Frames of Reference

Written and photographed by Stephen Schelling

Cerberus sat inside a restaurant in Vientiane having a three-way conversation inside its heads. The restaurant was small. There was no menu. There was no air-conditioning. There was a lone metal fan attached to the wall, working tirelessly, fruitlessly against the void. Clean and dirty dishes and glasses congregated together on counters and shelves. No distinctions were made. The walls were painted in faded viridian. Ancient glass-door fridges buzzed and perspired in the heat. Two women labored inside where the sun shone through, blinding and burning with white heat. And outside this frame was the world. There was an entire world erupting outside, but its breadth could not reach inside. This was all these women could see: the world was a small section of a dismal, dirty street shown through the frame of the restaurant’s entrance. This was their frame of reference day-in and day-out. This was how they saw the world outside their window.

“We have entered this frame, their frame.”

“We will leave through this frame, their frame.”

“Us and everyone else who enters and leaves through this frame, their frame, will forever be mysteries to these women who are stuck within this frame, their frame, toiling in their own eternal mysteries.”

A cold glass bottle of Pepsi, lettered in an incomprehensible script to the uninitiated, was placed on the table by one of the women. Her shirt was monochrome and reached down over her grimy blue jeans. Her apron was bursting with flowers: pinks, reds, and yellows, and greens in between. One of the heads flummoxed in consternation. She motioned to a rusted bottle opener next to a roll of toilet paper and three jars of indiscernible sauces boiling in the stagnant oven air. Another head grunted and was satisfied with the procurement of a plate of larb emanating flabbergasting greens and browns. The colors performed a vivid dance in the drab interior. The middle head laughed in derisive delight.

“We are all just frames – frames within frames observing other frames.”

“An endless array of frames. When will it cease!”

“What if we’re just a frame tale and we don’t exist?”





“But possible.”

The three heads disappeared along with their body into the white heat leaving the restaurant’s frame in search of another. The two women forget them as though they had never been – carbon copies replicated daily. They wiped the tabletops and scrubbed the dishes all amounting to no avail. Occasionally one would peer out into the world and sigh.

“Sister, one day we will know,” said Sisyphus.

“Know what?” Tantalus asked.

“From whence they come and whence they go. We will follow them out, and we will take a picture of everywhere we will go, and we will set all the pictures within frames, within our frames, and they will all be ours, and we will know.”

“Hurry up and clean that table. I need help cooking.”

Again, she sighed; then continued.

Stephen Schelling is a writer and teacher, a pickler, and an Eagle Scout from America with a B.A. in journalism from Marshall University.

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