I do not make a habit of taking pictures. It’s something about living in the moment. It’s something about how if I allow myself to start, I fear I might not ever stop, driven by the futile desire to capture and commit everything to a memory external to and far less fallible than my own. I want crystal clear high definition. I want to know the angle of every blade of grass as it’s bent by the breeze. I want to know the exact shade of your hair, haloed by the sun.
The way I remember us on the steps by the river is more like a painting than a photograph anyway. The eye of the artist distorts reality. Everything softens around the stroke of my brush. How much of the memory is true, I wonder, and how much have I rearranged to create a more artful scene? While it may sacrifice accuracy, a painting captures the fluidity of movement better than film. Details blur together until the image becomes more about a feeling than the exactness of the thing. I see the canvas in my mind, and it looks like joy, like freedom, like the absurdity of youth.
It was spring when we were last here, a chill to the wind that rippled the surface of the water. It’s cold now too, but the air has more of a bite to it, the green buds on branches replaced with browning leaves. People used to believe that the seasons turned around Persephone, that when she went to the Underworld, the Earth died with her. As I stand where we stood, I try not to consider the metaphor. It’s almost too on the nose, except you’re not coming back.
Would you, if you could? Or would you feel as though you’d dodged a bullet? The world is on fire these days. Our best laid plans reduced to ash. You get to be frozen in that time, when there were still possibilities, while I’ve had to live past them. I am not the person I was. No one ever is, after they’re left behind.
I know what you’d tell me, if you were here for me to admit this to, but part of me still wants to take your place. I want to wade into the water, lay back, shut my eyes, and imagine it’s the Styx.
Instead, I take a familiar path home through the forest. I can’t remember if I ever walked it with you. Your ghost is not as strong in places you did not linger, and I may as well be imagining it now. Still, I want to take something with me from here, something more distinct than the oil on the canvas inside my head, and I’m half-hoping that the impression of you may stick to it, regardless.
I do not make a habit of taking pictures. But now my fingers twitch toward my phone.
The tree I line up in the frame stands tall as a matchstick, a brilliant shock of red blooming at its top. If the light breaks through the clouds, scatters off the leaves, just so, it could be burning.