After Image

by Afsheen Farhadi

If the story begins with the accident—with faces in collapse, with blood-soaked asphalt, with blankets and body bags—you will feel like you’ve seen it before.

So it begins with a woman strutting outside her home in a tattered robe, shaping her face with caricatured disinterest, grabbing her crotch.

The house across the street, draped in mournful silence, gives a slight tremble. A man watches through cracked blinds, putting the pieces together. Here is a broken woman, her sudden insanity framed by his window. This being the first time he bears witness to the woman’s depraved dance, he, like a child, tries to understand it. After all, he has children of his own, and there is nothing he wouldn’t do to protect them. So now he imagines one of them is dead, killed in a freak accident, and he tries to give a face to the person at the helm of this accident, or, more accurately, the person who was drawn into this accident by some cruel twist or turn or inevitability of fate. This person has a face, while fate is faceless. So he imagines this face, and immediately he wants to batter it. Somehow, as a result of the success or failure of this exercise in empathy, the face he imagines belongs to the woman across the street. Emotions have warped logic. He wanted to feel this poor woman’s pain, and in doing so she has become the threat.

***

The only remarkable token of this story is the indecent image, tantalizingly absurd. For this reason, it is better suited to the screen, where, without access to the interior, it becomes even more disturbing. Backstory is not inherent in the image, and can therefore be withheld. So forget, if you’ve already guessed, that the woman’s son has been killed; forget that the boy was killed by a car driven by the man across the street. Just picture the scene: a woman deranged by the agony of unknown loss, a man threatened to his paternal core.

The fact that it is on television provides a degree of comfort, for whatever transpires, the camera has survived. And as it cuts between the overcast faces around the dinner table, which is currently the family conference table, it forces a projection of our own families, where depending on age and gender, we slip ourselves into one of the roles the camera has provided: father, mother, daughter, son. Who we are matters less than that we are someone among them, part of this nucleus of hopelessness and fatigue.

Outside of this nucleus is the deranged woman, whom we cannot empathize with, whom we are not being asked to understand, for this would prematurely complicate an already bizarre situation. She exists as the act itself, senseless and disturbing, as the camera repeats her slow-motion attempt at visual terror.

Though the gist of the story has been captured in these few scenes and images, true experience is uncontainable. The experience sprawls with amassing reason; varying pitches of emotional activity; the ambiguity of objective thinking that takes places in the minds of those wholly involved, as well as those currently and peripherally involved: the viewer, the reader; you, me.

So how sprawling is this story, how deep the human psyche? Is it contained to the father’s nose, which flares in moments of duress like when he felt the thump under his car, there at the family conference table? Does it persist as he’s tucking his children into bed, both of them in the same bed since they are too frightened to sleep alone, telling them that things are going to be alright, and they look at him with cherubically confused faces, because they can’t understand how their lives have changed, only that they have? The father must feel his children’s worries in the recesses of his face, the tenseness at his jaw, the flutter of his left eyelid, and, again, the flared nostrils, a tick first noticed in his youth, perhaps when he was eight and ice skating, and his jacket was flung open by a burst of frigid air. His face had been so numb that instead of a full-on show of pain, he felt a violent flare of his nostrils, a subtle sign of severe discomfort that would never be acknowledged, not by his parents or his fellow skaters, since it hadn’t been communicated.

When the father leaves his children and closes the door, does he suppress the onset of tears before he retires to his own bedroom, where his wife is in bed, turned away because the sight of him only reminds her of…? Or better yet, since the accident, have they found themselves inspired to perform long and uninhibited acts of love, a reversal of the cliché that thereby becomes cliché? As they have sex, their minds go blank, as minds will. But afterwards, if the husband wonders about all the sex they’ve been having, he must also wonder if it is really so different than if she had turned away from him. Isn’t it also just a coping mechanism, meant to deal with the overwhelming shame she must feel at his presence?

In any case, the mechanism is successful, and after the bout of sex, all they feel is a slight tightness in their joints that is soon, by some other mechanism of the body, soothed by radiating warmth. If they dream, their subconsciouses either project violent tokens of small shoes and trails of blood, or silent and wavering images—unnamable, indescribable, a mosaic of colors and figures, a voice that sounds peculiarly familiar, yet one so generically disembodied there’s no way it could belong to anyone real. Either way, when they wake up the next morning, the woman is out there again, strutting, watching, grabbing at her crotch, lifting her shirt to show the age-loosened flesh of her torso and a slight crevice that the sun’s light cannot illuminate enough at this angle to determine whether or not it is a C-section scar. She serves to douse any illusion of epiphany the dream world has inspired. She becomes a symbol that nothing has changed. In times of tragedy life’s narrative is tightened, weaved through a chain of symbols. Even the toast, whose charred middle forms what the man at breakfast decides must be a face, but one as indistinguishable as the voices from his dream, seems heavy with significance if only for the fact that normally, where he would scrape the burn, he leaves it as is—doesn’t even butter it, but places it in the center of his plate, on a heap of scrambled eggs, and watches it like a painting you have to unfocus your eyes to truly see.

***

When the father returns home that evening—from a job he once considered a lesson in institutionalized and self-affirming boredom, where the politics of the office have lost any anxious appeal, where he parks his car in the employee lot in the morning and measures his life by the splatters of bird shit that are so wholly formed and round and singular that he can count them and does count them, perhaps as a way of forestalling the memory of the other substance splattered on his car, which was not singular or wholly formed, but was a mess, an actual mess that, it should be mentioned, was not even made on this car but the previous car, which had been donated to a foundation that sells cars to fund pediatric cancer research, yet can still be seen in the afterimage of his closed eyes when he looks at this new, modest sedan, bought only as a vehicle of utility and by no means as an upgrade or splurge or, Christ Almighty, treat—his children are sitting in the living room, on the floor in front of the television, their legs drawn to their stomachs and held in place by their arms, giving themselves little hugs of self-assurance that nearly break the father’s heart. The father sits with them, and the little girl says the thing that proves the storm of their present circumstances is not just something to weather, but a test, a duty, a call to action.

“She said,” says the little girl, meeting her father’s imploring eyes in quick shifting glances between him and the floor, “‘your daddy is a murderer.’” A whoosh of air is released from somewhere, and the father thinks that it came from his own collapsed lungs, then realizes it’s coming from his wife, who stands behind them in the doorway, hands at her gaping mouth. This just about does it, the father thinks but does not say, because he does not know what to say, how to explain to a little girl the multitude of ethical, logical, moral, and religious principles that prove this statement—that her father is a murderer—is both true and not true in such a way that this little girl, his little girl, as well as his little boy, should feel no shame at their father’s misfortune, which is what it truly is, and should only feel sorry that occasionally, or often, or even more often than not, the hands of fate get crossed, or do things we can’t understand. He is angry at the woman for bringing his children into this, they being by every account ethical, logical, moral, and religious, helpless victims who should not be asked to consider the intricate web of implication involved in such a tragedy. And though the father can feel his wife’s presence at his back, sees the helpless and lost looks of his children, and though he has decided, irreversibly, to take action against this woman once he figures out what action he can take, he realizes that he has just, in his mind, dubbed himself and his children victims of a tragedy, which has ended with a dead child and a single mother across the street who has lost her mind in grief.

***

Keep in mind that everything so far has been taken from a series of voice-over–linked images that run the span of a particularly indulgent pre-bed yawn. And yet, the images have run their course in the real-time of the person committing these imaginings to paper, so the gimmick of the screen has been broken. At a certain point, the information about the accident must be revealed, and is prematurely revealed in the written word, where gimmick does not have the inherent thrill it does on screen. So yes, the father has accidentally killed the son of the woman across the street, and the woman, in some desperate attempt at vindication, has taken to making herself the visual terror of said father’s children’s nightmares. All we see of the woman is that same indecently strutting image, her immortal wound resulting in the palsy of outward shame. The camera shows us this inarticulate expression of grief and has already determined where our empathies lie. But the conscientious, though clearly insecure, person who has written these pages feels that such a profound helping of worldly grief must, on some deep level where resides one’s acceptance of a God-unknown universe, somehow provide one with a newfound depth of articulation—so deep and personal an articulation, in fact, that the language faculties used to express it must be in the first person.

I am the mother of a son who is dead is not something this interior first person would necessarily say if given voice, for, logistically, she would have no need to remind herself. And yet, this is as good as anything we can surmise: her saying, I am the mother of a son who is dead and am therefore no longer a mother. So what is to be done with this defining role, which not only supplied meaning but showed me what meaning truly means?

What questions would we ask such a first person, a voice coming from the deepest interior of grief? Maybe we ask about what the little girl said, about telling her that her father was a murderer, the straw that seems to have broken the camel’s back and has set in motion a course of events that will end, as it began, with the image. To this question of intent or motive, the first person may say something like Yes, I did it, and you must be wondering what possessed me to hide behind my withering rose bushes until the school bus came, dropped off the little girl and left. What could have so compelled me to time the exact moment to approach so that I would be out of the bus’s rearview, but still catch the girl before she reached the door, without regard for whether or not one of her parents or a nanny was waiting and watching at the window to make sure this girl made it inside unaccosted, or who may even have been hoping for an altercation as a way of procuring the evidence necessary for serious legal action? Well, the calculation I have displayed in this rhetorical answer is totally misleading, since the act resulted from the very absence of calculation. Rather, it came from a single-mindedness not of my mind, a physical reaction that bubbled within my stomach and reached far enough to the action and language base of my brain to set my legs moving, and to let the words sound from my mouth—the exact, although uninspired, words meant to achieve the distinction of unforgivability.
The screen does not provide this interior access, for perhaps the very reason that it would only be a trial in cliché. The death of this woman’s son is not the tantalizing, sound-bit story that the parading and deranged woman across the street is. As a result, empathy for this woman comes as a sort of hiccup, something we are vaguely aware of, but hardly worrisome.

So we are taken back to the nuclear family, hear their story against the intercutting image of the woman, who, in slow motion, with no sound but that of whatever narrator is speaking at the moment, is seen as a specimen of menace. This helps justify the father’s actions as he tells us about the police reports he has filed, the restraining order that is filled with loopholes since she resides across the street and, except for that one moment when she approached his daughter, has never broken this barrier. At some point during this process of legal action, it is not difficult to imagine the father sitting in a padded chair in the waiting room of some police station, or in the police chief’s office after the police chief has stepped out to get coffee, and being drawn back into an empathy exercise, realizing that the woman has only once crossed the limits of her property, has not left to get groceries or toiletries or other essentials of even a broken life. Perhaps he realizes that he is totally unqualified to empathize with this woman, who seems to be suffering an existence beyond understanding, like when he sometimes sees a dog or cat or squirrel doing nothing more spectacular than climbing a tree or sniffing a slipper, and he tries to imagine what it is thinking, but realizes it is not like him—that any attempt at understanding is really only a projection, an artifice, not true to reality. Maybe this is what the woman across the street is trying to tell them. Look what you have done to me. Good luck trying to understand it. Or, If you really want to understand it, you must understand what it’s like to lose one of your precious children. Again, as a result of this exercise, he begins to feel this woman’s hatred pass through him and circle its way back to her. He feels her self-loathing, and loathes her. Or he feels her hatred toward him, and hates himself, and hates her for being the one to have brought this hatred into the world. So when the police chief returns, after maybe giving them both a moment to consider their approach, he tells the police chief there’s no doubt in his mind: throw the book at her.

Of course since there is no book to be thrown without hard evidence, the father is coached to record the woman in the act. So he does, with a seldom-used camcorder, which is usually reserved for momentous occasions: the birth of his children, family trips to national parks, grade school productions, talent shows, soccer games. He stations himself at the couch under the front window of their living room, positions the camera’s lens between the cracks in the blinds, and waits for the woman. When she steps out, the camera rolls, and here is the image we have seen many times already, the image that has come to define the woman across the street. She struts, she kicks, she grabs, she shakes her shoulders as though in some gesticulating response to someone’s difficult or unanswerable question. The image captures a body responding to a mind blank with anger. But there must be more, which is by now the obvious thesis of this story. So maybe, inside this woman’s mind, if it is even coherent, she’s thinking, I can see myself, and I can see you. I see the camera, and it does not deter me, nor does it entice me to play to its eye. I will only do what I will. I am single-minded and single-bodied. If I smile, it is a single smile that has nothing to do with the various brain and nerve signals that usually make one smile. It is a single smile. Not happy, nor sad, nor sarcastic. Just something my face does. When I shrug my shoulders, it is in response to nothing; it is something my shoulders do without catalyst, simply because it is something my shoulders can do. What is a response? Define response to me and I will shake my head, although it won’t be in response to your definition because I don’t know what response is. So maybe I won’t shake my head, maybe I’ll kick up a leg, maybe I’ll scratch an ear that does not itch.

The camera knows only what is before it, and it learns this woman’s movements in streams and streams of video. However, when the piece is finally put together and edited, it is only a single loop we see, which runs six or seven seconds and is repeated. Whoever edited it must feel that this short segment encapsulates all the sinister spectacle necessary for a thirteen-minute segment on a popular news-entertainment program. But even in this six or seven seconds, it is clear that if this woman was told that the next six or seven seconds, while the camera is running, would come to define her, would be inexorably bound to whatever reputation she can salvage over the remainder of her life, she wouldn’t have changed a thing, perhaps wouldn’t have been able to change a thing, perhaps wouldn’t understand what she was being told.

So with this severe disconnect between mind and body and something like soul, it is hard to imagine what this woman did when the cops came to her house and knock on her door. The only thing more difficult than imagining this woman pulling the drawstrings of her robe, balancing the weight of her body on the balls of her feet to look out the peephole, and answering the door with a sincere look of concern as she faces the two officers, is imagining what this woman had been doing before the bell rang. So let’s assume the door was not only unlocked but didn’t catch shut, so when the officer knocks it swings open. Let’s imagine that the woman was somewhere in the stifling darkness of her home, and the outside light illuminates a mess of discarded takeout wrappers and boxes and bags and swarms of balled tissues. … Or better yet, imagine that the house is very clean and neat and tidy, as though the woman were on vacation and the house hadn’t been lived in in months, for really, this is more likely, considering this woman’s disembodiment, so far separated from the daily trials of maintenance and self-care that she doesn’t even create filth the way people normally do. So the officers are there and they verbally draw her from whatever crevice she has situated herself in for the time being to tell her that the people across the street have issued a restraining order and if she wants to refrain from legal difficulties, on top of her other difficulties, she is to stay away from them and their property and above all their children. Or maybe they’ve been here before, depending on how far this scene takes place in the process of legal action, in which case, the officers have come to consider her one of their regulars, those who occupy that surprisingly large gray area of lawful intervention. They must feel pity for her. Not because she lost her son, but because she lost her mind. Maybe, when they return to their police cruiser, they talk about the hopelessness of her situation, one of them saying, poor loony bitch, and the other saying, nothing to be done, and the first agreeing.

Back to the man across the street, who wakes every morning and hopes she will not be out there, that she has given up, that whatever fury had possessed her has been exorcised or faded away, or even that the fluid rage has hardened, formed a crust of cement around her heart and stopped it, and that the whole thing is over and life can continue as before. So every morning when he wakes up and peeks out his blinds, his nostrils flare and he feels a sinking hopelessness in the pit of his stomach that is only exasperated by the fact that he has wished her dead.

Then one morning, the tumult of his emotions, the warping of his soul, the vertigo of his moral compass, all of it becomes too much, and he realizes the one course of action he has yet failed to consider—or had considered at one time but realized he was too scared to actually pursue, and even now, considering it again, he can feel his heart rate speed, and his cold palms bleed a moisture that seems somehow purer than sweat—is actually approaching her and trying to explain the situation. But the situation, when explained, would have to include the death of her son at the wheels of his car; the little boy, nine years old, who seemed to dive into the street at the exact moment when the next foot or so of his car’s propulsion was out of his control. He will have to apologize to her, which he has already done at the horrific moment when she crouched beside her dead son, frozen in shock, and he yelled, unceasingly, how sorry he was, because he knew, even at that moment, that her forgiveness alone could save him. Maybe that’s what is most troubling, the fact that he so clearly does not have her forgiveness, but her contempt, her hatred, as a man who, for all his misdeeds, had never felt, until the accident, that he warranted the hatred of anybody. Maybe this has little or nothing to do with his children. Maybe this is all really about him, who hadn’t realized until now that going through life with a modicum of moral purity is not simply a matter of following the cleared path of a decent life, because sometimes those paths are crossed by careless and innocent children, and sometimes you do not see them and lose everything that once made you whole. So maybe this is about children in general, the world’s stock of innocence kept in these tiny, beautiful, fragile containers. How is it fair that something so precious, so essential to a species’ wellbeing, indeed the very heart of humanity, could be kept in packages so breakable? Really, we should be born as giants, evolutionarily invincible to account for our importance, and as we age, we shrink, become smaller and more breakable each year and finish our lives as infants, squirming with regrets, until finally, some predator descends from above and efficiently ends our full existences. Unfortunately, children, the world’s most important asset, are sitting ducks for the cruelty of fate, making parentage, parental protection, the most effective weapon for preserving the world’s innocence and beauty. And again, this is why the man finds himself in such a dilemma; he is both the protector of his children and the predator that has taken from God, from this woman, from the world, something so precious.

His mind runs through this loop as he sits at the breakfast table, his children dutifully consuming bowls of cereal, his wife reheating the coffee that has cooled next to the hand with nails she chews, then stops herself from chewing, then chews again. Even at work, as his boss checks in about a certain detail of an important account that should have been squared away earlier in the week, trying to be firm with him, but also trying to be understanding since he knows things for this man are not great, his mind is stuck in this loop. Finally, at lunchtime, the man drives home and parks in his driveway. As he gets out of the car he takes a long look at his currently empty house, whose emptiness he feels he would have been able to intuit even if he did not know, for a fact, that his wife was at work and his children at school. The house procures from him a deep and unnamable pathos that makes his heart wrench as he wonders if this emptiness is what the woman across the street will suffer the rest of her life. So as he makes his way across the street, looking both ways as he has taken to doing lately, since wouldn’t it be fitting for him to be run down, he feels sad and hesitant and begrudging of some force that seems to work outside of himself, some force he does not truly understand, some force that seems to blanket the sky in its invisible aura. As he knocks on the door, he smells rain.

Return to the woman, alone in her house, in the midst of some unknowable act, positioned in some unknowable position, as a knock comes at the door. What else is there to say about this single-minded or no-minded woman? All we can really know is the image we will come to see as a result of all that has already happened, as well as what is about to happen, the likely climactic meeting of these two people, strapped firmly in their simultaneous roles of victim
and villain.

The images of the screen will be made to coalesce in some peculiar drama, where you will be asked to form opinions and judgments, to ask yourself certain questions of circumstance, of cause and effect, all leading, ultimately, to nothing more than one in a series of useless hypotheticals. This story will occur, during its broadcast, all over the country, in millions of homes as per the popularity of this particular news-entertainment show, while the narrator’s voice will come to you as your own voice, the ruminations of your own mind, a single voice meant to represent both the devil on your right shoulder and the angel on your left. For our thoughts and our actions and our beliefs are not only ours, but are cultivated by the outside world, not environment per se, not nurture as opposed to nature, but from the static line of electronic sequences and pitches that pierce the shell of experience and therefore become experience, but not true experience since these pitches, these frequencies, have been programmed by another, by a whole team whose sole job is to make sure that, upon hearing this story, you feel one way or the other. But of course, there is no way to totally control the impulses of an entire population with one single version of a broadcast. So yes, there will be those that see the story and say, Wow, that poor man and his poor family. And yes, there will be those who say, That poor woman, if only something could be done. And there will be those who say, What a world; those who say, We should consider ourselves lucky; those who say, God works in mysterious ways.

And of course, there will be those who find the story particularly troubling, those who feel as if the story, or maybe what’s not being said in the story, what is being withheld, is precisely what the story is, what it can teach us, what it says about life in suburbia, life in the twenty-first century, life. And one of these people may set out to understand this story the only way he or she knows how, which is to set it to language, even though our language may be every bit as mediated and influenced by those electronic frequencies and pitches. So then, what does this all come to? An exercise in this person’s own ability to empathize? What do we learn by simply understanding that we are all victims? That we are all villains, and therefore none of us are villains? What can be gained by an empathy which allows for such forgiveness that forgiveness seems like apathy?

Perhaps these are not the right questions. It’s possible that because of the fallibility of memory, the person writing this has misrepresented certain facts, not just the stuff he or she has made clear are projections, but the details stated as having happened. Did this man really have a son and daughter? Just a daughter? Two sons? Was the woman across the street unmarried? Did she lose her mind when her child died or had she lost it before? For that matter, did she even have a son? Has the impetus for this entire episode been nothing but a projection of the writer, remembering only that first absurd, disturbing image and trying so hard, both consciously and subconsciously, to make sense of it that he/she has given it a backstory that makes it logical, real, human, sad, albeit a story that has been done many times, one that is a cliché, but the type of cliché that if we ever feel it is too cliché it will mean that we’ve, as a culture, lost something essential, perhaps as a result of all too often hearing about or experiencing firsthand the loss of our children?

Maybe the benefit of trying to understand what is ultimately not understandable is the exercise itself and not whatever fruits it may or may not yield. So return to the woman, who is by now standing at the door, faced with the murderer of her son, who is faced with the tormentor of his children and his wife and his own fledgling morality. The greetings of our everyday language do not fit this scene, so any verbal exchange that takes place between these two would be either its own anticlimax or too severe and contrived. Maybe it’s enough that the visual stimuli of the other confirms for both the man and woman the silent fact that forgiveness is not an option, that these exercises in empathy can only go so far before the victim has become the villain. So what is said, or that anything is said, is really less important than what we can assume the man must want to say, that he is sorry, God is he sorry, that he will forever be sorry, but that if he is to carry on any semblance of a life, the sins or mistakes or misfortunes of the father cannot and should not be inherited by his children. And the woman, again regardless of what is spoken, knows he is sorry, that she is sorry, but that the whirlwind of events must be fated, because there is no taking them back, no stopping them, that she will never be able to pass him and his family on the street and offer a wave of neighborly politeness. And of course, it doesn’t matter that none of this is said, because all of it is felt, and empathy, in this way, is totally achieved, each of them knowing the pain and suffering of the other, but so tormented by their own pain and suffering that the system of punishments that yield absolutely no rewards must continue, this continuum of suffering, continuum of inflicted pain and inflicted guilt until, when? Until forever.

So what they’ve learned and what we’ve learned is that this must run its inevitable and infinite course, which began with the image and will end with it; began with one person seeing the image and trying to find meaning, and in doing so has provided this intricate narrative, which is now coming to its end, as the man crosses the street back to his own house and sits in his car and considers his next move. Meanwhile, the woman retreats into the darkness of her house, or even the brightness of her house, having, perhaps, taken to leaving all the lights burning day and night, for what reason we can only imagine, and does not consider her next move because her next move is not something that can be considered. The open wound of her suffering bleeds the chaos encapsulated by the spastic and inarticulate movements of her sorrow-deranged body, while the man across the street feels that he has no body, only this disembodied voice in his head that reminds him of the conscience his elders told him about when he was younger, the voice in his head, both omniscient enough to be God but intimate and self-focused enough to be his own, that would supposedly guide him through life’s endless moral dilemmas, and which has absorbed his entire spirit for the fact that it will not shut off until it reaches some satisfying conclusion, which, it is becomingly abundantly clear, is not at all possible given the circumstances. After all, the structure of truth and morality is what we hope to impart to our dear children, and yet the dearness of our children somehow skews truth and morality, since they are so important, so precious, the only real truth is that we will do anything to protect them, which again leads back to the woman, leads him back into that continuum or cycle so easily that he wants nothing more than for it to end, to unravel and be exposed to a discerning outside world, where opinions can be formed, judgments made, some end met, some verdict reached.

So he calls a representative of the media, shows them the tapes, and brings upon this story a circus of reporters and cameras, cameras more official and technologically advanced than the one he used to record the woman. And yet, when it is brought to the screen, it is still shown in that amateur-quality video the man took, likely as a way to preserve some semblance of spontaneity and reality. It is a local story, then regional, then it is picked up by the national news-entertainment show, which finally ensures that it is, in fact, a remarkable story, a story worthy of spectacle and follow up, cameras interviewing him and his wife, but God no, not his children. And pretty soon people do have opinions, the story having now been seen and experienced by the eyes of the world. And this person in particular, the one who has written this story, understands that he/she is being asked to make a judgment, but cannot make a judgment without feeling he/she has inhabited some state of falseness to which the voice-over has led. So the story comes to life the moment he/she, as the news people predicted, sees the shoddily shot image of the woman strutting back and forth in front of her house, exposing herself, making obscene gestures to whoever will watch this outpouring of grief and anger, this natural outpouring no less vital and essential than a runny nose in winter or perspiration in heat, or the blood that oozes from an open wound, showing us that we are hurt, drawing our attention to this place of injury, this place of pain, this place that heals, must heal, for if it doesn’t what will happen next?