'This wretched heart has split in two.I love him and I love you.'
Her obsession with photographs began by accident. Old photos to be precise, ranging from the mid-fifties to the nineties of her hometown. She was looking for a ghost, a beautiful green-eyed, red-haired woman who until 1995 when Lara turned thirteen had occupied the more tangible realm of flesh and bone.Years later as she linked arms with her father they had happened upon the exhibition in the town center. Photographs of times gone by, dotted about the walls and in glass cases. Most of them ranged from the 1960’s as they had been donated by an elderly photographer whose passion at the time had been capturing all of life’s goings on. Lara could recognize the skeleton of the town she lived in. The old hump-back bridge still formed the central division of the modest town. Some shop fronts were still recognizable, like the old pub by the river, while others had over time lost all reminders that they had ever existed before now. She had wandered away from her father who could spend half an hour gazing at one picture at a time. Leafing through an album more out of boredom than interest she barely took in the faded scenes mostly in black and white with the occasional attempt at what looked like ‘coloring in’ with a pencil. It ruined them she thought, better to have left them as they were. Suddenly her eyes were drawn to a particular scene of the river and the houses just beside it. She would never have seen the girl had it not been for the photographer’s post developed coloring. Later she was certain she would have missed her but for those garish strokes of red hair which made her stop and hold her breath. Of course how could she have forgotten? Her mother had told her countless times about the adventures she had wandering up and down the old house which belonged to her aunt exploring the attic and gazing out at the world. There she was now gazing out at her daughter years later. It was as if a secret portal, a Narnia of sorts had been opened where time stood still but kept on going and her Mother was both gone and still existing. There were no more appearances at that particular exhibition but from then on she looked for her everywhere she went. She asked people she barely knew whether they had any old photos in boxes and would they mind if she took a look and would spend hours trawling through them. She never told her father about her discovery because she knew it would just make him quiet again. It was a piece of her mother that she would keep to herself. She never did see her again but she could never fight the compulsion to attend exhibitions or leaf through old albums. She still longed for the bittersweet sense of that first discovery.
Much, much later as she stood transfixed the same sensation coursed through her. The amber liquid and a piece of three ply paper held captive in the porcelain cistern. She breathed it in slowly, the ammonia vapor tinged with last night’s dinner and beer. Her knees buckled and she fell to the hard tiles, the smack of her flesh a distant, muffled sound. Overwhelmed by the desire to dip her fingers into the bowl, she surrendered to the impulse, tentatively tipping the meniscus then allowing the fluid to cling to her fingers. She brought her hand to her face and inhaled slowly. Her heart clenched, she tried to breathe, tried to hold back the sob but she was powerless as hot tears and ugly gasps escaped her. Her heart felt constricted in her chest, ready to pummel its way out as the grief it held was larger than its capability. How would she get up again? How could she function when she couldn’t even bear to flush this part of him away? She heard a creaking on the floorboards outside the door and tried to compose herself. Her face was swollen and puffy, her eyes tiny and bloodshot.
‘Lara, are you ok in there?’
She tried to say yes but it stuck in her gullet. She couldn’t bear it if he came in now and saw her like this, so with every ounce of her being she forced the words out.
‘I just need some space please, I’m ok, I just need some time’.
‘Umm’ she could hear the hesitation. ‘Are you sure you don’t want to come out and go to bed?’
‘No!’ It came out with more force than she expected ‘No thanks. Please I’ll be ok here for the moment. Don’t worry I won’t do anything stupid.’ She knew she had to say it to avoid the door being broken down.
‘Ok, I’m downstairs if you need anything’
Her mouth gave up on the ‘Thanks’ so the silence was his response and she heard him move away from the door.She brought her legs out in front of her and lay against the bath, her hand hanging down over the bowl. She couldn’t leave this room now, not if her life depended on it. The sunlight was streaming down from the small skylight and the branches from the neighbors’ willow were tap-tapping melodically with the summer breeze. Closing her eyes tight she tried to remember how she had gotten to this point. So many things had fallen apart since, so many friendships had suffered and now it was all lost. This was her punishment for trying to veer off the straight and narrow. Would she change it, if she could? She had never bargained on it turning out this way. Even now as her innards twisted in turmoil, she imagined the self- righteous voices of the people who had never approved of her situation. She felt lightheaded for a moment, water filling her mouth and she vomited onto the floor. Shadows flickered on the wall as the garden beech outside the small window danced cheerily in the wind. She could hear a lawn mower in the distance and remembered why she had always hated the sound so much. The whirring would always begin when she lay in bed feeling blue, reminding her that there was a whole world out there functioning as it should. It cast her aside from the others and now it was mocking her again. ‘You will never be part of us’ it shouted ‘You never were’.