Seven Sided Cube

         I find Quinn in her studio, working on impossibilities—a sphere without a surface, a seven-sided cube.

It exhausts her, this self-conscious quest for the new. I suggest we take a walk, clear her head, clear the air between us, renew something that has grown as bland and familiar as the breath that we share when we sleep.

         She gives me a tight little smile and shakes her head. “Robert…” she starts, but then gives in. She picks up her camera, as she always does, and we go out into the night. I steer her away from town, away from our familiar patterns, the same old fights in the same old places. As we walk, her eyes move restlessly, looking for anything besides what she sees.

         There’s nothing for her out here; she gets jittery and bored. But as we turn to go home, I spot a flash of white in a ditch. Looking closer, I realize it’s an old woman, and I can instantly imagine the scene—the casual cruelty of an inattentive driver, the small impact already forgotten as the car speeds away.

         I scramble down the steep bank to her, stones and dirt clattering after me. As I stand above the woman, she gives a low moan and her body twitches like a broken machine. “Call someone,” I yell up at Quinn.

         “She’s still alive.” I touch the woman’s filthy neck, feeling for a pulse, but can’t tell if what I register is her life or mine. The tremor under my fingers feels faint and erratic, the movement of a small, frightened animal.

         I know nothing about things like this—broken bodies, the last gasps of life—and I feel impotent and ashamed. I close my eyes and try to will the ambulance to arrive, desperate for the confident professionals who will move in, push me away, take it all off my hands. With no other help to offer, I take the woman’s hand. It is cold and limp in mine.

         “Did you call them? What did they say?” I turn and look up at Quinn, standing above us at the lip of the ditch. Her face obscured by the camera, she takes picture after picture, completely enthralled. “What are you doing?” I ask, and she shakes her head absently, as if trying to clear it of clutter. “Quinn, what are you doing?” I meant it to come out as a shout, but it sounds more like a whisper. My throat, tight and dry, feels useless for speech.

         In the end, the woman was spared the trouble of too much more life, dead before the ambulance arrives. The police question and release us, and Quinn and I walk home in silence, marshalling our forces for the combat to come. But back at her studio, she surprises me again, drawing me to her, ditch filth and all. My hands act on their own, pulling roughly at her clothes and then mine. I pound away at her on that cold, concrete floor, and she urges me on with her cries.

         Later, when she is asleep, I get up and take out her camera. Staring at the small screen, I cycle through the images over and over again until they flow like a movie. Every photo she took is of me—my face, staring up at her, illuminated by the flash. Sitting there, in her frigid studio, I see what she wanted to capture—it is a study of the end of things, the chemistry of dying. It is love, taking one last breath, then letting go.

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