The Final Image, short story based on a picture

The irony wasn’t lost on me.

He always was the arch-procrastinator. Step back and take things in. He truly believed the panorama more telling than the macro. That a literal interpretation of this philosophy was his killer serves to me not only as a warning off his other ponderings, but also the cruel humour of nature itself.

I wanted to laugh about it, I really did.

I wanted to snicker about it and snort it out through clenched teeth. But I relented and nodded solemnly. Black clothes and a face frozen in a caricature of grief.

Instead I concentrated on the photograph. As if it could tell me something that I didn’t know about him. There was an arrogance to the assumption that he left me a message, but I couldn’t shake the feeling. It was there. Perpetual.

I returned to it time and time again.

Again, irony- Harps. The instruments of choice of the messengers of heaven. Was this the message?

The possibility of a pre-emptive nod to the inevitable excited me. And taking this thought to its logical conclusion cast the image as a note.

An explanation or apology. I liked this as a solution, but it never felt satisfactory enough to have the ring of truth.

No. This wasn’t it.

The Man. Hunched. Black suit. Echoing mine. In the cold, wet morning as the earth bounced off the polished wood and the rain pinned my shirt to my chest and streamed off my chin.

The Man. Gazing into the window. It was easy to imagine a life for him. I did. Many of them. He looks at a photo of a lost wife in the window of a discovered shop. A lonely priest struggling with his faith and the idea that he wasted his life. A talent that he denied, to answer a calling that has failed him. A grandfather buying a gift. The walking stick, a crutch against a shrapnel limp. The photo in the window contains the brother lost in the maelstrom of conflict. Another man stopped in the street, the sound of recorded Harp music through an open door,

telling him tales of younger days and a forbidden love.

Magnifying glass clenched in my scrunched socket. Eyes flickering across the surface. A mimicry of REM. I focused until the grain swam like static before my gaze, shapes writhing and twisting amongst it. Until the lines blurred and became little more than patterns. And once the lines had gone it quickly lost all semblance of an image at all.

I forced the dancing grain of the image back into the impression of a human being. I moulded it and created a multitude of existences for this man. But he remained insubstantial. I imagined a stoic set to his jaw. Saw loss and sorrow and hope and despair and a reflection in the glass that held a meaning that I reached for, but could never solidify.

Soon the edges frayed and split apart like rope. A crease in the centre where I folded it to fit my wallet, raised and white, a band of interference across the centre of the image, cutting the Man in two and bisecting the harps.

I read Camac in the window. Googled it and found nothing.

A number on paper taped to the glass. 509? 609? 509- a prime number. In the year 609 the Pantheon consecrated. Nothing.

The pictures in frames propped up in the window became faces, became harps, became groups of people, became faces again.

If you stare at clouds long enough you will see your own face looking back at you.

Why?

Why would I obsess over something like this?

It has always been in my nature, but this was a gift. How often do you get to hold something like this in your hands? Rumours persist that a final image is burned onto the retina of the dead, but this, this was genuine. I felt like I was staring into the abyss and rightly or wrongly this photograph seemed to provide the opportunity for answers.

I searched for code and symbol and secret.

In the end I found only a quest to displace my own grief and with the realisation of this, it finally came back in an unstoppable torrent.

I don’t know where the photograph is now. I don’t know why I thought about it again. I do sometimes, when I contemplate my own mortality.

Irony.

He believed whole-heartedly in the bigger picture and by stepping backwards into the road to achieve the perfect composition, he presented me with indisputable evidence that it pays to concentrate on the detail.