Monthly Archives: November 2017

resolution

This is the tenth chapter of my month-long fiction, album, made of word pictures.

resolution. noun. From resolve, ultimately from Latin re– ‘back, again’ or ‘thoroughly’, plus solvere, ‘loosen, dissolve’. Thus its senses trace back to a return to original parts or state, or a breaking down into pieces or components, or an undoing. Senses are many, including conclusion of an issue, story, or problem; end of an illness; decision to bring something about; amount of detail available in an image (as for instance in lines or pixels per inch) or through an imaging device or lens; working through of a mathematical equation; and musical progression from discord to harmony.

 

The subject of a photo stands out most clearly if the background is blurry, but sometimes to make sense of the subject you need to know what’s in the background. And sometimes to make sense of a moment’s action you need to know the decisions that led to it. The phone is ringing for Jacob, but there are some details I think I should fill in first from the past few years, scenes that he was not present for.

Jacob’s son Carl is an engineer; I told you that. He studied engineering at Dalhousie University, in Halifax. He now works for a construction company based in Halifax.

Ellen moved to Haifax; I told you that. She works in human resources for a corporation there that has several subsidiaries in Atlantic Canada. She’s back in touch with Jacob now, but she doesn’t tell him everything about her life anymore. She no longer wants to have her life rendered in such exquisite detail for the aesthetic interest of others.

Clara lives in Charlottetown; I told you that. She’s an accountant; I told you that. In the back of one of Clara’s filing cabinets, in a brown envelope, are two copies each of two photos. One of each is pristine; the other has rips, crumpling, looks like it was torn off a wall, pulled out of someone else’s hands. You know what those photos are. Continue reading

braid

This is the ninth chapter of my month-long fiction, album, made of word pictures.

braid. verb. Plait, intertwine, weave into a single strand, notably of hair. noun. A strand made of strands intertwined together. From an Old English word and Germanic root originally meaning to move with a sudden jerk to the side or in a twisting motion. It has also, in the course of its history, referred to a sudden change and to a deception.

 

Here’s a picture of a young, thin woman, dressed all in black, standing by a fence in rolling countryside. She’s on a path that slopes down to the left towards a river that we see in the farther background. There’s a railway bridge across the river made of black trusses, with a freight train heading into it, and farther behind are rolling hills with patchy trees. The young woman’s body would be facing the bridge but she’s twisting abruptly around to her left to face the camera, and her two long black braids of hair are caught mid-fling. She is staring at the camera and sticking her tongue out at it, a tongue like a cat’s tongue. In her right hand, reached across her body, is a small pocket film camera pointing right at the viewer.

This is Trina, Jacob’s assistant. The one who will find his body in four days. Continue reading

reflex

This is the eighth chapter of my month-long fiction, album, made of word pictures.

reflex. noun. 1. Reflection; bending or bouncing back. 2. A reproduction or further development of a thing. 3. An automatic response. From Latin re ‘back’ plus flexus, past participle of flectere, ‘bend, flex’.

 

Here it is, the one picture of Jacob in all these albums. He can look at himself. And still not see himself. If you didn’t know what Jacob looked like, after looking at this picture you still wouldn’t. Most prominent in the photo is the camera, a Pentax 67, a medium-format camera, an overinflated SLR. His right hand grips the side and the shutter; his left hand holds the lens to support the five-pound heft of it all. Over one corner of the camera body you barely see his left eye, but it is not squinting, as photographers so often do; it is looking almost at you. Then there is a forehead, and a lush head of hair most often managed (if at all) with fingers. And below the camera is the bottom of his chin, and his neck, and his bare shoulders. And behind him, reflected obliquely in the mirror, is the bathroom door, open, and part of a mirror in the hall. Continue reading

sparkling

This is the seventh chapter of my month-long fiction, album, made of word pictures.

sparkling. adjective. Emitting sparkles; that is, giving off small sparks or similar scintilla, literally or figuratively. From sparkle, verb, which is formed from the frequentative (and sometimes diminutive) suffix –le added to the noun spark, which is an old Germanic word referring to a little bit of fire.

 

In this picture she is half-slouched in a folding chair, her head tilted well back, drinking a glass of sparkling wine. She is wearing a long sleeveless violet dress. Her legs are stretched ahead of her with one crossed over the other, and her left hand (the side closer to the camera) is pressed against the seat. Her right hand is lightly holding the glass, which is about half drained. Behind her in blurred lines is the jumble of a photographer’s studio.

This is Ellen. Blonde Ellen with the long hair and the almost-noble features, Ellen with the dancer’s feet and the magician’s fingers and the orchid skin. Ellen who may or may not have told Dave she was coming to pose for Jacob. Why would Jacob ask who she’d told? Continue reading

blur

This is the sixth chapter of my month-long fiction, album, made of word pictures.

blur. noun. An area of visual indistinctness, blending, smear, or similar confusion and lack of sharp contrasts or boundaries in a picture or on a document. verb. Make a blur. The source of this word is unclear: possibly a sound-symbolic coinage; possibly related to blear; first seen in print in the 1500s.

 

How many Zen masters does it take to change a lightbulb? Two: one to change it and one not to change it.

Jacob likes that old joke. He has his own version: How many people do you need to make a good picture? Two: one to be in focus and one to be out of focus.

It’s not really as simple as that, of course, and he knows it; you can have good photos with zero, one, two, or more people, and as many as all of them can be in focus (though it’s a rare photo that can look good with people in it who are all out of focus). But if you have two people in a photo and one is sharp and one is blurry, you have an essential tension that’s at least a starting point. Continue reading

engineer

This is the fifth chapter of my month-long fiction, album, made of word pictures.

engineer. noun. 1. Someone who designs or builds engines and machinery, or anyway knows how to. 2. Someone who operates engines or other machines or complicated equipment. 3. Someone who makes complicated things happen. verb. Make something complicated happen. From Anglo-Norman and Old French, ultimately from the same Latin as gave us ingenious.

 

This album is from about 15 years ago, plus or minus. Family and friends. There’s Carol, lips pursed, looking like she was getting up to mischief in some place she wasn’t supposed to be, which in fact was exactly the case. You can see the bookshelf and camera cabinet behind her. She moved to Vancouver and Jacob hasn’t heard from her in years. There are Pam’s friends Dick and Jane. Jacob always wondered if they got married just because of their names, but they seemed to have fun anyway. In this photo Jane’s hand is swinging in a wide gesture and just connecting with a glass of wine. Jacob could have warned her – he saw it coming – but then he wouldn’t have gotten the photo. And here’s a photo of a puppy and a model train.

Jacob inhales sharply just a little, then raises his eybrows and exhales through his nose. He remembers this photo: he shot a roll of medium-format getting it, even though it was just for fun. The train was no problem, of course, but that puppy. They don’t go where you want them to and do go where you don’t want them to. And when you’re shooting that close, you need to stop the lens down to get enough in focus, which means a slow shutter speed, and the little bugger kept moving.

He flicks the page abruptly over to the next, but I’m not done telling you about this photo. We can let him take close looks at dinner party pictures while I say a bit more that you’ll want to know. Continue reading

perm

This is the fourth chapter of my month-long fiction, album, made of word pictures.

perm. noun. A hairstyle produced with the aid of heat and chemicals that holds a wavy shape for a long time. From permanent wave; permanent from Latin per ‘through, thoroughly’ plus manere ‘last, remain, endure’ and wave from Old English wafian (verb), from an old Germanic root.

 

Yup, there she is, in all her studio-lit made-up glory. She’s wearing a purple dress and she has a professional makeup job and her hair is done in a kind of eighties perm, tighter on the top, then wavy down the sides. A couple of years behind the times. But this is the sort of perfect studio photo that people actually paid money for, and still do. The backdrop is a marbled grey; the lighting is studio strobes, of course, but also a theatre light with a “surprise pink” gel on it, that kind of magenta that makes anyone’s complexion perfect. So perfectly trite. There’s a reason this photo is in an album he doesn’t show to other people.

It’s also the only photo of Pam in the whole album, and one of very few in all his personal albums. Continue reading

blindside

This is the third chapter of my month-long fiction, album, made of word pictures.

blindside. verb. Hit someone from an angle outside of their field of vision; catch a person unawares; exploit a weakness to attack. From blind plus side; its origin appears to be in American football.

 

This album is from Jacob’s university days. He took a lot of pictures then, but kept maybe one in 36, and this album is only personal memories – not even meant for anyone else to look at. Here are two young men in porkpie hats, one of them jutting his jaw forward so that a straw sticking out of his mouth points upward, the other making as if to put his tongue in the ear of the one. Now, who in the hell were they? Never mind; it’s a good picture. Personal feelings about subjects of pictures can cloud their pictorial merits. On the other hand, a famous subject can make much of an otherwise unremarkable photo. Here’s the campaign photo he took of the guy who became student union president, all blow-dried and properly lit, with a 21-year-old’s version of gravitas. He’s probably not famous now, but he was a thing on campus then. Shortly after the election, a water balloon launched from a hundred feet away by some engineers hit him in the side of the head and blinded him in one eye. You couldn’t take this picture of him after that, although he actually made for more interesting photos.

Here’s an action scene from a floor lounge in the university student residence. The furniture is purple and green, couches made of tubular metal and cushions. One guy is standing on a couch holding surgical tubing adapted with a pen nib for firing an intense stream of water. It is bellied out like a fed anaconda and it is power-washing someone just half-off the left edge of the photo. At the same time, a lanky lad with an open shirt is swinging a large cushion that is about to connect with the head of hose-guy and send him sprawling. Off on the right side of the photo in the half-shadow background is a young woman with short brown hair who is sitting calmly in a chair and looking directly at the camera with the sort of blankness that dares you to guess what she’s thinking.

Clara. Continue reading

tumbler

This is the second chapter of my month-long fiction, album, made of word pictures.

tumbler. noun. 1. An acrobat or similar gymnastic performer. 2. A small hunting dog that turns and tumbles in catching its quarry. 3. A kind of pigeon that can do tumble-turns in flight. 4. A drinking glass or cup with a flat bottom; originally, a drinking glass or cup with a bottom that was curved or pointed but definitely not flat, so that you had to finish the drink before setting it down because it would tumble when you did set it down. 5. The part of a lock that turns when you have put the key in; also, similar other mechanical things that you probably won’t encounter if you don’t sail or shoot. 6. Any of some other things that tumble. From tumble, a verb with old Germanic origins.

 

Jacob is sitting on the carpet with the photo albums, rather than on the couch behind him, because he has a tumbler full of Bourbon and he does not actually want it to tumble. The couch has no side tables and he’s not going to set the tumbler on the couch cushion and he does have to set it down as he flips through the albums. And he’s not going to look through all these albums while standing. He’s settled in. He got his exercise already today, a nice 83-minute run, 16 kilometres, not too bad given that most guys his age would be out of breath running to the end of the driveway. Now he’s shower fresh and he’s going to look through memories of people. They will be the only people he’ll see today. Out the window it’s trees and more trees, and even up the road towards the campground there’s no one, because it’s really not camping season anymore.

This house is too big for him now that he’s the only one in it, the only thumping, groaning, breathing person. Lots of ghosts, and that’s another reason he could move on. He’ll be a ghost soon enough, though. He’s already dead, as I told you; he just hasn’t gotten to the part where he leaves his body yet. Soon, though. He’s rolling towards it as inexorably as if he were on a tumbrel. And then he’ll be another ghost. And after the house burns down a few years from now? Who knows. Are ghosts inflammable? Continue reading

album

It’s NaNoWriMo again, that month when people in the grips of an urge to write attempt to channel it into a novel. I don’t have the time to write a complete novel, but I’m going to string together a number of word pictures to make a story. It starts here.

album. noun. A book or book-like item for collecting pictures, clippings, autographs, or similar things; or something that resembles that in some important way (e.g., a record album). From Latin album, ‘blank tablet or notice board’, from albus, ‘white’.

 

Jacob is dead. He doesn’t realize it yet, but he is, as surely as a person who has fallen from a high window is dead even before hitting the ground. It is inevitable, cannot be forestalled or diverted, is like a cheque that has been deposited even before it’s been cleared. It will be cleared, so it already shows in your balance. And Jacob is dead, even though he’s sitting there on the green tough carpet in his house flipping through photo albums.

The house is dead too. Events have been set in motion that will lead to its immolation within a few years. This wallpaper with its green and yellow abstraction of poplar and aspen woods, this carpet, this dark-brown-stained cabinetry, this large tripartite window, this stucco ceiling, all will be cinders, ashes, then buried under gravel. But he won’t be here to see it. If he were it wouldn’t happen. Continue reading