No Kodak Memories
He couldn’t quite trace the origins of the moment when he realised he had the strength to retrieve the album of photographs. Perhaps it had just been persistent. Perhaps it had just been too dogmatic, pushing him that one step more tonight.
It waited on the shelf below a row of other unread books in the living room; bound in faux green leather, the edges yellowed and crinkled where the cellophane covering had been undone with once regular handling. It sat; not quite at eye level but lurking within sight of the doorway. Every time he entered or left the room he noted the wink of baize and walked past.
At first he had paid it no special attention, he would get around to it. But as time went by and he reorganised now singular rooms it had raised its profile in tiny, almost imperceptible stages. Now it was all that physically remained of her and he begrudged its patient holding. Each time he entered or left it seemed to spark a quiet struggle within him, pulling at him to return and make that last, final adjustment. It was left in purgatory for one more day. Then another, and another.
Too many memories for one book. But the regular taunting had become its own undoing.
It wasn’t that he needed to keep the album anyway, he told himself. It was hard enough dealing with the network of hazy edged images that inhabited his mind, unbidden and evocative, on such a regular schedule. And this virtual record, swimming in his consciousness, was the very reason he had so often prevented himself from taking up the evidence from the shelf.
Why put myself through added trauma? It was so unnecessary.
The familiar train of thought ran and the destination was ever the same – to be rid of the memento on the grounds that it would be easier to bear her absence if he wasn’t reminded by these familiars, these partners from her past. So the wardrobe had been cleared, the paintings, the music she loved, the vases and the boxes of files from work. Now only this one thing remained.
He knew what he would find there. Or did he? He took a moment to consider some of the images he might find and was surprised to discover that instead of individual moments or compositions he could only collate a general expectation. There would be the Christmas in theNew Forest. Several holidays and breaks and the many ages of the surrounding family. Where would it begin? But as soon as he began to follow this thought his stomach turned over as he reached its finale – what would the last image be?
Well, he added bitterly, the last one to have been placed there by her. No matter that it would not be the last picture taken. That final film had been taken along with her.
That last two days after a long period of having work and other commitments take their minds from just being together. Finally they had got away; a cheap hotel and just a few hundred miles away but somehow something more than a break from the headlong race had emerged and they had felt something rekindled, something reawakened from the past. If only he had known what that journey was going to become…he heard a rattling noise from outside and jumped despite himself.
Over time he had become begrudgingly grateful for the mind that could be distracted. It was again tonight. Always a hundred ways to take his mind away from the spiralling dive into the past, to prevent the wasting of days on fruitless grief. He turned to the window but saw nothing, just stood looking into the dusk for long moments. Turning slowly he walked over to the shelf unit and purposefully considered the book.
Tonight something had changed. Tonight he looked back at the cover and didn’t flinch. Tonight he held its gaze and considered its contents properly for the first time in nearly a year. Perhaps he didn’t know what he would find there after all. Perhaps, just perhaps, he would discover something else. It would have to be tackled and resolved one way or another. And it would be tonight.
How can a book look smug? Its size and colour seemed to pick out the anonymity of the other smaller books beside it. The choice over colour had never actually been made, they had simply picked it up one day and now he couldn’t even remember where. Green – a friendly colour; warm and now familiar; appropriate even in its neutrality. And it was thick. It’s middle bowed slightly against the other books piled against it in his attempt to deaden its prying eyes. The thickness whispering of many years and many memories. Just a flick through. A casual reference point. Surely nothing in there could persist more strongly than the reality of his loss.
Gingerly carrying his new found ease with the thought of opening the book, he made himself a cup of strong coffee, rolled a cigarette and sat with the album on his knees. Outside the rattle returned and he managed to place the sound. The wind was jumping against that piece of fence he had been meaning to fix that evening, a flickering grey shadow in the deepening shadows. Standing again he walked over and drew the curtains, sat and slowly took back the book onto his knees. Unconsciously he spread one hand cross the cover in greeting.
It was less than an hour later and the green tome was safely returned to its place on the second shelf up from the floor. Opening the curtains again he found that night had spread itself against the windows and his pale face was staring ghostlike back at him.
Ghosts. Memories. Phantoms.
He felt a tinge of residual anger from the first moments of opening the book. What a cold thing it had suddenly felt in has hands! Was it him? Had he moved on so much and so unknowingly? No. Surely it was something about the idea of the album itself. Organisation. He was suddenly and unexpectedly raw at the way he had sought to regiment and displace his grief. Pinning each day to its time and place. Yet how carelessly they had placed each picture – randomly and often still giddy with the talk of the moment.
But now to see them arranged in their rows and pages – four to a page he had noted – some out of sequence in terms of events but each within an occasion or a holiday or a special place. An attempt to fix those smiles and that view and those people and that occasion in a way that would stir their minds when they returned to them. But in the fixing of the image the event had moved on and beyond even as the shutter snapped. What a futile gesture. That wasn’t life. Had it ever been in the lens in the first place?
The first thing that had surprised him was his desire to talk with her again about all that was beyond the photograph. And then he had uncovered why he had been afraid of this memorial. It was always the talking that had gone with the pictures that had made them so special.
Sitting side by side and laughing at the people in, out and behind the camera. The shot that should have been taken but never was. The next move of the person on the right, and then, oh then the other things, those other things that he carried with him still.
“That was a lovely evening.” And she would turn her face to him and they would share that moment, that memory without words, without vision, without a corresponding print, without any gaps or breaks. All encompassed in her look and the moment of bringing together.
But here, here were gaps upon gaps. Page upon page of space between moments of deepest joy and terrible fears. What proposed to be the hard copying of reality was in fact a fruitless exercise. The fixing to paper of what cannot be held. For beside each photo’, interwoven in those spaces were the hours. Hours and hours – days upon days, months and years of the actual.
And to his second unexpected realization – she was not here. He would never have found her in the objects and belongings he had relentlessly chased down and removed.
He looked at himself in the window and knew finally, precisely, why he had been afraid to look in the album. What if she had been different? What if he had forgotten? What if he had somehow imagined those looks, those communions? But they were never going to be in these crinkling ribbed pages. These were reserved for the fixed grins of the subjects.
Those who knew one day they would be taken out and artificially remembered and reconstructed, who wanted their countenance to be a fair one. He took a deep breath. The looks and the images he carried within himself would never be fixed. They were living within him.
She was living again inside him. As long as he still remembered there was no need to let go. Nothing he could give away or leave on a shelf could contain the moments he had caught her. Her presence fixed forever in his heart and mind with more surety than light and shadow on paper.
Turning off the light he made his way up the stairs to the bedroom. Tonight he realised that there was no need to force himself to look away from his thoughts of her. There was no need for distraction. There would be no letting go. She would remain; a second skin, behind each thought and deed. She would stay; stay in the gaps between each moment, the reality behind each memory.
(c) S. Dyer 2012
- A Final Kodak Moment? (stuffem.wordpress.com)