Home > A Shot in the Dark

A Shot in the Dark
Author: Victoria Lee




   My problem, generally speaking, is that I care too much.

   I’m an artist, so maybe I’m supposed to. That’s the stereotype, right? The prodigy obsessed with perfection, shivering in a frigid garret, huddled over their masterpiece, bourbon drenched and brilliant. If I didn’t care so much, maybe I wouldn’t be able to see the true shape of things, how lines and shapes smudge together perfectly in the light. I wouldn’t be willing to spend hours in the darkroom with my lungs full of chemicals or waiting in the park with my tripod for hours until that split second right before the sun goes down when the world is cast in shades of rose and red, shadows stretched out long and skinny like bones.

   I should have listened the first time someone told me it was a problem, that time Chaya Levy and I had our big fight when we were fifteen and she told me that I was a threat to her Yiddishkeit and we needed a friendship break. You’re just a little too intense, she said, and the accusation flung me into the kind of immediate, reactive rage that pretty much proved her point.

   I can’t stop myself from caring, though, no matter how many times it gets me in trouble. Which is why it’s incredibly stupid of me to be here at all, standing at the baggage claim in LaGuardia with my backpack digging into my shoulder, watching the carousel grind by. I’ve been waiting over half an hour already, long enough that I’m starting to worry my luggage didn’t make it, because the baggage guys at LGA are nothing if not efficient and it’s just me and this one family left waiting. Their five-year-old keeps trying to climb onto the moving belt, and judging from the pained look on the mother’s face, she’s thinking about giving up and just letting him cycle through.

   I never thought I’d be back here. When I left New York for LA nearly a decade ago, I had every intention of never stepping foot in this place again. I was gonna be all tan lines and margaritas. No more subway. No more bodega cats. And most important, no more bad memories. It’s amazing how easily I was seduced by a big, fat art scholarship.

   The screen still says LAX—Arrived, so I figure my bags have gotta be coming sometime soon. Or not. Because this is what I get for arriving at the airport just forty minutes before my scheduled departure time. Parker is the most prestigious arts program in the country, and I still had to gamble with my flight, like, Well, if I miss the plane, maybe it was never meant to be. I’m not sure how to fit lost luggage into that calculus. If I make my flight but arrive without my portfolio, or my lenses, or any of my clothes, am I only half-destined for greatness?

   Maybe my problem isn’t caring too much after all. Maybe it’s that I take every possible opportunity to gamble away the things I care about on high stakes for stupid prizes.

   Or as my sponsor would put it: “Ely, you sure do like to fuck around and find out.”

   A normal person would probably choose this moment to go up to the booth and ask after their luggage. Maybe provide the little sticker receipt they so intelligently kept, make arrangements for their belongings to be shipped to them on the next flight out. That’s what the family does. I, however, stand there while the area fills up again with the passengers from a flight from Berlin, chattering in German as their practical drab-colored luggage begins to rotate around the carousel—as if I’ll find my mint-green suitcase with the Ripped Bodice sticker among them.

   “Sorry” is the first thing I say when I finally, reluctantly drag myself to the luggage counter. “I think…I think maybe my bags got lost on the flight over?”


   I might have been born and raised in New York, but the past eight years in LA have made me weak. I flinch. “Sorry?”

   “Your luggage tag,” the woman says, holding out an expectant hand.

   “Sorry,” I say—and holy fuck, if I say “sorry” one more time, I will personally eviscerate myself—“but I think I threw it away.”

   The woman fixes me with a flat, unimpressed look, even though I’m pretty sure most people throw their luggage receipts away the first second they get. “Did you throw away your boarding pass too?”

   We manage to muddle our way through the process, although most of the muddling happens on my end. I leave the airport sweatier than before, skin chafing where my backpack straps rest, and trudge toward the taxi queue. I look longingly after the bright, perky young things heading toward the Uber and Lyft pickup zone; I demolished my rating on both apps within six months of moving to LA. I’m pretty sure if I logged on to Uber, it would present me with an individualized pop-up message reading Don’t even bother.

   I wonder what it’s like to exist in the world as someone who didn’t ruin their life when they were eighteen.

   I get into an anonymous yellow cab, like a tourist.

   “No bags?” the driver asks, meeting my gaze in the rearview mirror.

   I shake my head. “Just me.”

   I tried to memorize my new address on the flight over, but I don’t trust myself to get it right after the whole luggage debacle, so I read it off my phone just to be safe.

   “Astoria,” the driver says as we peel away from the curb. “Why?”

   “What do you mean?”

   “Tourists usually stay in Manhattan. Maybe Brooklyn.”

   Good to know my disguise is impenetrable. “I’m not really the Brooklyn type,” I say, which is very much underselling it.

   “I like Astoria,” the man says with a solid nod. “Greek food.”

   The rest of the ride proceeds in silence, which is one thing I will always appreciate about New York. In LA everyone wants something: a connection, a hustle, a hookup. You can’t go half a mile in a cab without hearing about somebody’s real estate ventures or upcoming EP. And to be fair, I was part of that—always switched on and looking for a chance to get my art in front of the right pair of eyes. In New York, everyone just wants to get where they’re going.

   I’m staying in an apartment I found on Reddit, two strangers seeking a roommate for their three bedroom. Risky move, but I couldn’t bring myself to fly back here to see places in person. I figure if it’s a bust, well, I only paid the first month’s rent up front; that cost less than an extra flight out here plus a hotel would have. The building is unassuming from the outside, four stories high with a flat brick façade. I loiter on the stoop, backpack resting against the wall—no one tells you how fucking heavy a Nikon and some film are when you’re just getting started—and text Ophelia that I’m here.

   She responds almost immediately: Be right down.

   I arch my back against the railing behind me, as if that could work out the kinks in my spine. It does nothing, of course, except make me feel a little ridiculous when someone walks by.

   It’s only two or three minutes, though, before the front door of the building swings open and Ophelia appears. She’s short—no taller than my shoulder—and plus-size, dressed in a trendy crop top and jeans, her hair done up in a cascade of lilac braids that contrast perfectly with her dark skin.

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