Photographs

Hi all! I haven’t been doing much writing lately because I’ve been a bit uninspired due to the current pandemic, but I thought I’d post my final short story assignment that I wrote for my writing class last semester. Enjoy!

Trigger Warning: Depression, death, suicide, and profanity


Photographs

Adam’s grief manifests itself in images of her. Every time he closes his eyes he gets a glimpse of her silver-blonde hair whipping in the wind, every time he passes a mirror she is over his shoulder, her steely-blue eyes staring at him as if expecting him to do something, but what that is he isn’t sure. Photographs that he himself had taken are scattered around the house like an art gallery wasteland dedicated to her. No matter where he turns, he is haunted by her face.

It’s been two months since she died, but it stings every single day. Everyone keeps telling Adam that it would become easier with time, but none of them were there. None of them saw the wreckage. None of them saw the pole pierce her stomach. None of them saw the fear in those steely-blue eyes as they softened and she realized what was happening. None of them watched the life leave those eyes. All while he escaped with but a few scratches.

The funeral home had said that the damage was too severe to have an open casket. Her body was mangled badly in the crash and it would be unsightly to have her friends and family see her in this state. No, that’s reserved only for Adam. Everyone else’s last image of her is her laughing, smiling, being vivacious and resilient and unapologetic. If there’s anything he’s envious of, it’s their ignorance. They get to continue to live, while he sits in his cemetery of photographs.

He wades through the sea of images and heads into the kitchen. Barely looking at what he’s doing, he opens a bottle of whiskey that now sits permanently on the counter and pours himself a generous glass. In one swing, he downs the entire thing and pours himself another one. This happens three more times before he decides that he’s numb enough to go about his day.

Usually, Adam only needed two drinks in the morning. But today would have been their first wedding anniversary and he needs that extra kick if he plans on making it today. He glances over at the only photograph that’s in a frame; it’s one of the few photos he didn’t take, as he’s in it. From one year ago today, the two of them are looking into each other’s eyes. Adam runs his fingers over the left side of the frame, where she stands in her wedding dress. In her left hand is a bouquet of blue pansies – Adam’s least favorite flower. He had always thought of the two-toned nature of pansies as ugly, but she had insisted on putting them in her wedding bouquet. When he had seen them reflected in her eyes he understood why: they made her eyes seem even bluer than they were. Quickly, Adam tears his eyes away from the photo. He can’t look at that today.

As he slams the glass back on the counter, one of the many frameless Polaroid photos that have begun to litter the house in his mourning floated to the floor. Once again, it isn’t one of the ones that he had taken. He had asked Jeremy to take the picture at the exact moment he got on one knee to propose to her, but in this particular photo, Jeremy had gotten a little too trigger-happy with the shutter button and took the photo to early. Instead of the perfect proposal photo, this photo has Adam in the process of kneeling while she’s in the middle of turning around to look at him. That perfect proposal photo exists in their wedding album somewhere, but they had grown to love this specific photo more. It shows the two of them how they really were: a little clumsy, disoriented, and confused, but utterly and truly in love.

It isn’t until he sees one of his tears fall onto the photo that he even realizes he’s crying. The photo falls out of his hands as he stands up to pour himself another glass of whiskey. Before he can drink it, he feels his body become white-hot, and it’s not just because of all the alcohol he has had. He rushes to the bathroom and immediately empties his stomach, his body unable to handle anything anymore.

Standing over the sink, he catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror. His dark eyes are bloodshot and his hair is sticking out on end. He hasn’t shaved in weeks and his beard is growing in thick. She had always hated his beard. She claimed it scratched her face and made him look homeless. While he stares at himself, he once again sees her familiar blue eyes looking over his shoulder.

“It should have been you,” the apparition of her says, her voice hoarse but not unlike how it used to sound. Adam turns around to face her, but she isn’t there.

“She would never say such a thing,” he thinks to himself. But even so, her words ring in his ears like bells.

“No, but she would make you feel bad about it,” another voice in his head says. He thinks back to every time he made even the smallest mistake around her. Her temper would always get the better of her and she would yell, or worse, become passive-aggressive. It was the passive aggression that Adam couldn’t handle. They had had many long talks about her it and how it made him feel, and she had been working on it, but there were still moments when she would lose control and Adam would feel about one inch high.

Despite how few and far between those moments had become, right now they are the only thing Adam can think about. Rage flies through his body as Adam begins to throw all of the toiletries of hers he never had the gall to throw away into the garbage can. Her toothbrush, her shampoo, her face wash, all into the trash.

“Take that, you bitch,” he says to no one in particular. He glances back up in the mirror to find the apparition of her still staring at him. The bar of soap he’s holding falls out of his hands as he is once again faced with those blue eyes he loves so much.

“I’m sorry.”

It comes out as a whisper, but the apparition seems to have heard. She gives Adam a small smile and it’s that small smile that makes him rush out of the room.

He sulks back to his living room and slumps onto the couch. He can barely keep his head up. There’s nothing else for him to do. The landline that she had insisted on getting begins to ring, but it doesn’t encourage him to move by any means. He just does what he always does: let the answering machine pick it up.

Her voice emits off of the answering machine. “Hey, you’ve reached the Callahans. Leave your message at the beep.” Besides his nightmares and delusions, this is the only time he can still hear her voice. The slight rasp in her throat comes out stronger on the word “you” and her voice cracks a little bit on the word “hey,” but the sound feels like home.

“Hey Adam, it’s Jeremy. I just wanted to check in on you cause… well… I know today’s your wedding anniversary, and I’m worried about you. It’s not healthy to stay cooped up in that house like this. Please… please just call me back. I just want to know that you’re okay. I love you, man.” There’s a click and that’s the end of that. Adam doesn’t even flinch. Jeremy had called almost every day for the past two months. At first, it was a welcome distraction. The two of them had been best friends since college, and Jeremy and his wife, Laura, were often around the Callahan home on weekends. But Adam has begun to resent these calls. He doesn’t need to be babysat, he needs to be left alone. Jeremy is a constant reminder of everything he can’t have. Jeremy has a wife and a baby on the way, while Adam’s house is a tomb. The possibility of a family died on the same day that she did and, in a sense, the house itself had died too.

Jeremy had been the first one that Adam had told about his plan to propose. “I wanna show you something,” he had said, pulling the ring box out.

“Whoa, take me out to dinner first, Adam,” Jeremy replied, putting his hands up.

Adam rolled his eyes. “Not for you, idiot.”

“I would’ve said yes though.”

Adam ignored this and opened the ring box. Jeremy’s eyes widened. “Do you like it?” Adam asked.

“Dude she’s gonna flip,” was all Jeremy said in response. He looked from the ring back to Adam’s questioning eyes. “It’s perfect. You’re really serious about this girl, huh?”

“I love her so much.”

Jeremy searched Adam’s eyes and saw that he was serious. He let out a low whistle. “Damn. I never thought a girl could tie down the Adam Callahan, but here we are.”

Having no brothers, Jeremy was Adam’s best man at the wedding. They stood in the men’s parlor just twenty minutes before the wedding was to begin, adjusting each other’s ties. “You ready?” Jeremy had asked.

“Absolutely,” Adam replied. If he wasn’t mistaken, he thought he saw a tear in Jeremy’s eye. “You okay?”

“We’ve come a long way from freshman year, haven’t we?”

Adam smiled. “Hell yeah, dude. But we’ve still got forever to go, right?” he held out his first, and Jeremy returned the fist bump before patting Adam on the back.

“Go get her.”

Now, Adam closes his eyes, trying to get the memory out of his head. How can that have been just one year ago? He rubs his eyes and looks back at the photographs covering the couch around him. He picks one up and almost vomits again. The picture in his hands was from the day she died. He had taken this picture of her as she got into the car, her hand playfully outreached towards the lens as though he was the paparazzi. It was clear that she’s laughing in the photo as her silver hair flew into her face in the wind. He had been convinced that her laugh could solve all of the world’s problems. Whenever he came home from work stressed out, he would instantly feel better when he walked through the door and heard her laughing at something on the TV. Her laugh sounded a little bit like a seagull, and she had absolutely hated it, but it sounded like Heaven to him. Whatever was possibly bothering him, it wasn’t as important as that laugh.

It was that laugh that distracted him on that day. He had said something dumb, who knows what, and she threw her head back and made that cute little seagull sound. He had gotten caught up in the way she clutched his arm and how her eyes scrunched up in the corner and he hadn’t noticed the other care. The only thought that raced through his head while the car flipped and skidded was “protect her.”

But he couldn’t.

Almost in a trance, Adam stands up from the couch. He takes her much-adored landline and removes the phone from the hook. He can’t hear her voice again, and he doesn’t want anyone else calling and checking in on him. Still practically catatonic, he begins to walk towards their bedroom. The apparition of her had been right, it should’ve been him. He was the one who lost control, so how was he the one still here? It wasn’t right. And now? What kind of life was he living here? For a moment he’s able to see himself from the outside; he’s a slobbering drunk who can’t even get his shit together long enough to clean up the pictures around his house. This isn’t living, this is existing. And for what? His life is over. With her died any opportunity of a future, of happiness, of serenity. He can only be happy again with her.

He slowly makes his way into their shared closet. Her clothes are still hung exactly where she had left them on that day, save for her favorite dress which she was buried in. Which dress would she have worn today for their anniversary? He had begun planning their anniversary a couple of months ago. He wanted to take her to see a musical, she loved musicals, and then was planning on making her dinner. Adam’s a dreadful cook, but what she didn’t know was he had been going to cooking lessons just for her. He had been so excited to show her everything he had learned, but that moment has been stolen away from him.

He’ll be with her again soon.

Still thinking about her, he takes a belt of his off of the shelf and ties it into a loop. He hangs it from the railing and brings his desk chair over to the closet.

As he climbs up onto the chair, loop in hand ready to go around his neck, the front door opens.

“Adam?” Jeremy’s voice calls through the house. Frozen, Adam stays silent. He forgot about the emergency key he had given Jeremy almost a year ago. Jeremy’s voice continues to travel throughout the house as he calls Adam’s name, getting closer and closer to the bedroom until he’s standing there in the doorway. “ADAM!”

Adam stays still, the makeshift loop in his hands about to be placed on his neck. His mind has completely emptied as the panic sets in. The only thing that he can think is “oh, I hope Jeremy doesn’t tease me about this.”

Jeremy rushes forward and pries the belt out of Adam’s hands. It’s this motion that snaps Adam out of his trance and he collapses into Jeremy’s arms, sobbing.

The two men lower to the floor of the closet, Adam clutching onto Jeremy as though he’s afraid he isn’t there, violent sobs racking his body.

“I know,” Jeremy says quietly, rubbing Adam’s back. “I know.” He says nothing else, just allowing his best friend to finally fully grieve the way he needs to.

They stay there until the sun goes down and the moon takes its place, not moving. All the while, hundreds of photographs surround them, a museum to her memory.

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