A distorted snapshot of a young family

Postscript short fiction contest: third place winner

Morgan Vanek, ArtSci '07
Morgan Vanek, ArtSci '07
Photo: 

Congratulations to Morgan Vanek, ArtSci ’07

“Album 7—Misc. Photos: 1976-1982”

This is a photograph of a young man on his honeymoon. At first glance it seems that he is not a young man at all: his forehead is too large, or he has too little hair to be young. In fact, he is moving, jerking his head up to meet the camera’s gaze, blurring his face into his hair. We see what he will look like when he is old. In his left hand is a glass of water that will be spilled when he stands, in his right hand something that might be a pen. It might be a pencil. He is writing, or working on a draft; he is drawing pictures, or detailed diagrams. Behind him is the machine he has invented to make toast; just outside the frame is the machine that sets coffee to brew when the toaster’s handle is depressed. David is an inventor on his honeymoon. His wife, Alison, is naked behind the camera. She has come to remind him that they have only just been married, and that the next invention can surely wait until her breasts do not sit so high on her chest as they do tonight, until there are babies squalling around all edges of the frame, and until it is too cold in the winter to take photographs in the nude. The glass of water will spill, and Alison will set the camera carefully away from the seeking puddle.

This is a photograph of a woman who has just given birth. Alison’s hair sticks to her forehead in wet, dark streaks, and her face is red with effort. The baby she holds will be christened William, after his paternal grandfather. The frame is nearly empty but for Alison, William, and what seems like acres of white linen, damp and stretched around them. Above Alison’s head there is a painting of a forest in winter. Near the bottom of the photograph there is a smudge that might be a hand of a nurse touching the bed, moving the sheets. The nurse who has taken this photo has been careful to keep all regulation metal bars out of sight. She has taken these seminal images before; she knows what she is doing. David is in the picture, too: in the reflection in the glass of the painting above Alison’s hospital bed, we can see David standing, hands to his mouth and forehead, watching Alison watch William. William is quiet, his mouth pursed and eyes wide into the world. Emma, their daughter, will have her picture taken next year by the same nurse. In Emma’s first photograph, she is howling.

This is a photograph of a flood. Cars float down the street, wet to the windows and underwater to the locks and handles. Alison and David stand outside their house with their children. The storm has knocked down the tree in front of their house, and it has landed as a dark slash across the bottom of the picture. Branches jut out and up into the air, and William toddles towards the tree, a pale blur of blue jacket and scarf. Alison reaches for him, Emma in her arms. David is looking away from the camera, into his neighbours’ yard. The picture is blurred and grey; it is still raining when the newspaper crew arrives, seeking footage of the flood. The water rising near the curb to the right of the frame is brown and rushing; there are bits of leaves and flashes of manmade waste bobbing in the swirls. “We have insurance, of course,” Alison will tell the interviewer. She will spell her name slowly for him as William tugs at her pants; she will wipe her hair out of her face and squint over her shoulder at David.

This is a photograph of two children on Christmas morning. Emma’s face is turned up towards the tree, and her smile is obscured by the flashing of light on tinsel; her whole head dissolves into silver shine. William stands in the center of the photograph, holding his empty stocking by its toe and smiling. He has lost all of his front teeth, and ought to be adorable but for the front left tooth that has started to grow in, large, obscene and like a goblin’s in his small mouth. Alison smiles at her father as he takes the picture, but her body is twisted in her chair towards the window; she is waiting for David. Alison’s hair is imperfect, and the skin around her eyes is tight and swollen. David has been gone all evening; she shared the plate of cookies that her children left out for Santa Claus with her father. There are cookie crumbs on the carpet at William’s feet. There is a car in the driveway, but Alison is facing the camera as it pulls up. David will get out of the car, shaven, showered and thinner than ever; he arrives bearing coffee and candy canes. He will kiss Alison on the mouth and whisper apologies into her hair. He will pass out in the kitchen, and Emma will start to cry at the bang his body makes as it falls to the floor.

This is a photograph of a blue used car. The paint isn’t chipped, but it has lost a bit of its sheen; the seats are grey and their leather has cracked in the places weight lies. Alison stands in front of the car with her arms crossed over her chest; William peers out of the back seat, mashing his cheeks and nose to the window. There are the marks of children’s fingerprints on all the glass surfaces; they stand out translucent, white, and greasy in the glare of the camera’s flash. David takes the picture, and Alison holds the keys to the car; they sit already in the purse on the dashboard. She will leave him tonight, when he tells her he has AIDS. He has been HIV positive for months, maybe more than a year; he will say he doesn’t know how long, and that he can’t imagine how or why. There is another flash catching the light in this picture; Alison has left her cellular phone in the car and Emma is holding it above her head, a dark and heavy toy. Alison will turn it off; she does not want to hear David trying to explain, trying not to cry.

This is a photograph of a
young man on his honeymoon.

Because there is no one else to
call, Alison’s father submits

the old photo, the only one
he can find in David’s

house, to the newspaper
for David’s obituary. He clips it

from the paper and mails it
to his daughter; the obituary

is three lines long. The newspaper
charges more for the

fourth line. In this picture,
David’s hair is tousled and

blurred, and he looks almost
as if he has grown old.

Morgan Vanek, ArtSci ’07

Morgan Vanek is a third-year English and Development Studies medial. Apart from contributing to various publications like Ultraviolet and QFR, she also works for the Sexual Health Resource Centre and for the Social Issues Commission in a variety of capacities, as co-chair of POSSE and a member of EQuIP. She also sits on the QFR editorial board. In addition, Vanek will be a Site Director for QPID’s projects in Guyana this summer. Vanek will receive a prize from Novel Idea.

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