Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Girl In The Picture

A story.

That's the problem with digital cameras. Memories already - in their own way - lost. Suspended in pixelated time, reliant on either photographer, or smiling subject, to recall their moment - scroll, select and send to print.

We rarely do in this house. When I was a child I thumbed the pictures kept in a striped plastic carrier bag. I knew them by heart. Wallets of 24, collected from the shop to reveal figments of life caught in lens and light and blur.

Our images remain mostly on the laptop now. The best few making their way to the frames and hangers which adorn our surfaces and walls. It is easy to overlook the rest. To file and store and forget. I think that's the reason she was missed - blended in and slowly merged.

And looking back I was never aware of her then. Not even once Mary's nightmares came. That, more than anything, seems wrong in retrospect.

Mary and I - two year old in pyjamas, held by her Mum. Woven striped blind and cream stone walls. And the clock, which didn't work, sat beside the monitor which drove us mad from cutting out. She was ready for bed in that shot. Taken around the time the bad dreams began. Exhausted and asleep at 8, to wake up screaming by 10pm.

Heart racing and inconsolably fraught. Clinging and sobbing and arms wrapped round my neck. I'd carry her to the chair and sing to her whilst she wept. It never occurred that maybe I should have taken her upstairs. She called for Mama - 'mama, mama' and buried her face in my hair.

But it wasn't a snapshot we had printed out. My husband found it, archiving files from the year before. Froze when he saw. Plain as day - me and Mary - and the woman stood behind us by the wall.

Not out of focus, or blurred like you imagine a ghost. Not opaque. Shade and tone as vivid as the red of pyjamas and the print on my jersey dress. Flushed face, bobbed hair. A little like me when you saw us stood there. 'Mama', Mary said. Then her baby smile crumpled and she reached for me and wept.

It was the look on the woman's face. I never wish to witness that again.

Mary slept beside me after that. Till we found a plan, till we found a buyer and looked south.

And I wonder now, at the flattened cushion where we sat, at the chill of the room when the radiator had been on. I wonder did she tuck my girl in twice. Sit in the chair and murmur lullabies. I was exhausted at that time - heard nothing at night, woke only the hours the baby cried.

I imagine she is there yet - under the stairs to right. As we tape our boxes, run stone steps and make haste towards another life.

We are leaving the cot. It is old. A gesture to her in part, perhaps. I wonder that another child once lay there in the dark. That the slim quiet woman with the brown hair may have once been more like I.

I turn on heel and leave her story behind.

I leave the cot. I leave the room and walk the hall. I don't look back. I am last to the car. Key in ignition we wave our goodbyes, Mary doesn't understand it to be for the last time. Her brother cries farewell to the house, we turn the corner and crawl the drive - past dry stone dykes on the way to the village and the road outside.

You can watch my reading of this as part of a Halloween Online Live Mic Night, hosted by the lovely Stephanie Arsoska and featuring some fabulous spooky tales!

If you enjoy my writing you might enjoy my little book - A Familiar Voice.

Prose for Thought


  1. Great story - thank you for sharing it!

  2. A fabulous story Helen - I'm glad it isn't a true story as it gave me shivers! Ever since you did your recorded poetry I imagine your voice telling the story and it makes the story all the more enjoyable xx PS will be back tomorrow to order your book!

  3. That was very spooky.... poor little Mary - children see things others can't. I wonder what the ghost's story was? I loved that you only hinted at that, left it to my imagination by the mere suggestion of the look on the woman's face. Glad they moved house. X.

  4. No way I am reading that again after hearing it last night. Scared the bejeepers out of me although it was somewhat countered by the various attempts at 'the face'!

  5. OMG! Seriously chilling & such a fabulous read! You are so clever my dear. BTW, haven't forgotten the review... x

  6. Just listened to you reading this on open mic hangout, just brilliant. And bizarrely, genuinely one of the reasons I thought my son had nightmares at our last house....therein lies a tale.

  7. this gave me goosebumps!! its fantastic xx

  8. Great story. Funny you mentioned 'the trouble with digital cameras', though, as I'd been moaning earlier in the day about familiarity breeding contempt and the fact that we all have thousands of photos these days that mean very little, while our parents had a few old B&W prints in a biscuit tin that came out regularly and gave hours of pleasure. Sadly, looking at those biscuit tin photos now they are full of ghosts... :(

  9. Creepy story - was so compelled by this - it actually sent a shiver up my spine. Had to read it twice #prose4t


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