The Girl In The Picture by Helen Braid

That’s the problem with digital cameras. Memories already lost, in their own way. Suspended in pixelated time, reliant on photographer or smiling subject to recall their moment – scroll, select and send to print.

We rarely do in this house. When I was a child I thumbed the pictures kept in a blue striped Tesco carrier bag. I knew them by heart. Wallets of 24, collected from the shop to reveal figments of life caught in lens, light and blur.

Our images remain mostly on the laptop now. The best few making their way to the frames and hangers which adorn our surfaces and walls. It’s easy to overlook the others, to file and store and forget. I think that’s the reason she was missed – blended in and merged amongst the rest.

Looking back I was never aware of her then. Not even once Mary’s nightmares came. That, more than anything, seems wrong in retrospect.

Mary and I – two year old in pyjamas, held by her Mum. Woven striped blind and cream stone walls, and the clock, which didn’t work, sat beside the monitor which drove us mad from cutting out. She was ready for bed in that shot. Taken around the time the bad dreams began. Exhausted and asleep at 8, to wake up screaming by 10pm.

Heart racing and inconsolably fraught. Clinging and sobbing and arms wrapped round my neck. I’d carry her to the chair and sing to her whilst she wept. It never occurred that maybe I should have taken her upstairs. She called for Mama – ‘mama, mama’ and buried her face in my hair.

But it wasn’t a snapshot we had printed out. My husband found it, archiving files from the year before. Froze when he saw. Plain as day – me and Mary – and the woman stood behind us by the wall.

Not out of focus, or blurred like you imagine a ghost. Not opaque. Shade and tone as vivid as the red of pyjamas and the print on my jersey dress. Flushed face, bobbed hair. A little like me when you saw us stood there. ‘Mama’, Mary said. Then her baby smile crumpled and she reached for me and wept.

It was the look on the woman’s face. I never wish to witness that again.

Mary slept beside me after that. Until we found a plan, until we found a buyer and looked south.

And I wonder now, at the flattened cushion where we sat, at the chill of the room when the radiator had been on. I wonder did she tuck my girl in twice. Sit in the chair and murmur lullabies. I was exhausted at that time – heard nothing at night, woke only the hours the baby cried.

I imagine she is there still – under the stairs to right. As we tape our boxes, run stone steps and make haste towards another life.

We are leaving the cot. It is old. A gesture to her in part, perhaps. I wonder that another child once lay there in the dark. That the slim, quiet woman with the brown hair may have once been more like me.

I turn on heel and leave her story behind.

I leave the cot. I leave the room and walk the hall. I don’t look back. I am last to the car. Key in ignition, we wave our goodbyes. Mary doesn’t understand it to be for the last time. Her brother cries farewell to the house. We pull away from the drive, turn the corner to the road outside – past village and fields and dry stone dykes.

 

Helen’s poetry can be found on her website: All At Sea
Her twitter handle is: @ellieallatsea

Photo of the photograph courtesy of: PublicDomainPictures.net.

 

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