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?
He takes the next album from the stack. It’s not that big a stack, considering that he’s made his living for a quarter century from taking pictures of people and things. But these aren’t his professional works. These are his family and friends. All these memories of people he talked with at some time, maybe even touched some time. Every picture captured by a camera held by him as he darted, squatted, twisted, jumped, to get the right angle. Frozen memories, locked onto paper, opened just for the time between when one page tumbles and the next one does. A portrait of Jacob’s right eye through what it has seen.
In exactly one image on exactly one page of exactly one album in this stack, Jacob has seen himself. In a mirror. That semiotic prosthesis, that ocular backscratcher: the looking-glass. In every picture but that one he is the seer but not the seen; he may as well be the photo paper on which the images are printed. And even in that picture, most of his face is covered by a camera. Which is how a lot of people remember him anyway.
Not the same camera every time. He has a lot of them. Against the wall behind the couch is a cabinet in which he keeps most of his cameras. Not all of them – his Linhof Master Technika is in a sturdy black box in the corner with its few lenses and its film holders; his current standards, a Sony α9 and a Hasselblad H6D, are sitting loosely on his desk in the next room with several lenses around them, ready to be packed into his big leather shoulder bag or his bigger wheely case as needed. The fact that he has about $80,000 of photographic equipment sitting loose in sight of a window on a ground floor does not bother him.
What would bother him, if he knew, is what will happen to his equipment when his body has been disposed of. He’s been collecting it for years and has spent a lot of money on it, hundreds of thousands, and honestly it’s still worth a solid six figures if you put it on ebay. But after his body is found in a few days, and his family get together under duress and find that they have to talk to each other, they want to get rid of things and they want to do it quickly. Pam developed an intense dislike for his cameras, which he spent more on than he did on her. That’s not why their marriage broke up, but it sure didn’t help. Carl, his younger son, is an engineer, and Lucian, the older, is a lawyer, and neither of them really caught the camera bug that much. Lucian will decide that he’ll have to see to the disposal of them, and he’ll go on ebay and check the first couple of cameras he pulls out – which just happen to be mid-century folding roll-film cameras – and find that they’re worth less than a hundred bucks each, and decide it’s not worth the trouble of becoming an ebay seller and packing them and shipping them and all that, or even of looking up the prices of the others (he’s an important busy person, you know), and so he’ll have a big Craigslist garage sale. A Leica M2 will change hands for a hundred bucks, and he’ll toss in the worn-looking 1966 50mm Noctilux f/1.2 on it for free, thereby witlessly shorting himself maybe ten thousand simoleons versus ebay price, but hey, get this stuff outa here, right? “Colleagues” (competitors) of Jacob’s will offer to take the Sony and Hasselblad kits off their hands and will get sweet deals. The Linhof box will be tossed in a dumpster unopened, such a beautiful camera, a true classic, and so lovingly cared for. If Jacob knew that, he would be so heartbroken that he wouldn’t even be able to laugh at his self-important kids and bitter wife doing themselves out of five grand just on that, and up to a hundred grand all told.
Is Jacob a nice person? He wouldn’t say so. But he’s a person, and he has feelings and memories and has at times had very good interactions with people. He eventually figured out how to make friends when he really wanted to, and he even began to figure out how to keep them if he really wanted to. He’s not mean, he’s not rude, but he moves in the world as if he’s walking through a photo gallery. If you talk to him, you will probably get the impression after a minute or less that he wouldn’t mind if you stopped talking but he won’t actually say so.
There are always exceptions. A few people who he’s said a lot to and listened a lot to. One of them, his assistant Trina, will find his body after coming to look for him because he hadn’t shown up or answered his phone.
Another one is Kate. She’s not responsible for his death. She’s also not responsible for his marriage breaking up, in the same way as midwives aren’t responsible for the fact that there is a baby about to come out into their hands. You could say she and Jacob fell together. But when Jacob falls this time, he will fall without her.
He drinks a good gulp of Old Forester and holds the tumbler up to the light from the window. It’s a cut glass tumbler with pretty patterns that cast rainbows. On the wall opposite the window, among other things there is a print of a photo he made of it with the Linhof. It glows. He’s sold quite a few copies of it.
Last time Kate was here, she looked at that glass, also full of whiskey at the time, and told him it would kill him.
He leans forward, sets the tumbler down on the tough green rug half a metre in front of him, and opens the next album on his lap.