The man stood with his back against the wall. Only it wasn’t a wall (it was the edge of a bed), and he wasn’t standing (he was sitting) and it wasn’t his back (it was his buttocks). Really, he was facing his future. Except he was looking at his past. It had taken the form of an old box of photos.
But even as he thumbed through the assorted moments, jumbled together as if someone had scattered his life on the floor like Scrabble tiles, he was aware this wasn’t really the past he was confronting. It was only pieces of cardboard covered in a photosensitive emulsion.
The faded and creased smiles weren’t people, just faces wearing forced, joyless expressions. They weren’t even really faces, just images of faces. They brought back memories but the memories weren’t the same as the images of the faces worn like masks.
In one photograph his father stood beside the child that was once the man. They were wearing swimming trunks even though they were standing in the middle of their driveway with the door of the garage slightly out of focus behind them. The sun was making them squint. Had they been going to the beach? The swimming pool? The man couldn’t remember.
If you measured him in the photograph, the man’s father could be no more than two inches tall. He’d been so much larger in real life. In his memory, the man’s father had towered over him. Twelve feet tall at least. If his height had remained relative to the man’s own height as he grew to adulthood.
The memory must be false. If he did measure him in the photograph and he really was no more than two inches tall, that would prove it. Only, he must have been taller than that. If he were only two inches tall how had he ever impregnated the man’s mother? The last time he saw her, no more two or three weeks prior, she was at least four feet and eleven inches tall. The idea of her making love with a two-inch tall man was preposterous.
Unless, perhaps, there was a photograph in the box where she was also a mere two inches tall. It seemed likely. He dug through the crumpled leaves of pictorial fictions looking for a picture of his mother as a two-inch tall memory. He dug and dug but whenever he found the picture of a woman he thought might have been his mother, the head had been torn off.
He’d found the box under his grandmother’s bed. They, his mother and her mother, had shared what he thought must have been an unusual relationship. The old woman had seemed so devoted to her daughter but here it was, a sort of photographic proof of something deeper, always hidden from him.
There were also photographs in the box of cats. He didn’t know whose cats they may have been since his grandmother had never owned pets. His mother had been allergic to them so he’d never grown up with cats either. Were they neighbours’ cats? That seemed the most likely option since his grandmother rarely strayed beyond the confines of her small garden.
Underneath all the other photographs, taped face-down to the bottom of the box, he found one of what he assumed was a photograph of his grandmother, grandfather and his mother. He had to make the assumption since the little girl standing between his smiling grandmother and stern grandfather had no head. It had been torn away like with all the other pictures of the women he suspected were his mother. In its place, though, was pasted a cat’s head torn from another photograph.
He sat looking at the picture for several minutes.
He was fairly confident this was a picture of his mother. He measured her in the photograph and she was about an inch and half tall, adjusting for the disproportionate size of the cat’s head. She’d most likely grown to a full two inches and would have been able to mate with his father. This thought afforded the man a small sense of relief.
© 2010, Jakob Rehlinger