“A stack of photos”
He didn’t need to say it. His brain labeled what he saw, and he was alone. Yet, something said he should push his voice into the air, so he did.
These pictures didn’t belong to him and captured moments he never witnessed. They depicted strangers, and, though he felt something in the smiles, he was sure he’d feel more if he, like the photographer, turned a camera to returned affection.
His mother once took photographs on Easter and Christmas. Evidence had long disappeared, but they’d been a family. His father stayed over. He slept, as other fathers must—he thought—in bedrooms dim with sleep and company, curtains heavy and drawn, light seeping only where privacy allowed. So often, on Saturday mornings, he’d found his mother and father entwined. Before it became just her.
After his father left for good, she snapped at him. He might fight back.
This stack of photos described time. Some of the subjects aged, and the places seemed somehow aged too, as if they’d absorbed the colors of an era—harvest gold, avocado, a gray indigo no one liked much but chose anyway.
He shuffled rectangles and found so little to impede him. “Yes, yes, yes,” the images slid by, greased by months and years insisting on progress.
“You bastard,” he said. He hit a patch where the same woman’s face stuttered through frame and frame, neck tipped back, eyes half shuttered, smile stretched because nothing, nothing, nothing restrained it.
One evening, his sister asked, “Do you remember how she was with him? Did she love him?”
He said, “Yes,” less out of belief and more because his sister desired an answer.
When she invited men home, he knew not to believe. He looked into their smiles and sought warmth. He found need akin to his own, expedience.
Tilting sun and fading will told him he must leave soon, but he’d seen no image he had to have, no moment irrepressible, no intimacy to borrow. He hated taking just anything when, if he waited, at any moment, the choice might land as in a saddle, perfect for galloping.
The usual panic rose. He’d be seen, known. Slipping past image after image, he saw lives piled in undifferentiated masses, misery compounded by desperation, desire by short-lived satisfaction, dreams by waking.
He chose nothing to carry away. He swept past the broken lock on the sliding glass door, through the yard, over the fence and into the alley. Looking left and right, he spied no other soul.
He went on.