He sits across the table from you, holding a stack of pictures which he soundlessly fans across the surface. They loosely scatter like leaves, each one showing a unique image. Here’s a small boy, smiling shyly into the camera and wearing his first holy communion outfit. Another shows children with fear etched into their faces as they run from a hail of rocks. This one is a shiny new bike, wheeled into the living room. As you look at this one you can see the owner of the pictures relax his face, as if smiling inside and remembering the moment.
He spreads his open hands across the tabletop and moves all the pictures around, in the manner of a cheap childrens’ party magician trying to distract your attention. Have more pictures been added? It’s hard to tell. They feel dense, somehow – this isn’t a collection of leaves any more as it is more a sense of mush. You realise that some of the pictures don’t have clean edges, they are ripped and torn and worn out. His hand sharpens into a pointing finger and glides across the table tapping one picture after another. Sitting upright in bed and puking. The curl of another childs’ hand around their Atari 2600 controller, a loose collection of kids and bikes wearing seventies flares and swarming down the centre of a road. The devilish gleam in a young boys eye as he prepares to lie down in the middle of an occasionally busy road. A young boy and a younger girl huddled together on a staircase in the dark, looking scared.
If you raise your head and try to catch his gaze, he will look fleetingly at you before returning his concentration to the tabletop. His hand moves from one picture to another, sometimes pointing one out, sometimes picking one up and holding it for a moment as if trying to remember the moment that the picture captures. When he does this, his brow furrows slightly with the effort of recollection.
An air of desperation creeps into the room. He doesn’t make a sound, but looks more and more frustrated as he picks up and discards images seemingly at random, faster and faster. He doesn’t seem to be looking for anything in particular, but even so a thread slowly emerges – the discarded pictures pile up at one side of the table, with new ones stacking on top to resemble a kids flick book – those ones you recall as a child with hundreds of stick figures taking on animation as the pages are flicked between the fingers. The pile of pictures builds. The child is getting older.
Look at the stack – there are gaps. Years get added on in the blink of an eye. Groups of pictures concentrate on one event, as if that carries emotional weight. Apart from the similarity of our subject, there doesn’t seem to be any consistency; the images leap from night to day, sun to shade, happy to sad. The boy becomes a man, and the pictures blur and fade for a while, then sharpen again.
His hands stop. They clench into fists and rise as if to strike the table, but then pause and relax. He looks up and away, then carelessly sweeps all the pictures to the floor. Before you can ask what he was looking for, he turns and is gone.