Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Photographer, A Short Story

I'm breaking from the norm and posting fiction on here. This is Day 2 of #The100DayProject and this started from "Write a story about the images on a roll of film". Please do feedback and share if you like it, I'm here on twitter.

She was cleaning out the bottom draw of his office desk when she found them. Six rolls of camera film, the old-fashioned kind of film that came in those small black cylinder containers. She remembered seeing these types of films before when she was a child and being told not to open them because it would ruin the pictures.

There were no photographs with these ones, or at least none that seem to be nearby. She assumed they had not been developed. She placed them aside in one of the weary piles she had made, throw away, give to charity, give to Mum or Dad or one of her siblings, keep for herself, investigate. The films went in investigate. There were several of these piles around each of the rooms in the house, left as she moved onto the next obstacle. 30 years of life in five piles, like there were five of them, it was ironic, she laughed to herself, but not really.

The house in North London was a classic Victorian with five floors including the basement and the front door was on the first floor and had steps up to it from the front drive. It was a novelty among her friends when she was a child having those steps up, like a mansion or a castle they used to marvel. Now it was dusty and empty, much of the furniture had been removed and her footsteps echoed round the bare walls as she walked about.

She went to the kitchen and made herself a cup of tea with the small bottle of milk she’d picked up from the supermarket on her way over. Sitting on the stool as she looked across the garden, she remembered burying a box of treasure at the bottom when she was five or six, she remembered smoking in the clearing behind the shed when she was sixteen and sitting with James in the garden just last year, drunk off French rose, dogs running around as they shivered together in the damp dusk air. They’d revelled in having that house to themselves when her parents had been away, their week of house sitting had become a dream of an adult life that they did not yet have. She’d taken great pride in having a proper meal on the table when James got home every day. It meant she had to leave work early that week, but somehow something in the house had grasped on to her, as if she was retracing her mother’s footsteps and imagining the family home and the children she did not yet have. They were quiet the next week when they went home to their one bedroom flat in Shepherd’s Bush, claustrophobic all of sudden as if their roles had been shaken. That was the first time she asked James if they could move to the country after the wedding.

She washed up the mug and left it on the draining board. It was enough for today, she’d come back tomorrow. As an afterthought she grabbed the rolls of film from the office and put them in her bag, she’d drop them into the photo place on the corner on her way home. She assumed that they still developed these types of films.

“Yes we can do these, but not in an hour I’m afraid, you’ll have to pick them up tomorrow morning.”

She was restless that night in bed as she had been many nights over the past three months. She got up and went out through the kitchen onto the balcony, picking up James’s cigarettes on the way. She didn’t know why she’d started smoking again since it all happened, but it soothed her somewhat. James had mumbled to her on her way out of the bedroom, “Rose, where are you going, come back to bed.” She’d ignored him, he was tired from a business trip and she knew that he would soon fall back asleep.

It was good that the house had sold quickly, she knew that. When her mother had told her matter-of-factly, she had nodded swiftly,  “I’ll sort it out... I’ll go through everything”.

“Well I was hoping you would, Ben is obviously not here and Yasmin just does not have the organisational skills as you know... and I think it would upset her and your father seems quite useless in the whole matter. He’s still living with his brother in Oxford,” she paused, “God knows what he finds to do there... but well, that is not my responsibility anymore.”

She’d wanted to shake her mother at that, she’d wanted to shake her at many moments over the past few months. She was stoic in the extreme, numb and resolved day to day. All she really wanted from her was to see some sort of emotion, some expression of feelings or fear or anguish. Or at least she’d wanted her mother to confide in her, to talk to her. However, following the announcement of what had happened, all she’d got was this calm shadow of her mother, busying herself by making things happen with the house as soon as possible.

Her father had been the opposite on the few times she’d seen him, grey and shaken. Tearful at points - which had made her quite uncomfortable - and desperate for forgiveness but unwilling to ask for it. Yasmin, her younger sister, messy and joyful at the best of times was a whirlwind of tears and anger. She never picked up her phone and some of her own friends had mentioned that she was drinking a lot, out every night. Sometimes she’d called her in the early morning crying and asking if she knew anything... “But you must have known... she must have known. Where do they live these people?” She could only reassure her with softly spoken words that everything would be alright. Though of course she could not predict this, it somehow soothed her to take this motherly tone.

James, forever protective of her, was frustrated with her family.

“Yasmin is 27 years old,” he would say, “she’s not a child. Your parents should be dealing with this.”

Ben rarely called, she’d get the odd email from his office address in Australia asking about the house and the sale and the money. He’d spoken to her father several times apparently, for all the use that was. His geographical distance seemed to translate to an emotional one too and of course he had the children, it was not so easy to fly over to England, though she suspected that his wife, Jennifer would have put a stop to that even if he had suggested it.

She thinks that even as she picked up the six packs of photographs emblazoned with the bold print of the shop the next morning that she knew what they would contain. She paid the man his £30.00 and took the carrier bag he offered, driving back to the house.

She dropped the keys as she unlocked the door, trying to balance her coffee and handbag as her hands shook, carrier bag heavy. Walking straight through to the old living room where the only rug that remained in the house lay, unsold – Turkish she thought – and sat down cross legged taking the six photo packs out of the bag. One by one she opened them and spread them across the rug. Three of them contained photographs of scenes she recognised. Her seventh birthday party when Yasmin, precocious at five, wore a tutu and embarrassed her; a trip to the zoo that her father had taken them on one Saturday, Ben aged twelve, surly and adolescent as she and her sister marvelled at the animals; Christmas 1993, she was 8, photographs of presents being unwrapped and the Christmas puddings being lit. Her mother smiling in the background of some of the shots, glamorous as ever, though she was still shocked at how beautiful she was at... 35 she must have been.

Then turning her attention to the other three films, there they were. The same few years according to the red digital date marking in the left hand bottom corner, as the photos of her family. The first pack was mostly of a blonde woman laughing, she was attractive, though not especially so and not more beautiful than her mother. She was in a park and they were having a sort of picnic and then there were some of her father who was also laughing and one of them together hugging, taken by some passerby. 

The next pack was of the same woman and some other people at dinner in a house. The woman was clearly pregnant and there was one photograph of her father with his hand on the bump. She didn’t recognise any of the people, though that meant little. Finally there was an album full of pictures of a baby. Not newborn, maybe 10 months old. In a pram, lying on a play mat, looking over the blonde woman’s shoulder as she held him. There was none of her father in this one, but he had clearly been the photographer.

She left the photographs on the rug and went back to the job at hand as she sorted through some book shelves, lifted boxes of their old toys down from the attic. She put the rubbish outside and re labelled everything in boxes: Charity / Mum / Dad / Ben / Yasmin / Rose. Then on an afterthought, she picked up the photographs from the rug putting the first three in her box, the others into the smallest empty box she had labelling it, Isabel and George. With a final look around, she picked up her handbag and walked out of the door, locking it behind her.

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