Crop Circles

by Christina Dalcher

The stealing happened even before, back when celluloid was king and you could buy a 36-shot roll of Kodak color film for a few bucks. That was a small-scale problem; people spent their shots with care on family portraits, newborns in cradles, birthday boys and girls. Occasionally, a tourist in Paris might snap a picture of the shitty Pompidou Center and manage to catch a stranger in the lens, and that stranger would look as he suffered an inexplicable accident. But that was before and this is now. There are so many more pictures. Selfies, panoramas, videos, accidental bursts of a hundred from the pressure of a lingering thumb.

And so many croppings.

Jamie is one of the first (but there will be millions more), and he starts feeling it on Monday morning. He doesn’t actually feel it; he sees and hears it when his right hand detaches itself from his wrist and falls to the pavement with a dead thump, still holding on to the leather portfolio he’s hauling to his next appointment. His wrist twitched a moment ago, something to do with tendons or overuse or that damned carpal tunnel syndrome, but this isn’t twitching. This is a hand lying on the sidewalk. This is a piece of him, cut off from the rest and lost.

He watches the hand dissolve, first opaque, then transparent, then spread into particles fine as dust motes, leaving only the sweat-stained handle of his portfolio.

While Jamie walks to work (or was walking—now Jamie is howling on the pavement, groping at the spot where his severed hand used to be), Marybeth pinches and swipes the surface of her tablet, on which glows a near-perfect night shot of St. Mark’s—near perfect because some bothersome passerby with a portfolio case the size of Montana stepped into the frame in the millisecond before she tapped and now she has a killer shot of the cathedral with a fucking hand at the right edge, holding onto a portfolio that ruined the lines of the thing. She could retake the shot, but not with a hard deadline of noon. So Marybeth pinches the cropping rectangle in with her stylus, and somewhere five blocks north, Jamie’s hand falls to the ground and dissolves, and that’s that.

Marybeth, meanwhile, has just enough time left to see her edited masterpiece before Mike McAdams puts the finishing touches on his Great Wall of China album, pulling the rectangular crop lines inward so as to get rid of the annoying half-head of a woman at the bottom of the frame, leaving only his smiling wife and son and miles of stone. Marybeth sniffs once, and her brain registers the fact that it’s no longer attached to the part of her doing the sniffing. Then it doesn’t register anything else.

Wendy McAdams comes into her husband’s home office with a tray of chocolate biscuits and tea, all of which end up on the floor when she notices her husband doesn’t exist from the waist down. She was working on her own tweaks in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on the family’s annual Christmas photo. They’d taken the kids up to Crystal Lake and posed on a flat rock above the water, but goddammit if Mike’s legs didn’t seem to go on forever, taking up half the frame. “Easy peasy,” she said, and brought the cropping frame in tighter. And a little tighter after that, just for balance. Now Mike’s lower half, splattered with tea and bits of chocolate biscuit, consists of two deflated khaki pant legs, size 36 long.

Wendy will wake up one morning with much shorter hair on one side because of last Tuesday’s gallery opening when Jamie had to ask her three times to move aside so he could get the artist—and only the artist—in the publicity shot. Wendy McAdams is a habitual photo-bomber, and so she will lose first her right ear, then her left, and various other parts over the coming months. Jamie will work expensive editing software with his non-dominant hand until he has to relearn the process using his feet. And Marybeth won’t be doing much of anything because there’s rather little you can do with a head, even if you are Architectural Digest’s number-one stringer on the East Coast.

Some rumors will spread, stories of island tribes and desert nomads who still possess ten fingers and ten toes. They’re just rumors, unproven and undocumented because these remaining intact people have never allowed themselves to be photographed. A silly way of thinking, really, as if the click of a camera lens could steal some part of a person’s soul.

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