Shutter Speed

Can Ozzy get the perfect photograph, and create the perfect family?


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There is a moment during a total solar eclipse called the Diamond Ring. Just before totality begins, the sun’s rays stream through the valleys at the edge of the moon and cast a gem-like glow off into the night. A diamond shine is set upon the corona of the eclipse, just moments before the moon takes its place and snuffs the sun’s light out completely. It’s a fleeting piece of cosmic jewelry, and after three minutes of night in the middle of the day, it happens one last time — when the moon moves on from its transit and the sun’s light is channeled by the valleys on the other side.

Ozzy Daniels did not have a diamond ring for the woman he intended to marry. But he did have a camera, and a photographic eye that served him well. When the day finally came that the moon would block out the sun, Ozzy had made up his mind to be in the right place at the right time to get the perfect snapshot. He may not be able to put a photograph on Melissa’s finger when it was done, but they could hang it on their wall until a time when a real ring was in the realm of possibility.

They crossed a bridge near the border between Georgia and South Carolina, speeding in their burgundy SUV to make it in time. A meeting at the printers had put them behind schedule, and they were now at risk of missing the whole event. Melissa was plenty excited to witness the eclipse, but she did not know what it was that urged Ozzy’s foot upon the pedal with such abandon. They struck a pothole just across the bridge, dropping the undercarriage against the pavement and shaking the car with a jarring clank.

“Aye!” Melissa said, gripping the vinyl handle above the passenger door. “So help me Osbourne, if you roll this car, I’m walking out on you.”

Ozzy stared at the road through the woods ahead as northeast Georgia grit was cast up in a plume behind them. The shadows of the trees grew sharper on the ground, a trick of the sun’s focusing light. He cast a careful glance up and out the window. The moon had in fact begun its transit across the sun, giving them perhaps 15 minutes until totality and his first chance at a Diamond Ring.

“I timed it all out before we left the print shop,” Ozzy said. “If we’re gonna make it, I have to maintain 70 till we cross the state line.”

A young voice asked from the backseat, “Ozzy, can we stop and get a drink? I’m thirsty.”

Melissa turned around in her seat. Behind her was Arturo, her son but not Ozzy’s. After three years with Ozzy, Melissa was disappointed that her six-year-old son did not call him Dad, but perhaps that would change one day when they were married.

“Sorry, buddy,” said Ozzy. “We can’t stop for drinks because drinks mean bathroom, and we can’t stop for bathroom.”

Arturo crossed his arms over his dinosaur shirt and frowned. “But we stopped at that gas station.”

Ozzy looked at him in the rearview. “That was to get the sunglasses, buddy.”

Melissa opened the glove compartment and pulled out her magic trick. It was the cherry red Walkman she had kept since her childhood. She popped it open and saw that one of Arturo’s favorite CDs was still inside, a compilation of Glenn Miller big band classics performed by a military jazz band. She had picked it up for Arturo at a used media shop when he first showed an interest in music. If he was going to spend his time inside his headphones, she wanted the music coming out of them to protect what she still called his “virgin ears,” though Ozzy’s sailor mouth had already done some damage.

She passed the Walkman to her son, knowing it worked better than a pacifier without getting the dirty looks. Arturo lit up when he saw and took to it with eager fingers before disappearing between his cushioned headphones. Melissa smiled at him. Then the car was rocked by yet another pothole hit at 70 miles per hour.

She turned back around in her seat as they jostled about and muttered the Prayer for Serenity. “Dios mio, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and the courage to change the things I can …”

Ozzy smirked. He could change this. He just had to drive a little faster.

The afternoon was growing darker as they arrived at their destination: a small state park just over the state border. It was named after someone history had not been kind to, but it was said to be the best local area to watch the eclipse. With the moon already in transit, lot after gravel parking lot was over capacity with cars. They drove deeper and deeper into the park just to find a place to stop, past lakeside nature trail access points buzzing with spectators. Ozzy gripped the steering wheel, his knuckles whitening around the playing card symbols tattooed on his fingers. He slammed the dashboard and swore at the cars in front of him, and Melissa checked behind her to make sure Arturo was lost enough in the music not to hear.

Five lots deep into the park, they found a place to stop. Beyond the gravel lot, a trail through the woods led to the sidelines of a recreation field. It looked like dusk outside already, and what sky they saw beyond the trees was lit up with sunset colors. Parched and anxious from the breakneck, nonstop journey, the family-to-be unloaded the car, Ozzy barking orders all the way. Melissa grabbed their picnic blanket. Arturo held the bag of solar shades in his sweaty hand, beneath the spinning CD player.

“Don’t we need our glasses on?” Melissa said, shielding her eyes.

Ozzy chanced another look up to the sky. The moon had slipped into position, its corona a magnificent and unbroken circle.

“We will, but not right now,” he said, his heart already pumping. They had missed the first Diamond Ring, but the second one awaited, with less than three minutes on the clock. He shouldered his tripod bag and camera pack and trotted toward the trail.

Melissa reached a hand down for her son to hold. “Come on, Arty,” she said, even though he could not hear. She led him in Ozzy’s footsteps, urging him faster.

“Ozzy, slow down!” Arturo shouted over his music as they took off running through the trees.

“We can’t miss this,” called Ozzy over his shoulder, his voice shuddering with every thundering step. “Who knows when the next one will happen?”

“I don’t know,” Melissa called after him. “NASA, probably.”

They cleared the woods but were not far enough from the trees to get a good view. Ozzy beckoned at the edge of the field for his family-to-be to catch up. The field was filled with spectators just like them, fingers raised pointing to the sky above a sea of oohs and ahhs. The precious seconds ticked away. When Melissa and her son arrived, Ozzy reached out and grabbed Arturo’s free hand.

“Come on!” he yelled, taking off again with eager steps.

But when he ran, he went too fast and yanked Arturo’s arm. The boy was jerked onward, stumbling on his feet. In that moment, Melissa’s Walkman slipped from his grasp and came unplugged from his headphones. Ozzy felt Arturo’s tiny hand slip from his grip, followed by a shriek.

When he turned to look, Melissa was aghast. Arturo froze, then screamed, his hands open and shaking. The Walkman was smashed in the dirt. The lid had popped open, and the CD lay in shards upon the grass. Ozzy swallowed back a lump in his throat. He hesitated, then took a step back.

Melissa rushed to her son and crouched by his side. “It’s okay, baby,” she said, holding his hands. “We’ll get you a new one.”

Arturo shook his head, unable to look her in the eyes. She pulled him close as stinging tears spilled down his cheeks, then glanced at Ozzy over Arturo’s shoulder.

Ozzy looked up at the sun and the moon, now so strangely in the same place in the sky, and began to inch away. He winced at Melissa. “Help me out here, babe,” he said. Then he took off running, unslinging his camera pack en route.

She watched him run, then furrowed her brow. She held Arturo tightly to her and rose to her feet, carrying him with her. She took off in pursuit, Arturo burning hot like a coal in her arms.

The broken Walkman was still in view over his mother’s shoulder. Blinded by tears, he tossed the bag of solar shades toward the wreckage behind them, where it landed in the dirt without Melissa noticing.

When Ozzy got to a place he knew he could get a clear shot, he slung his tripod bag to the ground and took a seat in the grass. With trembling fingers, he unzipped his camera pack and got his digital camera started. After adjusting some precursory settings, someone in the crowd began a countdown from ten. He grunted in frustration and laid on his back. There was no time for the tripod. He would have to freehand it.

Melissa jogged up with Arturo in her arms. Upon hearing her footsteps, Ozzy called out to her for his solar shades. As soon as the moon slipped out of position and the Diamond Ring lit up, the rays would be too strong again to look without the tinting.

She set her son down and crouched before him. “Okay, baby,” she said. “Give mommy the sunglasses.”

The moon came to the very edge of the sun in Ozzy’s viewfinder. “Babe, I need them now!”

But of course, Arturo was empty handed. His lip trembled. Melissa looked around, then saw the bag far behind them. A crowd of people joined the counting, now down from five. Her mouth hung open as she looked at her son. He hid his face in his sweaty hands.

“Ozzy?” she said. “I lost them.”

His heart stopped, but the moon kept on moving. “We came all this way and you lost our glasses?” he shouted.

“Don’t take that tone with me. This was your idea,” she said.

“Ozzy, please don’t yell at Mommy!” cried Arturo. “I dropped them on the ground.”

Ozzy growled again as the counters got to the end of their timer. He had no time left, no other choice. He aligned his camera as best he could, then shut his eyes, clicked the shutter button, and hoped for the best. All around, spectators took up a raucous cheer. Ozzy clicked again, again, again, just to be sure, but he knew that whatever snapshot he got would not be what he wanted. The photographs would be incredible by virtue of their subject, to be sure, but he knew they would be off-center, a touch blurry, and an instant later than ideal. An imperfect shot.

He rolled over onto his elbows and opened his eyes, finding it was already lighter outside than the pure evening of totality. He toggled a switch to review the photos on the viewscreen and saw that what he had actually captured was the moment after the Ring, when the corona of the eclipse was lit up in multiple places and not just the one. With a sigh, he hung his head. He took a moment to collect himself, then rose back to his feet with his bags.

When he turned around, Melissa was watching him carefully. Arturo had removed his hands from his face but still could not look anyone in the eyes. Without a ring to offer, all Ozzy could do was shrug. Then he walked past them, back toward the car.

Melissa held out her hand for her son. He took hold, and she led the way. “It’s going to be okay,” she whispered. “Your father’s just a perfectionist.”

“He’s not my dad,” Arturo said, still burning.

She frowned, then glanced up at the back of Ozzy’s head, walking away in front of them. When he paused to pick the bag of shades up off the ground, Melissa called out, trying to lighten the mood.

“Hey, come on, babe,” she said. “You’re a photographer. You know you can’t control your sun.”

Ozzy scoffed. “He’s not even mine. If you can’t control him, how should I?”

After several feet, Ozzy realized he longer heard footsteps behind him. His heart clenched up. He turned around, and for the first time this hurried afternoon, he was afraid.

“Oh …,” he said, mouth agape. “You meant …”

Melissa wrinkled her nose. Then she scooped Arturo into her arms and stomped ahead. “This is why he doesn’t call you dad,” she spat, shouldering him as she stormed past. She joined the legion of sightseers returning to their cars, leaving Ozzy in the dust to shuffle back on his own.

* * *

It was silent in the Daniels family car on the way out of the park. Traffic was stop-and-go with the mass exodus of sungazers. Ozzy and Melissa sat in the front without a word. The brake lights ahead lit their faces up red, then went dark as the convoy shifted forward the length of one vehicle. Arturo was curled up in his gray jacket, still as a rock. He no longer had his mother’s Walkman to pacify him, but he was silent just the same.

Ozzy glanced in the rearview mirror to check on the despondent six-year-old in the backseat. He drummed his fingers on the wheel, then glanced at Melissa. She rested her head on her hand, her elbow propped up against the window. Her somber face was cast in a scarlet glow as the car in front of them braked once more. Ozzy brought the SUV to a stop. He felt he deserved this awful silence, but he could not bear it. He put the car in park and turned around in his seat.

“Arty, I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to get mad, and I hope you can forgive me.”

Arturo’s eyes peeked open. “I’m sorry I ruined your shot,” he said, his voice very small.

“You didn’t ruin my shot,” Ozzy said.

“I did ruin it. I didn’t drop the glasses. I threw them away.”

“But I made you upset in the first place,” said Ozzy, “and that’s what I’m sorry for.”

The car behind them honked.

“Ozzy, please go,” Melissa whispered.

He looked at her. “I’m not leaving this place until I fix this.”

“I know that photo was important to you, and I’m sorry, okay?” said Arturo, his voice swallowed up in his jacket.

“It was important to me,” said Ozzy. “But it shouldn’t have been more important than treating you and your mother with respect. You don’t have to forgive me right away, because this is going to take some time to develop, but I’m going to try my best to have a better attitude.”

Two honks.

Ozzy scoffed and rolled down his window.

Melissa put a hand on his shoulder. “Babe, please don’t.”

He poked his head out and shouted at the driver behind him. “Hey buddy, gimme a minute to talk to my son.” He rolled his window back up and slouched with a sigh. “I know we’re still working on becoming a family. But I’m going to keep working on my part. I promise.”

Once more they fell silent. But this silence, Ozzy could bear. Melissa rubbed her hand down her boyfriend’s sleeve.

Arturo lifted his head. “I’m sorry I don’t call you Dad. But my first Dad never ever told me he was sorry for anything.”

Ozzy reached back and patted Arturo on the knee. “When that moment comes, I’ll be ready. That I can be patient for.”

The car behind honked once more and Ozzy put the SUV in drive, ready to move ahead. They caught back up to the traffic and put the state park behind them. When they crossed back over the state line, Melissa turned around in her seat and asked Arturo to get the camera bag out of the back.

“Why?” Ozzy asked.

“Because I want to see your work,” she said.

Melissa sat with the digital camera in her lap as the viewscreen booted up. The most recent photo appeared. It was blurry and off-center, but Melissa recognized the partial ring of light, the glowing dewdrops spilling from the moon’s valleys. One after the other, she looked back through the snapshots, a crescent grin splitting her lips.

“These are incredible,” she whispered.

“Eh, they could be better,” said Ozzy. “But thank you.”

“Ten thousand people got a perfect snapshot today,” Melissa said. “Nobody could have gotten these photos except for us.” She pressed a button, and the screen displayed the first of the photos Ozzy had taken with his eyes closed that afternoon. “This one is just blurry enough. If I didn’t know better, I’d think it was a diamond ring.”

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  1. I think Ozzy learned an important lesson that day the relentless pursuit of perfection isn’t worth it. Hopefully he’ll remember this the next time a similar situation comes up. This goes for anyone reading this story that may see themselves in him, or someone they know.

  2. What a poignant story. Ozzie is so frustrating to read because, well, how could someone be so oblivious to the effects of how he’s acting? Ozzie gets even more frustrating to read when I realize, “yup, I’ve been there…”

    How often do we hyper-focus on a particular thing? Even at the expense of those we care for most?


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