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Afterthought by Brigita Orel

I started thirty years ago. I took that first snapshot by chance, all the following ones were a deliberate attempt to keep track of myself so as not to get lost amidst everyone else in my life.

It must have been our tenth date or so, only weeks before we moved in together. I was standing by the river, barefoot on the cold pebbles; I could see Patrick’s freckles in the sun – both golden, both warm. He handed me the Polaroid camera and I snapped a shot of myself with the opposite bank as the background. I’m smiling brightly. Below reads: 24th July 1975 – happy, in love, getting married.

Others followed: our wedding, not the official smiling photos, but rather a snapshot of me hiking up my white dress, fixing the garter, grinning madly into the camera; the birth of Joshua and then Bella where you can already detect a few gray hairs on my temples. The words stretch from under the pictures onto the back, sometimes a post-it note was added when I ran out of the white space to tell the story. The images are a diary of my treacherous face and the words an afterthought to life.

19th November 1986 – I had a bad day. I lost my job and got a parking ticket. 17th May 1988 – I can’t believe Patrick just accused me of not listening. All I ever do is listen. 5th February 1993 – I received the divorce papers from the court today. I’m feeling lonely and deserted. I didn’t expect it to end like this.

A snapshot I thought lost for a long time was found in my suitcase. 15th February 1995 – Bella decided she wants to live with her dad. I feel betrayed and tired. I want to hide in my bedroom and never come out again. Now I wish I hadn’t found it.

24th January 1998 – Been nauseous for two weeks. My skin feels like parchment and looks like it too. 1st March 1998 – The lump turned out to be benign. I discover I can smile again. Looking at this picture, I still remember Pat bringing me flowers and hugging me warmly after what felt like a lifetime. Nothing else seemed to matter that day, not even the fact that we’d been divorced for years. We talked for a long time, had a glass of wine, and forgave a lot of things.

On the photo from 7th July 2000 there’s an arrow drawn that points to the mortar-board on my head. It was Joshua’s but he said I looked so studious that it suited me better. Underneath it says: So proud of him I don’t even mind his pranks. 7th June 2001 – Bella got home from the hospital today. Her leg will be fine; says she wants me to look after her till she’s better; her fiancé Benjamin is doing research work in New Guinea. The car is a wreck! I still shiver when I look at it. 9th September 2002 – Black clothes. Patrick’s funeral. Lung cancer. Never smoked.

I didn’t take another photo for a long while after that one. It felt like cheating, having a life when Pat was gone. We may have fought and divorced but whenever I thought of him I still saw him like he had been that day on the river bank – freckled and sunny and beautifully in love with me.

11th December 2004 – I don’t only look like a grandma, since this morning I am one. Lucy, 6.7 pounds. I can still feel her scarce weight in my arms.

 16th June 2005 – It turns out Patrick had an illegitimate son. I feel so stupid. The pain at Pat’s betrayal remains, but Mark turned out to be a nice, cheerful young man. He visits me occasionally. 4th August 2005 – Just looked at the first photo I took. It turned yellowish with age. I rarely remember what it’s like to be happy anymore. Days are long periods of uselessness. And the lump has returned. 10th October 2005 – Lucy has a brother, Max. I’m so weak I can’t hold him, I only look and coo with a cracked voice. He dislikes that and his face puckers up and I have to scoot out of his sight before he starts to wail. 12th January 2006 – It’s winter and my bald head and paper thin skin feel cold. I shiver inside the house, that’s why the camera slipped from my grip when I took this photo.

I pick up the pieces left from the dove gray camera and reverently place them in the shoe box with the photos. It has served me well through the years, but now its time came. Snapshots can pause time but not stop it. Everything has a date of expiration.

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