Shadows.

Shadows.

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.

 

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Artistic License.

Artistic License.

This is part 2 of ‘Frames’, if you need to catch up before reading: click here.

8 months seemed a long time to wait for the little addition to our family. We wouldn’t even have a black and white scan to frame for a few more weeks and I’d looked for frames of that size and couldn’t find one anyway. I’d bought some little footprint magnets and stuck them onto the fridge ready. One pink. One blue. One yellow in case we changed our minds and wanted a surprise. I’d told James last week and he’d been dying to tell his parents but we’d agreed on one month. He was going to see them after work. His parents stand in a little frame with slightly forced smiles on their faces, over by my mother on the windowsill. They hadn’t really wanted him to marry me, unemployed for two years with so many health problems we’re all surprised I haven’t dissolved into ashes already. They worried about him making enough money to support us both.

Housewife. I looked like one in the frame in our room. Above our bed, a canvas print from the wedding of course. We’d got the proofs the day after I’d told James about the little parcel with a long wait for delivery. We’d scrolled through them ‘cooing’ and ‘awhing’ and laughing together, admiring our beautifully made up selves in the crisp clean print of the photographs. We’d ordered the canvas in the middle size and stuck it on the wall as soon as it arrived. I was leaning in James’ arms, laughing with my eyes closed. Pure joy. Leaning into him to demonstrate my submissive, demure position as his wife. His arms were wrapped tightly around my waist, new ring glinting in the sunshine, bright teeth all on show as he smiled.

I’d wanted a career before I got ill. The problem is that once you get that diagnosis you’re screwed, no one wants to employ you after that. James made me think that was okay. It was alright to be disabled and spend your days pottering about the house because you can’t face going out: cleaning and drawing and preparing dinner. There’s a picture from before in the office where I draw and never produce anything that sells.  It’s me collecting an award at school for organising an auction of art to support a charity. I forget which one, I think it was probably cancer research or something because that’s what schools always seem to push you towards.

I’d finished preparing dinner now, and moved in to my study, fuelled by nostalgia after thinking about my career. The study was my room. The only thing in the house that James didn’t share, the only part of me that wasn’t intrinsically linked to him. There was only one photo of him in there, sitting atop the dark mahogany desk by the window. He was kissing me on the cheek and I was laughing again, eyes closed in glee. Contentment. I was always content when he was around. When he was at work my life felt a little empty. Each sound a little too loud. Each footstep bringing a tiny ray of hope that he’d walk through the door in his crisp grey suit, cheeks flushed from the walk home, dark hair fluffy from rushing.

I picked up a pencil and began to sketch a face. Eyes closed, laughing. Gums on display as a giggle escaped from the mouth. In my head the picture was in colour, but I couldn’t remember where I’d put the coloured pencils. In my mind the baby was in hysterics over a face James had pulled, his tongue out, blue eyes crossed the way you would to make your daughter laugh. I’d be beside them, smiling, eyes open to watch the two people I love most in the world feeling happy. I’d finish this picture and frame it, compare it with the face of my little baby when she entered the world, a screaming bundle of baby fat and blankets. I’d probably got it entirely wrong, but I used a little artistic license. It was my baby after all.

At this time my heart is open, not yet closed by the events of the day. That is because they hadn’t happened yet. Until now, my heart is full of longing to meet the child inside me, and to see my husband after a long day at work. Later it will be empty. Devoid of feeling, it would become a chasm within me, ready to swallow me like a black hole.

8 Months.

8 Months.

They say that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. I’m not sure I agree.

It wasn’t raining on the day my life fell apart. It was actually quite a nice Summer day and I was considering taking a walk that afternoon.They say you can tell when something bad happens to a loved one.  I was feeling a little unwell, but that wasn’t unusual. In fact the nausea may have been a projection once I’d found out what a terrible day it really was.

The sun was smiling at me through the windows and the slight breeze seemed to snicker as it wove through the opening. I chopped the vegetables for dinner and threw them into the slow cooker, coating them in oil and a layer of rice. Two presenters  babbled away almost inaudibly from the retro blue radio I’d been bought as a wedding gift. I didn’t really like to listen, the nonsense they spouted got on my nerves, but I liked looking at it. James would turn it up when he got back and dance around the kitchen with me balancing on his toes.

Pictures of us smiled from every surface. A mural to our first meeting stood beside the radio: the two of us laughing , frozen in time and trapped inside a photo frame. I wore a sequined skirt and t-shirt that was tied up to reveal a generous amount of untanned flesh at my waist. He wore a flannel shirt and skinnies. He’d waxed his hair to perfection but forgotten to shave, so that tiny forgotten hairs sprouted covertly from his chin. We’d both had quite a lot to drink at this stage and as frequently happens with inebriated people, it had quite slipped our minds that we’d only met an hour ago.

It was Win’s idea. She’s framed in our collection of photos on the wall by the TV. All of our friends in different sized squares sitting on the wall to be admired. It’s a bit strange if you think about it too much, but I think she’s pleased to be there. I’d known her since school and she’d taken me out with her work friends after a particularly dull week to ‘blow off some steam’. I’d done that. I’d also met the love of my life. Win had spent the night making out with various strangers until she found someone who was ‘skilled enough’ to warrant taking home.

I was interrupted from my reverie by the rude bleeping of my phone. Mum. She rang almost every day to ask if my life was married bliss. We’d only been back from the honeymoon for a week and already she wanted to visit, to intrude on our peace and bring noise into our home. Mum’s honoured with a small frame on the windowsill. It’s right above the radiator so she’ll never get cold, I think she’d like a bigger space in our house. She’s smiling in the photo, standing with her arms around two small children with pigtails. They’d be matching if one didn’t have glasses and the other a grin that revealed teeth which didn’t fit into her mouth. I’m the one with the big teeth.

I balanced the phone between my shoulder and ear while I poured boiling water into a mug and added instant coffee and a splash of sugar. We may have been able to afford to decorate our flat with a vast array of photographs, but ‘posh coffee’ as James called it, was out of the question. We lived on a healthy (and cheap) diet of mainly vegetables, snacking on nuts and porridge with honey for breakfast. We ate the same things. We’d taken a cooking class last year and  a huge canvas of us proudly flaunting our creations hung on the wall in the kitchen. I’d been intending to call James at lunch time but mum had stolen the opportunity. I didn’t think about it at the time. I was too busy telling mum about a new photo that we’d be framing in about 8 months.