough hot water in the boiler to avoid any more disagreements. I go back into the bedroom to make the bed and remember something he told me a few years before. “You’re the first thing on my mind when I wake up and the last one before I go to sleep, and yet you live in my dreams”. He said this to me over the phone, overseas, back when I wasn’t the first and last thing he saw, lying next to him, day in, day out. Our dreams, at the time, most often than not, revolved around being in the same time zone.

The shower stops and the curtains are bashed aside before the phone rings.

Hello, Joanna…. He’s in the shower, but I’ll let him know you called…..

I hang up and pack away my laptop and sweater. I’m setting aside both our train tickets when he shouts from the bathroom.

Who was that?, he asks, toneless.

– Your mom. You should call her, I yell back, loudly yet calmly.

I remind myself that today I choose peace. It’s just past 8am and the sunbeam that usually comes in late in the morning to land on our kitchen table is already dancing over the chair, a nice warmth next to the table cloth. Summer is here. Fresh croissants decorate the table by the fruit basket and a hot cup of tea still awaits his recognition and approval. My face denies it, but my heart… well, it used to long for it. His hair dripping from the shower, he walks back into the kitchen, phone in his hands and dialing the number. I nod, signaling the teacup. It’s the first time he glances at me this morning.

– Hi, mom, it’s me… Yeah, I was in the shower…

He stirs his tea as I toss out the salad that’s starting to stink the fridge.

Ok, I’ll call you later this week, he ends the conversation, before hanging up and walking out of the kitchen.

Two hours after the phone call, we’re onboard the morning train south. As the guy with the vending kart walks by announcing plastic-tasting sandwiches, I realize I’m napping, the right side of my head leaning against the window. The music I was listening to through my headphones has ended without my consent. I look up to see him typing away on his phone, apparently unaware of my dozing off and reawakening. Some other day and I would’ve just seen unawareness, but today I admit it’s indifference.

Sitting across from him, I remember the first time I realized our love was withering. We were also on the train. The memory assaults me and stirs emotions I feel like spilling out, so I pull out a notebook and start scribbling, alternating between melancholy, euphoria, anger, guilt, regret and hope. I put on my headphones, turn the music back on and let an 80s pop song take me elsewhere. A place where I feel beautiful and confident and strong. It’s a mindset in which I no longer care about all of this.

The ticket controller comes by our seat and makes a gist about handwriting – me – and typing – him. Something about men and women. Looking away from his phone to the controller, he seems partly amused, partly annoyed, and thus smiles politely to avoid further speculations on genre differentiation based on the use of a pen or of digits. We avoid eye contact for the remainder of the trip. The pretending is too real, though: either his mind is elsewhere or he’s fascinated by doorknobs. As he sits there, wishing to go by unnoticed, I decide not to insist. Not anymore. I’ve long wanted to believe there are alternatives to the separation, the non-resolution, dividing books and records, dreams and friends, sleeping alone. I used to think I needed this, but I’m letting go.

The train signals the arrival and it snaps me back from my bubble of silence and self-consciousness. Loss is not an explosion; it’s silent. It’s not sudden; it lingers. It’s grieving for the living. I feel myself accepting grief, and the pain gently starts to lose its grip on me.

We come to a stop. I close my notebook and put it away in my bag. We step out of the train, the station clock shows 12h03 on the platform and he carries on pretending.

I don’t.

10 years of solitude

Back when I didn’t know who Gabriel García Márquez was, I met Richard M. Morse, who channeled one of his characters. Like the Buendía family patriarch in “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, he did not care much for childhood or children, thinking it to be a less interesting phase in one’s lifespan. Despite his dislike for infants, Morse had even babysat my sister and me a few times, and countless hours of our first year in Washington DC were spent in his home: four levels of a lonely house, filled with books and dust, shelving the stairs up to the attic and down to the basement. Rarely did we go outside and play in the yard. It was cold and weedy. Out of entertaining options, I thus took pleasure in cleaning and reorganizing his messy office. He would come in every once in a while and make sure I wasn’t trashing his library skills and establishing some color pattern based on book covers. I wasn’t. I would also run down to the basement and discover new-ancient junk, which I still love doing. I found pots, garden tools, books, chessboards, and canned food. There was very little for a little girl to do at Morse’s place. When our uneasiness became unbearable to everyone, we’d drive down in his small baby-blue Honda to the deli and get some sandwiches. I didn’t really like them, they were full of celery and mayonnaise, both of which I dislike until this day, but they helped time go by. When I had finally fully explored the familiar four levels of his Foxhall home, I’d sit at the table where he and my mother discussed books and ideas for what felt like unending hours. And, hopeless, turned to writing.

Morse was a very tall man. Tall and somewhat lanky. He was already an old guy by the time our paths crossed, and yet he gracefully moved about the four levels, going up and down stairs, just to find that one quote or book or chapter he wanted to share with friends, and he knew exactly where to find it. He wore prescription glasses, fake teeth that he could pull out, had very large hands and feet and also this long string of hair coming down by his right ear, which he’d fashionably throw over his forehead and rest behind his left ear. It camouflaged his baldhead, and would fall down every so often. My favorite Morse task was, certainly, replacing that bit of hair back where it belonged, restoring his dignity. I then stroked his baldhead, gave it a kiss and thus had some intimacy with this man who was such an unequivocal presence in my childhood and whom I didn’t know, then, thought very little of the infant class I represented. “It’s for the girls”, he’d say while I adjusted his hair, “I let it grow for the girls. They love it!” I giggled, every time, charmed.

Eight years later, Morse died abroad. I hadn’t seen him in years when it happened, and I wasn’t much up-to-date with his health. It was difficult for my mother. A mentor he was to her. I remember the tip of her nose, red from tears and loss. We flew out to DC, my sister and I, to join my mother for memorial services held some 5 months after his passing. Lots of suited men were speaking at the ceremony that took place at a local university, shaking hands, making compliments and congratulating the family for his work. Shortly thereafter, a reception was held at the old place, home to my first cleaning adventures and writing attempts. In truth, it was only when all other options had been explored that I turned to writing, sitting by the two of them, Morse and my mother. There are no copies of what was produced back then. I remember, however, showing it to Morse, not realizing it was when I was most bored that he’d find me the most interesting. I was quieter and, well, I was doing something intellectual, both of which pleased him.

Morse’s place was the same yet different to me. The smell was different. The staircase was book-free, the pile in the bathroom was gone, the boxes in the basement were closed and shelved, the windows were open, the couch linen had been removed, chandeliers and crystals had been made visible, there was a TV set – which, to my surprise, had always been there, and gone by unnoticed -, a tended garden welcomed guests, the fridge was loaded. Something about his four-story home now made it seem so out of place, like ancient architecture turned modern, like a library turned into a franchise restaurant. The sacred element of his intellectual intimacy; his lack of care for how things actually looked like to possible visitors, a certain drive that demanded, in return, that he overlook the pantry, fashion and even his children; it wasn’t there. His smell was gone. His charisma. His drink and cigarette. His sense of humor. His wit. Morse wasn’t there. His home was taken by guests, yet stripped of what gave it life. So strange. How he had managed to populate all of these rooms on his own.

The party was a lively gathering, which would’ve pleased him. There were drinks and Caribbean food. His family was present and loving. We didn’t stay long, but it meant something to us. Four days later, we went silent in front of our also dusty TV set while September 11th 2001 took place. That year was one of closure and beginnings. I was then a freshman journalism major in college, the seeds of the woman I was becoming flourishing not only in my body, but also in my personality – both of which would have appealed to Morse’s aesthetic, or so I like to think. I was in love, truly in love, for the first time. I had forgiven my dad. I read extensively, discovered new authors, new sounds in music, film directors, changes in myself and in the world around me. I had read “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and I knew the Buendía family tree by heart. “This”, I thought to myself with satisfaction, “would’ve been a great time to talk to Morse.” I would appreciate his running up stairs to find that one quote. There’s no sadness or nostalgia in the statement, but rather a sense of accomplishment. I finally dug Morse, and I suspected he would dig me too.

He was the first person I saw when I arrived in the States for the very first time. He picked me, my sister and my mother up at Washington National Airport in his Honda, a messy little corner of the earth, literally no more than means to end, something he couldn’t go around, and that he would, so, accept and practice in his own terms. In it, he drove us back to Foxhall where we were housed for a few days on the top floor of his home at Volta Place. I remember it being very cold up there, it was January and on our first morning, there was snow covering the front lawn. Magical it was, to my sister and me. Morse came slowly up the stairs to wake us up. This happened just a few days before Clinton took office as US president and I was sent to John Eaton Elementary School, in DC, and taught to pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. A couple of months later, I was scribbling my first English poems at Morse’s dining table-turned-into-desk. English was becoming natural faster than I could take it in.

It was only recently, ten years after Morse’s passing, that I was given the delightful task of translating his correspondence with British scholar Leslie Bethell into Portuguese for a book chapter in a compilation my mother and a friend put together to honor his work through the work of other authors. And boy, did I laugh. I had the feeling that I was at last able to understand his word choice and grasp his intelligence, his playful use of words, his graceful and refreshing lack of morals, his self-irony. It was most gratifying. And I am now working on a full compilation of all of his articles not yet translated into Portuguese, a language he rejoiced in and that he so dearly embraced in his many trips and his stay in Brazil.

Morse gave me a book as a child that has been sitting in my old bedroom, at my mother’s place. When I first showed it to her, she admitted to never knowing Morse had given me that present, and that it meant a lot to have been given a book from his private collection. Not only that, but the first book ever given to him by his father, in the 1920s, who, alongside his mother, a strict woman, pushed little Dickie Morse to skip grades at age 7 so no time was wasted with lower minds. “A Children’s History of the World”, by V. M. Hiller (headmaster of Calvert School, 1924) still sits in my old bedroom’s bookshelf, close to Gabriel García Márquez and “Morse Code”, with my translation of his correspondence in it.

Almost twenty-years earlier, he had been the first to tell me about Morse code, bragging about his name, and leading me to believe his games. I have a picture of that day, at our place, where Morse seldom came. Between fixing his hair, sharing my scraps of childish poems, buying celery sandwiches, organizing his books and, above all, having been given that book as a present, Morse and I overcame a large age and cultural gap and, in our own respectful manner, became friends. Almost two decades later, I still discover fragments of memories I have from those early years, and new ways through which Morse has influenced, inspired and affected my family and me. In my dreams, I like to think his perspective on children came out transformed by this encounter. In my fantasies, I was the child that made him tick.

In loving memory of Richard M. Morse (June 26th 1922 – April 17th 2001)

Don and Dean’s Summer Delight

It must have been sometime in the afternoon, although it’s hard to say. There was definitely a sunbeam crossing the barrier of apartment buildings, reflecting from the old lady’s window across the patio to land triangularly shaped on the wall – right above the pillow-case bit that was visible out of the corner of the blue-ish linens. The bed was covered with a citric green blanket, and next to it was the bookshelf and the armchair – basically the only furniture in the room – apart, perhaps, from the leather futon across the room (although that wouldn’t really qualify as furniture). The heat – at least they thought it was the heat – was sucking all of the moisture out of the air.

Dean wasn’t paying much attention to Don’s guitar stroking, but his attentive look suggested otherwise. With his thumb, he persistently rubbed his pinky’s nails with a movement along the white line that separates it from the skin. He was barefoot and shirtless. As if suddenly aware of a leg cramp that had been building up and grew into numbness, Dean rose to his feet, only to take a step to the side and blend into the armchair cushion. “It’s hot in here”, he said without addressing Don, not necessarily at least. There’s was the audible sound of the clock they had found downstairs, by the entrance door, just a few days ago. Normally, you’d have to concentrate on the tic-tac in order to distinguish it in the midst of sirens and school bells. Despite facing the back of the building, Don’s apartment was not free from these daily reminders of whatever life or death was going on out there. That Saturday, however, there were no impediments to the battery-run clock. It ran wild.

In a non-responsive answer to a non-question, Don looked up at the ceiling to what could’ve been imaginary clouds of heat floating motionless and heavy above their heads. The gaze made him aware of the texture of his own hair resting on his shoulders and the heat, the dry heat it generated where it encountered his neck. “I should shave sometime this week”, he thought to himself, more as an excuse than as a goal, conscious of his own affection for facial hair – anyone’s facial hair, especially his own. The guitar pick felt different – heavier – between his fingers. The moisture between skin and plastic was a layer, a tangible layer of matter. “Shabop shalom”, Don let out with gentle picking movements that made the strings resonate and break the clock’s determined and unstoppable march. “But marching towards what?”, both of them might’ve thought at about the same time, suspicious of each other’s synchrony, but one can never be sure. The clock did not stop at their hesitation.

It seemed to Don that only now did Dean switch positions – from the bed to the flowered themed cushioned armchair – but somehow the feeling was misleading, he felt. “What?”, he asked Dean, who understood where he was coming from and what he was aiming at. It didn’t bring either of them to the realization – one they had both shared in their intimate so many times before, yet never spoken of it – of the silent and gentle choreography they performed. And had they been aware of this unrealized epiphany of theirs, it would’ve pleased them to recognize such coherence between thought and action, intention and gesture, for rationally acknowledging the feat defeated its purpose by all means. They were successful in their ignorance.

“Another one?”, was Dean’s reply to the texturally aware Don. The question – not so much in search of approval as much as an awakening to his own desires – might have been a statement. “Another one.” It was too late now, for the words had already come out of his lips with an inescapable question mark. Paralyzed on the cushioned armchair, Dean knew that even so it wouldn’t have corresponded to his deep inner yearnings. Silence had done it; followed – shortly, perhaps – by the breaking of immobility that most faithfully revealed his wishes. He saw the movement he was about to perform; first in his head. Time moved thus.

“I can’t feel my hands”, Dean heard Don whisper, unsurprised and unconcerned, while playing the part he had been rehearsing in meditation. Staring at the pick in his hand – small, pizza-shaped, fading blue – he tried to remember the random information found on Wikipedia about the guy who first started commercializing CDs. The music had stopped flowing from his hands to the strings and from it, to fill the room, crowded by clouds of humid smoke. Again the clock was ticking. Dean too had heard it, he looked over at Don. “We’re out.” The words made Don look away from the guitar pick to the sunbeam – now fractured in cubic forms – and smile.

Their looks met half way. Not their hands. The tic-tac suggested not so, but time stopped and sped up simultaneously. It caught up to itself. They knew not how long afterwards their lids – all four of them – responded to both of their brains and, in vertical closing and opening, blinked. The pick was nowhere to be seen, although the guitar had been carefully placed by the armchair. The heat had dissipated into the breeze; windows open all the way. There was no tic-tac to be heard. The streets spoke and so did some neighbors, partying downstairs – a record playing piano jazz filled the bathroom with its resonance. But Don and Dean were not there to hear it. It was already Sunday. It was still summer, and with the evening, they had left the room and the smoke. Out there and in here, time was the same.