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.
Jacob could be looking through the albums to find out why he is dead. He could be looking for who is responsible, who to blame, who will still be walking the earth sowing their casual chaos when he is ashes and his house is ashes. If he knew, he could. If he knew, perhaps he would be reviewing his life. He is anyway.
There is a last time for everything, and most of those things we don’t realize it’s the last time when it happens. Jacob will never open these books again. Once he has closed them they may as well be plain white paper, the pictures in them pulled out and pasted wholly in his memory. Which will burn as all fat does.
These pictures, almost all of them, are candid. Not posed; just open and frank and caught in the plain light of the moment. Candidus is Latin for ‘white’ as in ‘blank’ or ‘plain’. Fitting to have candids in an album.
Here is an old album, from his obnoxious years, when he was barely written on by time and understanding. Most of the albums of his youth are vinyl, with dust and scratches, but this one is silent pictures. Here is a picture of two out-of-focus boys looming at the camera to set their tongues in the pages of history. Behind them are tilted trees. This picture is a mountain trail with an awkwardly dressed teacher posing in the half-distance against the indifferent sky. Here is one from a few years later, still in school, a class trip posing: just a dozen zit-faced scrawnybags ranged on a concrete staircase to nowhere. Carla, who he had such a crush on, tall and wavy-haired and smart and he heard that she married some dead-ender and never went to university and he can’t find her now on Facebook because names change, you know. Marcus, whose last name differed depending on which adult was talking about him; he was a red-headed salamander, a fast tongue, with a mind full of a different kind of education, and a few years later he got nicked for holding up a convenience store with a toy gun. Marcella, who he took almost no account of until he made a smart-ass joke about her once and she heard and came up and swatted him and after that he started to think about how nice and interesting she was. Terence, a decent guy with a rich father; he should have been a friend, but Jacob didn’t know how to make friends then. Kate, who had dark hair and speckled eyes, and a mouth on her that could saw through a person at the ankles like a dry tree, and a wry sense of fun that remained unchanged when he saw her again, thirty years later.
He takes off his glasses and looks closer at the picture, almost touching his nose to it. Looks at their faces, just suggestions and abstractions from blurs of darker and lighter when you look close. It’s like a glass and they’re all inside it, ready to be drunk again. They’re the cast from an early season of his life. Just one is still in the current season, come back. He looks at her. She’s not even looking at the camera. Her face is turned, she’s looking at someone out of the frame and saying something, and her right hand is reaching into her blue windbreaker for something.
It’s a cold day in this picture. Snow is on the ground, not looking melty. She’s underdressed for it. Most of the other kids have puffier things on, except for Marcus in his jean jacket. What is that dry birdlike hand of hers reaching for?
Jacob realizes he’s rubbing his own hands together, as though one of his were warming one of hers. He folds the album closed gently, and forever, and sets it to the side. He glances up at the cyan afternoon shadowlight through the window, then reaches for another album.