The photos were only thing I’ve kept, you’d be annoyed to know. Isn’t it what you wanted? To be invisible altogether? That was your one wish. I don’t take them out often, and less and less now. Maybe someday it’ll be a year or more since I’ve seen them. Hard to believe that though. I remember each shoot, how great you looked when it was just me and the camera. I didn’t have the studio then, we had to move the bed up on its side against the wall to make the room look bigger, but you always looked good on windowsills and in corners of rooms, anything that could frame the scene, anything that would hide the paucity of our options. You always looked great anywhere.
Our rooms were all strange angles then, walls built to divide bigger rooms into small flats. The grandeur faded but not wholly gone, though one window was painted closed and the other wouldn’t fully close. Catherine street outside was all electricity wires and cracked pavements and day time drinkers. At two in the morning the crowds from the Desmond and Costellos would mingle and riot to keep the night going. If we weren’t amongst them we’d watch them through the window, urban anthropologists laughing at ourselves. The flat wasn’t much, but the views were great conversation. Every Saturday night the scene was infinitely different and always the same, crowds moving to preordained rhythms it seemed.
That flat suited us, careworn, better days behind and hopefully ahead. The back of the door was a history of locks, so many variations and changes. You could chart the building’s decline by the strength of the locks and so many keys we’d to keep it barred for fear some past resident would drop by unexpected, unannounced and definitely uninvited. It was patchwork of panels that had been broken through and replaced, not always with wood, polyfilla held the door and flat together. Everything broken not quite repaired, everything broken not quite fixable.
You’d find it funny to think of the hours I must have spent looking at your photos, you never liked them, or any photos of yourself. You could always see some flaw invisible to others, you didn’t even argue when I said you looked great, you just dismissed it as an easy lie I told you to keep you happy. I suppose I lied about a lot of things, but that was easy honesty.
You, looking out the window, facing slightly away from me. There’s nothing special about the photo except you. You got distracted and have a look on your face that you often had but I never caught on camera again. I can even remember what caught your attention outside. It was a woman pushing a pram that cost more than our car, and we couldn’t afford petrol for the car at time. It was just an expensive talking point, “oh the car, no, we haven’t had it fixed, no, we probably should get rid of it.” A car that couldn’t go, and us with nowhere to go anyhow. And us, together, nowhere I’d rather be. That look of interest on your face, trying to see what was happening anywhere else, about to offer a theory on the way things are.
I know that photo better than I know the directions home. I know it better than the words to the national anthem, the rivers of Ireland, the names of our Patriot dead. I know it better than the ten highest peaks in Ireland. I know it better even, than what age I am now, I keep having to count back.
I was trying to build a portfolio that year, trying to pretend my camera could reveal something about the world. Turns out the world didn’t need me to speak for it. Now I shoot weddings and football matches and I don’t try to pretend it’s anything other than a job. A job I like, a job that pays. Paris has been photographed too many times already, you’d say, and as for all those noble poverty photos, why bother? stay here any time you want if to see poverty in action. You’d smile as you sighed, letting me know you know this would all be fine. The portfolio was rubbish anyhow, all angles of buildings and old men smoking outside bookies and women walking to Mass, as though anything could be said by any of that. All black and white or overcoloured, as though nothing should ever been seen as it actually is. The only photos worth keeping were the ones of you, when I was trying to work out my camera. You, smiling, you with flowers, you laughing, you in light. I can afford a light meter now, not that it matters, I can fix up things after the photo is taken, most stuff anyhow.
Everyone said it, afterwards, you had some strange skill for hearing other people’s problems but never their praise. You could do anything for anyone else, and nothing for yourself. They told you how much they loved you but somewhere you learned words like that are never true. No matter what they’d say, anyone, you’d always answer “ah sure stop with the flattery.” I used to wonder who taught you to think like that. I was sure I’d find the way to convince you otherwise, like everything else, if I had the time. So much to learn, about everything. I thought someday I’d show you a picture so good you’d fall in love with yourself, if even just a little. We all need to love ourselves, if even just a little.
I remember that a last lost day out in Kilmallock, with all the ruins and love stories hidden between the stones. Photos of you in the abbey, a wraith amongst the ghosts. I remember telling you all the ghost stories, about the White Knight, Sir Maurice Fitzgerald, who can still be heard weeping for all the wrongs he did, cursed to cry be he alive or dead by a woman he’d mortally wounded. His tomb is just a pile of rocks now but on St. Brigid’s day in February, with winter rain falling in heavy curtains, you said you thought you heard him, shushing me mock seriously. You were laughing and shivering at the same time and I didn’t think it was just the weather. In black and white, with the great shattered abbey behind you, and a sky wide open with cracked grey clouds you looked like you could have stepped out of the myth, another woman wronged. Your black hair flowing down to your white dress. I can look at the photo and nearly hear the crying myself.
A local man came over and told us the Knight’s grave is never dry, his tears soak it through. We didn’t mind the rain and he chatted for an age about the town, burnt down three times he said, but built back a fourth, some things can never die. Eternity is all around us, had we but the eyes to see it. “God Bless Brigid for bringing the light. Tis no day for a wedding though,” and we smiled, we had all the time in the world.
He told us about the black dog holy well, watched over by Saint Brigid, “are ye not here for the prayers,” he said. A black dog is meant to crawl out of it at night and “the water in it would cure your sight” he said to us, but I told him my eyes were fine. He looked at you again and didn’t reply but now I wonder what else he saw. I remember you laughed and said he must be one of the Sidhe as he left, “sure the fields of county Limerick are alive with the fair folk” you said, “he’s probably one of them come to warn us off, we’re between two worlds here, can’t you tell!” We never made it to the well, all my prayers seemed answered then anyhow. You fell asleep awkwardly against my shoulder on the bus back to town, but I loved it, my camera on my lap and you beside me. I watched raindrops race down the windows and always picked a favourite. This one world was enough for me that day. The first of February, the start of the light half of the year, St. Brigid watch us all.
I can afford better cameras now, and that makes more of a difference than any talent or skill I might have had. I can take 1,000 photos and just pick the 50 or 60 that are fine. I can see everything in real time. No messing around with dark rooms and the photos of you revealing themselves under the red light bulb we carefully changed when we were finished. You frowning when you saw your smile, and me laughing all the time, til you had to smile too. You getting thinner, and me not noticing. I’ve been looking at those photos. All the different exposures, trying to get a feel for light, and what settings to use. Oh so arty, and you wearing a winter jacket in summer, a half smoked cigarette always somewhere in the scene. Your mum knew, and I didn’t, when she saw you. She knew you weren’t just tired. She tried to persuade us to move back down with her. She offered to pay a few months rent anywhere else but it was much worse than that by then, wasn’t it? I sent all your things back to her, everything except the photos. Evidence of everything I wasn’t seeing.
I saw you in shades of light, but you never believed it when I said I could see a light in you. Light, everywhere you went, light. Someday they’ll invent a light meter so sensitive even you would have had to believe its readings. None of the equipment on the market comes close, could ever come close. God, the light that you were has blinded me a bit yet. Some St. Brigid’s day I’ll make it to that well, wash my eyes and hope I see whatever there is to see between this world and the next. St. Brigid who brings the light.