wordpress weekly writing challenge: emptiness


Photograph: Cheri Lucas Rowlands, Emptiness

Even though into today’s interconnected electronic world, very little of substance, of paper ever appeared in her life, she checked her physical, real, mailbox every day. She remembered the childhood bubble of excitement, anticipation, waiting for the letter carrier to thud envelopes through the thin slot in the door.

Mixed in with the usual promotional postcards and donation requests was a square black envelope. Her name and address had been carefully hand-lettered in glistening gold and glitzy silver. No return address, with what remained of a waxed seal on the back holding it closed. She tossed the rest into the recycle paper bag, and turned the black square over and over. She hefted it, feeling the weight of the heavy, old-fashioned paper.

Setting it on the only clean corner of her desk, she systematically pulled open drawers and pushed aside piles of paper. Somewhere. Somewhere. A dust-raising half hour later she found it – a pewter letter opener, handle wreathed in leaves and flowers. Special mail deserved special treatment.

She realized she was holding her breath as she slit open the black square to reveal a slightly smaller vellum square. Just as the paper was not mass produced, so to the words had been printed on a real printing press. Edged in black, it reminded her of Victorian grieving practices.

Reading it, she was strangely disappointed and yet intrigued. It was an unexpected invitation to a gallery opening. An invitation, she assumed generated by a conversation somewhere. An expressed interest in in the capturing of the soul as well as the spine of a building. The show promised to incorporate photography as 1st/2nd/3rd person narrator; a linker of idea and image.

She re-pinned (yes real pins, she smiled to herself) various announcements, pictures, scraps of paper and writings, to hang the invitation in a place of honour, like the main attraction in a museum gallery.

She smiled at her own image in the gallery window. The low sun behind  created an orange and red streaked surrounding aura. Her carefully arranged hair succumbed to to the wind, her practiced artsy face crumpled into a breathless grin. She was sure closer inspection would reveal flaws in her makeup and in herself that no artfully applied skin could cover. No, not an evening for such thoughts.

She handed the security person her invitation, smiled hopefully, and was allowed in. An exclusive party, judging by the caliber of costume and stance. Pencil thin women with perky breasts looked bored or enthralled. People struck poses in front of abstractions, and spoke in hushed tones of self-conceit and smugness.

Was her inviter here? She seemed out of place in this outré crowd and the images on display were a disappointment. Too avante garde or self-smug, neither the spine, nor the soul has captured. The photographs, the people – all soulless.

She heard the click of her heels across the polished wood floor as she entered an apparently empty gallery. She only took a few paces, then she froze.  She recognized the image; it had only haunted her dreams for years. She knew each brick, each chink of mortar. She could smell the salt and the sweat. Standing in the art gallery, she felt a cold sweat stick her party dress to her backbone.

Safe, she’d let herself felt safe for the first time. She could walk the day-light and star-light streets; have dinner with people and join the conversation. She could be a part of a community; she could be complete, whole, a person. Sunshine, starshine, moonshine, all hers to enjoy and savour.

But now, now she only saw the emptiness; felt the cold sorrow; heard the whispers of loneliness echoing against chamber walls. Without thinking, she allowed herself to fall into the photograph. The world of tourists and multi-lingual guides were opaque images on speeded up film. Only the arches, the room after room after room where solid. All else was a liquid, dripping, flowing, and oozing away from her, pooling on the gallery floor.

Although it made her shiver, she pressed herself against the darkness behind the photographed bricked archway. Barely breathing, she waited. One by one the tour groups left, phones full of facebook and instagram photos, smiling selfies against the backdrop of other’s despair. Then she was alone; the photograph and the place suspended her between those two worlds. Walking back in had been inevitable, foolish.

Could she reach her hand out to the new life she’d given herself? Would anyone know to pull her back through? Or only see her fingers as a hologram, an artistic trick to rivet the viewer and draw them in?

When the gallery opened each morning, he would be waiting outside looking more disheveled and unshaven. Dark circles were permanent smudges beneath his unblinking eyes. He sat for hours, staring into the photography. A swirl of colorful tourists laughing. An image full of light and personas. But, there, just inside the third archway, mostly hidden by shadow, was a face. A tired, sad, face seeing a world of aloneness and emptiness. Some times, his eyes would seem to deceive him – the patina of animation worn away leaving just the backdrop of arches, or the face was closer, or he saw the pale shadow of a hand reaching towards the photographer, reaching towards him.

{The wp writing challenge was 1,000 words based on one of Cheri Lucas Rowlands’ photographic themes. I chose emptiness, though it took me a while to get around to that part of the story. It clocked in at around 900 words}


6 thoughts on “wordpress weekly writing challenge: emptiness

    • phylor February 11, 2014 / 3:55 pm

      Thank you for dropping by and leaving such a nice comment!


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