I’m ‘resting’ at the moment, like an out-of-work actor. With a nagging chronic pain problem, plus the heat (ugh!), there’s not a lot of writing happening in my office. So I’ve been doing a little more sorting of my late mother’s archives. Archives? Yes, I use that word deliberately. She wasn’t a hoarder, as such. She just filed, and filed, and filed…
It will be ten years since she died this May, and it’s only recently that I binned the superannuation records of her 40-year career. I also gave a packet of photographs of our town taken in the 1960s to the Historical Society. My brother Charles got some travel snaps taken during early 50’s, but I scanned some of those photographs first.
Mum and Dad’s travels formed part of my own history, for they were told again and again (“Tell me a story!”) during my childhood. When I look at the tiny one and a half by two inch images, I’m also looking through the eyes of the young Doug and Helen. I know they’re excited, curious, exhilarated. They’re just married, they’re in love – it’s summer and the Festival of Britain is on – it’s Autumn and they’re in Rome – they’re in Bombay or Aden or Chartres or Madrid. The pictures are so small and grey and indistinct, but they contain an expanding, vivid world of love and wonder and adventure.
That’s why I find these little pictures deeply mysterious.
My character, Bliss, in How Bright Are All Things Here, says:
…I stood on the promenade and in the pleasure grounds, watching through the viewfinder as passers-by floated in and out of focus. Click! I’d catch this one. Click! And that one. It became, in time, more about the people. Like collecting butterflies. In the boxes at the flat, there are hundreds of one and a half by two inch photographs…
If you look closely, if you adjust yourself to their black-and-white 1950s tininess, you can discern faces, gestures, little glimpses of lives. Are those two in love? Her shoes are too tight. That man looks ill.
Last summer, before I came here, I looked at them again, and imagined I heard a rustling sound as a crowd of trapped, snapped souls, stuck in a shoe-box since the summer of 1951, took flight.
Fanciful? Oh yes, I am that. In the slivered fragment of time, they’re framed, captured, caught in the act. You move on, of course: is it unreasonable to wonder if part of you stays as well?