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. In a few years, when Jacob’s legend is filling out its details, she will at last decide to publish them. They will give her a minor fame and a small side stream of royalties that Pam will send to her. She is the only model other than Pam who will get any royalties.
One weekend when Carl was in university, he and some of his friends decided to do a road trip to Prince Edward Island, because why not, Green Gables! While in Charlottetown, getting a coffee, he saw a face that he recognized instantly. Older, his mother’s age, but unmistakeable from the pictures of her he had pulled out of his father’s album. She saw him seeing her, too, and his face was so much like his father’s. “You know my dad,” he said. “I did once, almost,” she said. And, after a pause, “Maybe I will again someday.” They continued to converse for several minutes, filling in details of the past two decades or so. They have stayed in touch since then.
After Carl graduated and wanted a job, he called Ellen first. Of course he knew her; why wouldn’t he? Yes, he’s working for a subsidiary of her company. And so, as it turns out, in a different subsidiary, is Clara. Ellen didn’t know that, but Carl introduced them not so long ago.
All of this is why Clara knows that Jacob is on his own now. And she has made a resolution. She can at last see clearly what she wants to do. She got on an airplane yesterday. Yes, that was her talking to Trina last night – did you guess? If Jacob had turned around he would have seen her. But Jacob is all foreground focus and background blur.
Right now, Clara is standing nervously, looking through a window. In her hand is her mobile phone. It is telling her ear a purring sound that means the other end is ringing.
Jacob is not expecting a phone call, but in the back of his head he may be hoping for one. If he is, it’s not from Clara. Still, when the phone rings, he drops the album he’s holding, leaving it open, the side with the picture of Trina leaning against the stack of other albums, and he grabs his empty glass – simple reflex of habit – and stands up to go answer the call.
You may remember that he went for a long run this morning; that he has had a tumbler full of whiskey; that his legs are half-asleep; that when he stands up from sitting on the floor, especially after recently going for a long run, and especially after consuming alcohol, his blood pressure doesn’t keep up with his head at first, putting him at risk of momentarily blacking out.
Here is what someone watching him would see happen now: As he starts to step forward, his foot catches under the open album, and he tilts forward, but instead of stumbling and recovering, he continues to fall, face forward, to the hard old rug; in his right hand, held in front of him, is the cut glass tumbler, and it hits the rug first, and his head, still unconscious, comes after it and into the rim of it. The glass breaks hard and his eye socket breaks hard; his right eye is split and the glass is so many prismatic pieces; his brain is badly injured and now he is unconscious forever. He is lying across that rough green carpet, a picture on the wall behind memorializing the glass that is dead with him, and his cameras are in the cabinet and in the office and one in its case on the floor, and his books are in a bookcase, and the sun is angling through the window. Outside, a puppy still lies buried under a tree by the side of the house.
If someone were watching, they could call for an ambulance, and maybe he would be rescued and continue to live, more or less. But no one is watching him. No one will see him until Wednesday. On Wednesday, after he misses a meeting and doesn’t answer his phone, Trina will grab one of those rent-by-the-minute Smart Cars and come out to his house, where she has been just a few times before, and, after he doesn’t answer the door, she will let herself in with the copy of the keys he gave her in case she had to hurry over during a shoot to get some extra needed equipment, or for whatever other reason.
But right now, Clara stands, looking out over the city from her hotel room window, her right hand shaking lightly as she holds her phone, and the phone rings and rings and finally goes to message. She does not leave a message.
She will try again a few more times over the weekend. He will not answer, for reasons obvious to you and me but not to her. And then she will have to fly back to Charlottetown. Carl, who does not know she did this, will call her as soon as Pam has called him, late on Wednesday. And she will fly back again, this time for the funeral. As I have told you, she will sit in the back, a look on her face like a black hole from which only a few tears escape. Carl will see her but they will not talk. Pam will see her and, after, will talk to her, and they will exchange phone numbers.
The casket will not be open.
Clara will, of course, have no idea of the role she played in his death. Please don’t tell her. It would only upset her. It was inevitable anyway, the last fall of the dominoes, the working out of a long equation.
The funeral will be simple and well attended. Carl will deliver a quiet, steady, moving eulogy while Lucian stands grimly to his side and slightly behind, unspeaking. Pam will be wearing a veil and will remain seated.
Kate will be there, sitting on the other side but not caring who does and doesn’t see her. In the spring she will go for a hike on the trail behind Jacob’s house that she used to hike with him, and she will keep going for hikes there in the years to come.
Ellen will not be there, because it’s a far flight from Halifax, and because it could be awkward with Pam and Dave there.
Dave will not be there.
Trina will be there, of course, with the album of photos of Jacob she will have spent four days putting together, intending to show him on the Wednesday. Trina’s photos will be most of the photos of Jacob seen at the funeral. They will include the one I mentioned already, two from this past Friday (one taken from behind, and one taken from behind a plant), and quite a few others. She will later publish them in a book, which will help build his legend and will help her career a bit too. It may be that Pam will want to take legal action against Trina over the rights to the pictures in the book, and it may be that Lucian will advise her that it would be a bad idea and a waste of money.
Jacob will be cremated.
The house will sit empty. Jacob has not left a will but it all goes to Pam because she is still his wife. But she doesn’t want much of what’s there, just a few personal things and the royalties from his work. She won’t sell the house, though it’s on good property, because no one will pay what she wants for it. As I have told you, Lucian will get rid of Jacob’s cameras and gear, mostly at fire sale rates, so to speak. Lucian and Carl will take childhood mementos. Most of the furniture will remain there.
When the police – who of course had to come to the scene – release Jacob’s photo albums, Carl will take them and keep them.
Jacob’s published photographs are archived in a large safe deposit box, the original negatives and transparencies as well as external hard drives storing his most recent digital client work. Trina will give the key to that to Pam, who will give it to Lucian, who will oversee all the rights and permissions for her. He will also keep the urn containing Jacob’s ashes in there.
Jacob’s unpublished negatives and transparencies and some prints are stored in a number of unprepossessing filing cabinets at the back of his studio in the house. They will not be published. He didn’t want to publish them, and his family sure aren’t going to go through them. These are the finer background details of Jacob’s life, the externalized, reproducible, flammable, not-for-sharing keys to the vast safe-deposit of his memories; they include the negatives of almost all of the photos in the albums he has just looked at, plus hundreds of thousands more.
About three years from now, Pam will see Kate in a grocery store. She will come up to her and say, “Can I ask. How did you keep him from photographing you?”
“I didn’t,” Kate will say. “I just thought I did, for a while.”
“Well, what’s out there is out there, and we can’t do anything about that, I guess.”
“No.” Kate will look at her with sympathy and mistrust.
“And the rest is just in a bunch of ugly old filing cabinets in his studio in that house. Millions of old negatives of me, you, everyone.”
“Is anybody living there? I go by sometimes and I never see a car.”
“No one’s there. We don’t want it. Nobody else does. It’d be worth more as ashes.” She won’t add, “Like Jacob,” but she won’t be able not to think it.
They will exchange pro forma parting salutations and continue shopping.
A few weeks later the house will burn down. It will appear that some hiker or camper decided to build a fire using it as a wind shelter and misjudged. Everything in it will burn or melt. The furniture, the remaining books, the rest of the wedding crystal, some pictures still on the wall, his clothes, his old filing cabinets. All in heaps of ashes and dust and twisted shapes.
Nobody will notice that the filing cabinets are empty. Their thousands of metres of old film, the unshown glimmers in Jacob’s eye, the spare edges of his soul, will have been spirited away a couple of years earlier. No one will know that they are not smoke and ashes. No one except Trina, who has a copy of the keys.