Not this photo

The photo slipped from among a pile of papers on my mother’s bed side table. Well-thumbed papers, creased with age and use. It weighed more heavily than the other sheets as if it was waiting to be found.

My mother had a way of hiding things from view when they created an image unacceptable to her. There were holy pictures amongst the papers and a picture of the Blessed Virgin, her hands clasped in prayer, eyes heavenward. 

In the photo, the young woman who stands in the centre has eyes similarly elevated, though there is not the look of inspiration in them, nor one of fear or apprehension, as if she is a Hollywood starlet waiting for the assault of some monster about to descend.

Instead of looking upwards like the Blessed Virgin, this young woman, whom I recognised as an earlier incarnation of my mother, pulls back her shoulders, tense, as if she is avoiding the approach of actual danger.

Her hair is tousled as though she has been roughed about, maybe in the wind, and her skirt, in a floral summer cotton, is twisted around her waist, as if it is too loose and refuses to settle on her hips. 

My mother in her early years, a photo taken in a studio, by the look of the backdrop, one of those restrained, constrained ones, given the technology of the era, the 1940s, but the photo holds movement as if my mother is about to slip out from the frame if only she could. 

I have only ever seen my mother look like this at times when my father, drunk, bore down on her, ready to slap or pull her hair for some perception on his part that she had offended him. She had stirred up his rage yet again because she was not the woman she was meant to be. 

Whoever this woman was, she did not exist.

No person can exist as the willing servant of another and ask nothing in return. Blind obedience to a master who forces you into meeting his every demand, while insulting you as though you’re enjoying it. Rather as sex workers are sometimes required to pose delight. At least they get paid for it.

The photo was an original, but is still in good condition as if few eyes have peered at it, few thumbs smeared its surface. As if it had lain hidden in a box somewhere in the dark where no one could interrogate my mother on where she was when this photograph was taken.

As if it was a precursor of what was to come, only my mother did not know it then.

If I had seen this photograph while she lived and had asked her what was happening, I doubt she’d have told. She had a way of focussing only on the good stuff, the bright and shiny. She did not want any of us to know the truth of her fears from her young squeaky-clean past that might not have been as pure as she might once have wanted us to believe.

My mother was not the Blessed Virgin. 

Not this photo.