Stand Still

At family get-togethers, Benny took his camera. Everyone expected it. There he would be, at the table as the candles were blown out, his mouth split open in a grimace as he urged the birthday child to smile. At the barbecue, encouraging the men to lift their beer bottles and clap each other on the back. He would hover at the back of the room, waving away offers of food, drink, and conversation, as he captured the mingling guests. His Leica worked hard, clicking and purring.

Benny’s parents were long gone, one after the other in the space of two years. The gatherings were large and frequent, and he considered himself a stand-in for them, the sole representative of their part of the family.

His Aunt Tabitha intercepted him one afternoon, at the wake of her husband.

‘No photos today, Benny. Roger would have preferred it.’

Benny’s heart raced, and he examined the digital screen—the shot was blurry. It was imperative he take it again.

‘Tabitha, it’s not in focus. Just let me take one more. How will you remember the day, with only ten photos? I was going to make you a photo book, and a DVD. Just a few more, please?’ He realized he was speaking fast, his face too close to hers.

She took a step back. ‘Benny, it’s a wake. We all just want to have a drink, and remember Rog. It’s intrusive, the click-clicking and the posing, and the flash going off. I’ll remember this day, don’t worry about that. Put it away, all right?’

Benny nodded, and put the camera in its case. He accepted a beer, and sat down. Soon his mind was crowded with thoughts of Joanna, his ex-girlfriend. He had captured most of their time together, except when they were asleep. She had stopped smiling for the camera three months into their relationship. He put the beer down and left, his hands jammed into his pockets as he strode to his car.

At his apartment, he rearranged the photo books in chronological order. He fluffed up the cushions on the couch, and paced the room, running his fingers through his hair. Thoughts about lost people. He didn’t want them, they had to go. Images of his mother pruning her garden and making soup. Images of his father thrashing him at backgammon. Images of Joanna. They were the worst of all. Joanna left after he photographed her during an argument. The Leica careened into the wall, and she fed pages from a photo book into the shredder. ‘Go away, go away,’ he muttered to himself, buttoning up his coat.

The park was deserted, and he found his favourite corner, full of giant oaks and a disorderly, kaleidoscopic flower garden. Rubbing his arms against the chill, he turned on his camera. He zoomed in on the knotted trunk of an oak, its whorls and bumps the same as always. His limbs relaxed as he clicked, framing shot after shot. The plump heads of the roses juxtaposed with delicate Japanese anemones, and spiked birds of paradise. Through the lens, he saw details never noticed with just his eyes. Shapes and colours became more wondrous and beautiful.

The plants changed, but they did not leave. The park gardeners made sure of it.

Benny walked home, the Leica hanging from his shoulder. In his head, he visualized the layout of his aunt’s photo book. He decided the shot of the open coffin should be left out.

The session in the park had calmed him, but Joanna’s final words still circled his mind.

‘You can’t make life stand still. No matter how many photos you take, it will keep changing. Live your life, Benny. Live it.’

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