Posted: May 3, 2015 in Featured Scribe, Guest Writers


       Rob Davies


I always say it slowly, as if afraid I’ll trip over it. Ca-me-ra.They sometimes
make fun of me, my parents and my younger brother. They call me “Ca-me-ra”,
affectionate yet mocking, but I like it. An old man called Bob gave me the
camera when I was a little girl, a fantastic and bulky contraption almost as old
as he was. It is old and beautiful and it is a part of me. It hangs from my neck
like a child.
I have time all figured out. I like to go into the big train station in town and
watch everyone. They’re like the sea, sweeping in and out, high then low, a tide
governed by those big lunar screens filled with rolling words, numbers,
timetables. I stand there and smile, and I stop people on their way to ask them
if they’re on time. Most of them hurry past and pretend they never heard me.
Some of them frown, some of them smile back at me.
A man is smiling at me now, and I ask him. He says yes. I like it when the young
men talk to me, the way they adopt a certain swagger, their words pouring out
but hastily written, spoken not to last. He asks me why I want to know, but I
just ask him why being on time is so important. Whichever direction you turn the
clock, you’re always close to the hour. “In somebody’s time, you’re always on
time,” I explain.
Click.I capture my time, now, with him. He frowns, although still smiling. Ca-
me-ra.The word seems to flow along the contours of his face. He looks at me a
while longer, then he shakes his head and walks away. I realise I said the word
aloud, and I laugh with embarrassment, a hand over my mouth as I watch him
swallowed by the tide, but then slowly, like a cup leaking empty, I feel alone,
and I sit on the ground, letting people flow around me.
Sometimes, when my camera has been taking in so much of the outside, it makes me
feel lonely. It all glazes over, like one big photographic plate, with me next
to it, helpless. When that happens I have to redress the balance, fill in the
gaps around each picture with words. As much as I take from the outside, I put
back into the words. I write them like I write all things, on a typewriter, so I
can see each letter make an impression in the paper, hammering the ribbon with
such conviction. Surely nothing typed can be a lie.
So I write, the click of the keys undoing every shutter-click from before,
unwinding time until it all straightens out and flows properly again. Words of
poetry and nonsense, purity and debris, all meaning something. Each sentence a
snapshot, developed and printed in an instant.
Someone once told me that true writing doesn’t come from the heart, it comes
from a storehouse of shadows just beneath. But then, most people mistake theirs
for a heart anyway. I can let light into mine, just enough to keep them moving.
Click.Another tiny window. The thing with windows into darkness is, I can see
out but no-one can peer in.
Now we’re driving, and they’ve told me not to take pictures. I said I know,
we’ll be at a funeral, and people don’t like taking pictures of things that
upset them. I don’t know why. It will have happened, photographed or not.
Click.There. Another one from out the car window, and I smile. The trees aren’t

yet bare, but almost. Click.Another freeze-frame of time in a little square of
space, infinity captured. Maybe cameras are the world’s memory.
Click.No need to wait until the perfect moment, it’s always now.
We arrive, and I think about Bob as we get out the car and walk the long
driveway to his funeral. It seems everyone at some point in their life knows an
old man named Bob. Ours was strange, with eyes as recessed as his stories,
whispered tales of the war to darken his moments of laughter. His hands once
built perfect models of the enemy planes that had flown over his head, his way
of capturing memory I suppose, but my own memory of his hands was of them
uncoordinated and useless. “Old” is a terrible thing to call a person.
The camera gently beats against my chest in rhythm with my footsteps, comforting
as a heartbeat, and we’re there, shuffling in with a small crowd. Empty seats.
Not many people knew Bob.
There is a man speaking, people say he is a man of God, and he keeps saying it
was Bob’s time. I can’t work out what he means. Then a grand-daughter gets up,
older than I am, and she speaks about Bob’s life. His childhood, his parents,
his time in the war, his love, all the things he did, was, and never was.
Sometimes I forget that people are complete beings. Bob’s life was so full of
colour, and he became so much that his sudden stillness overtakes me. I am
sitting still, the beat of my camera has stopped, and I cannot feel my heart.
I am an observer, not a partaker. My cave is my darkroom, my camera lets me see
out through its pinholes, but today the world has found a way to pull me in. Bob
is there, reaching for me.
After the service, some of us go to look at the garden where they’re going to
scatter his ashes. As the people mill and gather with awkward faces I stand, and
in the quiet air I feel something stir and come alive. At the moment Bob’s
coffin rolls into the furnace I see all of his stories leap out, all of his
years, the chasm of war’s horror that he had so thinly covered over. Maybe it
was the preacher’s prayer to God that is now setting them free. Perhaps his dark
and hidden memories are being finally lit up by that last fire, each one
unleashed like a flame, and I am catching each one. I feel like a part of me has
died and is being reborn, taking in another life, a whole lifetime, pouring all
through me while everyone just stands here.
Poor Bob. His soul is gone but his colour lives on, orbiting the black hole of
his battles.
Back home, something is missing, some silence that no-one has noticed before,
like a hole in time. So now I’m at the station. I’m watching everyone, the
camera resting still against the headstone of my breast, and I am asking people,
what is their time. They don’t answer me, and I still don’t understand.
Drifting, ignored, I find a quiet wall and sit down on the cold floor, then I
lie, tired. Gravity pushes my bones against the hard ground, as if the earth
can’t wait to take me. Someone is asking if I’m okay, so I just nod. I don’t
want to move at all but I’m afraid they might call an ambulance. Perhaps they
should. Let them carry me away, surrounded by medics, my eyes closed, not saying
a word, not moving a muscle. Just bones, silent. If I simply stopped, would I be
dead? My own soul, like the flash on my camera. Click.Ashes.
The world carries on without me. I feel such a weight now, a gap filled but with
something so dense. Suddenly there is a world in there just as rich as the one
around me. A life, grown old, seized with a pain unrealised until his time came,

but he had not been able to run the clocks back. He had been late. There was
nowhere for it all to go.
Poor Bob. His soul is gone, but something of him now lives in me, a freeze-
frame, a pinhole into his world. Click.Now he lights up my storehouse.
Back home, I cannot sleep. I miss the anonymity of being at the station, so I
have left my long coat on, and now I lie on the floor next to my bed. The
texture of worn carpet is a world by itself, thinning, tiny. My eyes keep
closing but no sleep comes. All I think about is Bob’s life.
I turn over. My head connects with the carpet, and I feel myself fill with
fleeting pictures. I connect and complete the circuit, and I am open to the
current of dreams, and they bring with them a voice. The reel of his life,
living and nurtured inside me, now talks to me.
I smile because now there is a way out for them, and I open my eyes and sit up,
then stand as if lifted by other hands. I go to my desk and sit, tired but
sleepless, in front of my typewriter, and I pick up a piece of paper – clean,
white, ripe for the impact of stories that have settled in me.
I’m driving. At least they trust me to drive by myself. It’s night time and
cool, and they’re all asleep, so I’m driving to see Bob. They’ll have scattered
his ashes by now.
Everything is so dark. Without light, there is no shadow.
My bare feet ache against the gravel when I arrive, and I take a shoebox out
with me, filled with paper. I have written so much my fingers ache, useless as
Bob’s had become. There is no light here, just the subtle silhouette of trees
against the sky and then a relief of soft, damp grass beneath my feet.
I walk slowly until I find the lawn where they sprinkled Bob. I set the box down
and remove the lid and my eyes adjust, just enough to watch the night breeze
brush over the paper inside, playing for a while like a child uncertain of a new
As I watch, the wind takes them suddenly like a cloud of startled butterfly
wings, a ticker-tape parade for Bob’s soul, finally let loose. Poor Bob. As his
life blows away I feel his weight gradually lighten, a breath of relief, his
final thank-you. His war is lifted. He has left me, a light in my womb of
shadow, gone.
I raise my camera as it all flies away, and I press the shutter over and over,
the flash lighting up the grass and the headstones, casting a maze of shapes
from fluttering paper. This is his time. I feel like I want to laugh, but only
tears are coming. I can feel my camera wet where I’ve cried on it. The tears are
smudged by my fingers, and I don’t want to stand up anymore.
This is where I’ll lie down, next to Bob, his life flashing before my eyes as if
it were my own, finding its way home, and this is where they’ll find me, on the
grass, crying with the statues. My name is Ca-me-ra. I am just a window.


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