This is part 3 of ‘Frames’, if you need to catch up before reading: click here.
At 6pm I put the finishing touches to dinner. James had finished work early and been to his parents already, so should have been home around 6.30pm. I tipped some frozen peas into a pan and listened to them sizzle while watching the clock’s second hand crawl around the face. My picture was finished, and I’d attached it to the fridge with the tiny footprint magnets which still awaited the real photograph. I brushed my fingers across the pencilled surface and imagined the feel of a baby’s skin.
Below it on the fridge was a photo of my sister and her husband standing beside James and I. It was a double date in Summer last year and we’d visited a zoo together. The sun had caught the lens of the camera so that a star of white blocked the view behind us. By it’s very nature, it’s my favourite picture in the house. My sister’s arm flows behind her husband’s back so that it can poke little bunny ears above my head. The week after this my sister was lying in a hospital bed, unable to move. In the photo she is tanned from a recent trip to France and poking her tongue out at the camera. A week later she was unable to breathe. I’m laughing in the photo at something my sister had just shouted across the group, a joke to the camera man. A week later her heart stopped beating, it gave up and exploded, leaving my own with a sister-shaped hole.
I knew exactly what luck I’d had with my sister from the moment I started school. All the other girls would moan about their brothers throwing things at them or calling them names. All the other sisters would steal their toys or pull their hair. My sister let me play with her dolls and play dress up with her lipstick and shoes. She was two years older than me and mum was very strict with numbers, so when I was seven my sister was allowed to play with makeup while I still wasn’t. There was a picture in a photo album hidden under my bed of my sister and I after a makeover session. I’d dragged her smooth golden hair into two very uneven and matted pigtails. She’d managed a fairly neat plait on one side of my head. We’d both plastered bright pink lipstick around our mouths, and neither of us had been good at keeping colouring in the lines. I took it out from time to time when my heart was feeling strong.
By 6.30, James is still not home. I pick up the phone a number of times and dial his number before replacing it onto its hook. There’s a little photo of us in a heart-shaped frame beside the phone. The heart is a little glitzy and pink for our taste, but it was a gift from his mother for our engagement. It houses a picture of us shortly after he asked me to marry him, taken at a professional studio which was also a gift. We’re both wearing our favourite clothes, which do not match in the least. His dark denim jeans and flannel shirt are so incongruous with my slimline black dress that I almost made him change, before deciding that this portrayed us as we truly were. Independent. Together. Perfectly different.
James smiles at me from the photograph, unaware of the tumult inside me at his being twenty minutes late home. I picked up the phone twice more, and checked on dinner before turning the cooker off and settling on an armchair beside the window with a book. Drunken words stare up at me from the page, dancing around like an untamed ocean as I look over them at the street below the window. At 7pm I pick up the phone and dial James’ number, but before the ringing begins there’s a knock at my door.
The policeman’s badge sports a photograph of him in his uniform. I realised that this man was a shadow of his former self, we are all shadows of who we once were. Where crevices now lurk beneath his eyes, there is clear, fresh, young skin. It stands up straight and bright, ready for the day after a night of sleep with a clean conscience and lack of regrets. He stands before me now, a balding image of himself. The lips which are pulled into a friendly smile in his photograph are now drooping like a dead flower as he opens them and speaks slowly. As he holds onto my arm to stop me from falling.