Annie saw the world through an open window and a Minolta viewfinder, riding down I-10 from Tucson toward the East Coast and freedom. The wind whipped loose strands of her hair into the frame until she tied it back, but every picture to El Paso would one day remind her to bring extra hair ties the next time they hit the road.
They. Herself, of course, and Thomas. A duo. A pair. A couple? No. Not a couple. Not yet, anyway. Probably never, though Thomas thought otherwise.
Click. Click. Click. Down the highway. She snapped the shutter-release for the sunrise out of El Paso, the arid landscapes outside of Fort Hancock, and the big eastern sky ahead of Van Horn, where Thomas stopped to refuel.
“We could go south,” he said. “Big Bend is down there.”
But Annie was already shaking her head.
“No time for that,” she said without a hint of regret. She thought to waylay his wanderlust with the promise to return, but Annie was never coming back here. They both knew it.
They stayed the night in San Antonio after thirteen hours seated behind a roaring engine and an ugly, plastic dashboard. One room (shared), two beds (not shared). Annie set her camera on the nightstand while the batteries charged. She reviewed her images but never deleted them. Even the bad ones.
“Why not?” Thomas asked. “Look, your hair is in that one.”
Annie shrugged. “That’s the way the trip went. Why would I want to delete that?”
It was what people did, she knew. The Social Media Fake-out, she called it. Everything was supposed to be perfect. Perfect picture. Perfect friends. Perfect life.
A strand of hair in your photo? Delete photo. Misspell a word in your status update? Delete status. Not interested in telling everyone how great your life is? Delete account.
It was stupid. And these photos weren’t for them. They were for her, imperfections all.
She caught a wide-angle of the rising sun just outside of San Antonio. In the sideview mirror, she caught the city skyline burning sunrise red. They passed through downtown Houston, congested by the morning commute. Thomas complained, but Annie didn’t mind. She swiveled around in her seat, eye to the viewfinder as she captured the world exposed to her naked lens.
Thomas kept his foot on the gas through the grasslands of eastern Texas, until the forests began to rise out of the southern bayous. It was just at trickle, at first: Wallisville, then Rose City, and Lake Charles. By the time they passed over the Mississippi River at Baton Rouge, Annie had seen her fair share of the swamplands.
“It’s hot,” Thomas said somewhere outside of New Orleans. “Muggy.”
“You never told me why you were leaving Tucson,” Thomas said when they crossed into Mississippi.
At Alabama, nothing.
They booked a hotel in Mobile, AL. Two rooms, this time. Annie photographed the old battleship as they bustled across Mobile Bay the following morning, the war boat brightly lit against the predawn light.
“We’re almost there,” Thomas said. “Five hours to Jacksonville.”
“Is that where you’ll stay?” Annie asked.
“Yeah, I think it’s far enough. Don’t you?”
“No,” Annie said. “Not forever.”
Pensacola and Tallahassee, come and gone.
Thomas let her off at Stockton St and Park, a few blocks north of St. Vincent’s Medical Center. Annie said goodbye. She wanted to say more. Maybe he did, too, but the frustration was clear in his eyes as he closed the window completely for the first time since they left Tucson.
Fitting, Annie thought.
Click. She caught one last shot of Thomas’s car as it disappeared down Park St. Then she walked south, toward the hospital. The midday sun was harsh light to photograph under, especially in the middle of the Jacksonville heat, but Annie captured to medical complex in a single, wide shot before she wandered inside.
They ran her name at the front desk. She got a shot of the waiting area. Click. The receptionist gave her a room number: 403, located in another building.
It took her twenty minutes to find it and 1/125th of a second to capture the room number posted on the outside of the door. It was open just a crack, and she pushed it wide with one hand. Her camera was raised in the other, but Annie never photographed the woman on the other side of the door.
“Annie,” her mother said when the door opened. “What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to see you,” Annie told her.
Her mother smiled. “You didn’t have to come back for that.”
She pulled up a chair and settled down beside her mother. Today looked to be a good day. Her mother seemed more like herself than Annie had seen in years.
“Well,” her mother said. “Tell me about it.”
“I can do better.” Annie smiled and pulled out her camera. “I took pictures.”