students collaborate: lara herschberger, aviva thal

photo by Lara Hershberger

Today begins an eight-day series of posts of student artwork and stories. This project was a collaboration between students in photography and creative writing classes at Jackson Hole Community School. The students in Photo 1 were given an assignment to take photographs of groupings of items that could tell a story. They were specifically told to leave people out of the photos so that the focus was on the objects themselves. The creative writing class then took those photos and created characters and fictional stories using the images and inspiration. Thanks to Christian Burch for inviting Culture Front to present these publicly!

We will start the series with a photo by Lara Hershberger and the accompanying story by Aviva Thal.

photo by Lara Hershberger

photo by Lara Hershberger

THE BEDROOM by Aviva Thal

Cathy hoped her daughter still believed in angels. She ran her thumb over the magazine cut out, adhered so neatly to the lined page. Sighing, she set the notebook down carefully, making sure it looked just as it had. She crept out of Reilly’s room, closing the door softly behind her. The entire house was perfumed by the chocolate chip cookies that sat in the oven. Cathy loved the illusion of warmth and domesticity caused by the smell. She could almost believe that nothing had changed since the last time she had baked for Reilly. She sat down at the kitchen table, and opened the novel that sat on it, then, after staring blankly at the page for a few minutes, she snapped the book shut, abandoning all pretenses. Cathy refocused her gaze to the red numbers on the microwave clock. 28 more minutes.

Reilly glanced at the airport clock. Her dad would be arriving any minute now. She would be home soon. She sat stiffly on the hard plastic bench, her bulletless gun resting uselessly on her lap. It was the only thing that identified her from the mass of civilians crowded around. She had chosen not to fly in uniform. It was only after a few hours spent slumped in her seat, watching the arid desert landscape soften to sky, that she had realized how naked she felt in her t-shirt and sweatpants. By now she was too exhausted to care. Still, even jet lag couldn’t entirely numb the anxious stabs that pierced her when she pictured her reunion with her mom and dad. Reilly traced the brown and green blobs on her gun case, deliberately keeping her head down to avoid the glances of the people walking by. Waiting was always the worst part.

Ken thought it was best not try to identify the tidal wave of emotions that overtook him as he pulled into the airport parking lot. He was excited of course. And proud. But there were other feelings too, feelings that scared him. But never mind them. During the last four years he had learned that it was easier not to think. He strode purposefully through the front doors, then stopped, gazing dazedly at the chaotic scene surrounding the baggage claim. He had expected his daughter to pop out immediately, but the faces he saw all belonged to strangers.  And then there she was, and he was holding her tight as if his arms were all that kept her from fading back out of his life.

The first thing Reilly thought as her father approached her was that she needed to move her gun. She had barely flung it over her shoulder when her dad’s arms engulfed her. After the initial shock, she buried her head into his rough linen shirt, comforted by his familiarity. Then suddenly she felt claustrophobic, overtaken by an almost physical need for air, space, solitude. She waited impatiently for his arms to loosen, and yet she feared the moment when she would have to meet his eyes and answer all his questions. Finally Ken leaned his head back to look at his daughter, his soft storm colored eyes sparkling with unshed tears.

“How are you?” he asked, scanning her body as if the answer would be visible.

“Good. I’m, I’m good. How are you?”

“Oh I’m fine.” He clutched the straps of Reilly’s duffle bag and led her out into the warm night.

Reilly grasped the brass doorknob, pushing the door open slowly to see if it still creaked. It did. The instant she stepped on the doormat her mother pounced, hugging and kissing her daughter, sobbing and smiling. Reilly held her, filled with the same detached calm that she had always possessed during battle. Eventually Cathy let her arms fall from around her daughter’s neck and grabbed her hand, pulling her into the kitchen like a little girl.

“Here,” She shoved a plate with two warm cookies into Reilly’s hands.

“Thanks Mom.” The two women watched each other in silence, Cathy feeling that silence was enough, Reilly biting her cookie to hide her discomfort, her mind racing to find what she would say next. The conversation that followed was less painful than Reilly had feared, but not as open and familiar as Cathy had hoped. Before long, Reilly announced her exhaustion and left for bed. Cathy’s disappointment surfaced, her smile slipping for just long enough for Ken to see. He walked over and rested his hand on his wife’s shoulder, wishing he could do more.

A small laugh burbled up from Reilly’s throat when she switched on the lights, throwing her childhood bedroom into clarity.  It looked as if she had just left, with her blue comforter thrown sloppily over the mattress, and various objects and papers crammed haphazardly onto the bookshelf. She walked over to her desk, running her fingers over the wood. Her pencils were strewn over the open notebook, her Spanish flashcards stacked against a long empty tootsie roll container, her pencil sharpener still plugged in. Reilly had a feeling her mother had kept it this way deliberately. Cathy was a tidy woman, not the type to leave a bed unmade. The notebook was open to a statue of an angel Reilly had cut out from one of Cathy’s travel magazines in seventh grade. Cursive letters curled around the magazine cut out, a juvenile poem about the real angels in life. Reilly reached down and slammed the book shut, resisting the urge to tear the page out. What was her mom trying to do? Comfort her with her own naïve words?  This kind of ridiculous meddling had been one of the many reasons Reilly had enlisted in the first place. Her family had no military background.  Both of her parents had serious misgivings about the war, and had been horrified when their daughter mentioned signing up. But Reilly had been determined. She had been consumed with restlessness her entire senior year. As other kids gushed about college, she realized that she couldn’t bear the thought of any more school. Whenever she could find the time, she went running, reveling in the feeling of power and direction. She loved being able to vacate her mind, to put all her focus into her lungs and her legs. She had always been a physical person, and it was in this world of sweaty foreheads and sharp breath that she longed to live. The idea of joining the army had come to her out of no where, but once it lodged in her mind there was no getting rid of it. It seemed like a way, the only way, for Reilly to regain her sense of purpose. She had known it would be hard, but that was okay, that was good, she needed hard.

At 2:16 in the morning, Ken slipped out of bed, careful not to wake Cathy. He navigated through the dark to his slippers. He had placed them precisely before he went to bed, knowing that he would probably want them later. He had built a nightly routine since his insomnia had set in thirteen years ago. By now he enjoyed it, savoring those quiet contemplative hours he had all to himself. After years of undisturbed nighttime solitude, he was mildly surprised to see the lights in the kitchen already on, his daughter sitting at the table, bent over a newspaper. She looked up as he walked in.

“Hey, what going on?” He asked.

“Couldn’t sleep”

“Me neither”

He filled the kettle and ambled over to the tea drawer, glancing furtively at Reilly as he selected a chamomile tea bag.

Reilly tried to focus her attention on the newsprint before her, hoping the small town news would be enough to wipe her mind of the images that had woken her, sweating and tangled in a mass of twisted covers. And then her breath caught in her throat. In the town calendar, beneath the notice for toddlers’ story time, was a short blurb that read, Reilly Padron, local war hero, to return home. Hero? She had become many things in the last four years, but she was sure hero was not one of them. Heroes didn’t… She shook her head, trying to clear it of all the things that heroes didn’t do. She turned the page, forcing herself to read the words in front of her. She was shocked to find that the letters seemed wet and blurry. A hot tear splattered the page. Was she crying? It had been ages since she had last cried, after a while, the tears had just stopped coming.

Ken trotted over to his daughter. He attempted to put his hand on top of hers, but she pulled away.

“Are you okay?” He regretted the words as soon as he uttered them. Of course she wasn’t. With a sob, Reilly scrambled out of her chair and ran to her room, leaving her father alone with the tear stained words, Reilly Padron, local war hero, to return home.

One Comment on “students collaborate: lara herschberger, aviva thal

  1. I was intrigued by the collaboration assignment and very impressed with Aviva’s imaginative and well written story inspired by Lara’s photograph.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>