Thursday, 20 October 2011

the photograph: that day

Now this one is a challenging assignment. For Ms. Graham's class, we were to write (or rewrite) a scene from Penelope Lively's The Photograph using Kath's point of view (first person or third person). I chose the third person point of view to agree with the overall feeling of the book (it is a lovely, somewhat devastating book, though) and picked up the chapter "That Day" from the novel.



The tides kept coming in, endlessly, like when Kath was a child, spinning in her full-circle ruched skirt. The pink ruffles flew around her, engulfing her as she spun and spun, faster and faster, then slower and slower, until she came to a complete stop and laughed as she tumbled down in her mother’s arms. It was a day in the field. Elaine was out there collecting flowers to take home to add in her catalogue of plants.

Her mother was long gone now and these weren’t those tides that took Kath to her happy place. These weren’t those tides.

The tides started in the morning. The first wave only brushed her toes and ankles. That was when Glyn woke up abruptly and complained why Kath hadn’t woken him up. The second one came when he refused to stay longer, just four minutes, for a boiled egg. It would only take her four minutes to gather her nerve to ask him the question and get his answer or tell him the statement and get his reply. The third wave came when they were at the door and, even after stalling him a bit, she still couldn’t conjure up her courage to say what she felt was needed to be said. She stopped short, suddenly wary of her insignificance but didn’t know how to assess nor confirm it, how to analyze it the way Glyn did. So she let him drive away.

The fourth wave came when she was washing the dishes. She dropped Glyn’s coffee mug and it fell into pieces. A ceramic shard cut her finger as she was picking up the debris. No, this can’t be happening to me. I can’t even do things right. Then she walked to a teak table, to a telephone that was on it, picked up the receiver and dialed a number. There was a pulsing tone on the other end.

Julia? Hi, this is Kath! Splendid! Listen, are you available to go to the pictures tonight? They’re showing something and the paper gives it rave reviews and… Oh? Oh, I’m sorry. I hope he gets better. Oh is that him crying? Alright, no, that’s fine, really. You take care and say hi to little Chris. Yes, ciao, darling!

And that was the fifth wave.

Kath put the receiver down. She had nothing to do. For the first time in her life, she really had nothing to do and no desire to fix the situation.

She went to the back porch and looked at the garden. The flowers, the plants, the landscape, they were all Elaine’s ideas. How Elaine had enthusiastically offered her help in designing Glyn and Kath’s square garden, and now, on the first autumn day, the bougainvillea was swathed in tiny pink blossoms, the red roses were swaying, dancing under the whispers and the blows of the cool wind, and the cherry tree Kath had planted earlier that year had grown. Elaine went berserk when she found out about the cherry tree. “It is out of place! It completely doesn’t match! The shades won’t give the roses enough sun they need when it grows tall!” she said, but Kath was determined and it was one of those rare moments when Elaine surrendered.

Kath sat there for hours. Looking at the garden. At the flowers. At the squirrels darting to and fro, collecting provisions for the upcoming winter. At the pigeons resting before flying to some place warmer. Then she went inside to the telephone. She knew she had to do it. If she couldn’t do it face to face, then she would do it using the phone. She would. She had to. So she dialed.

No answer, and the pulsing, promising tone gave way to busy. She dialed again, still the same. And again, and again, until…

Hello. Yes, this is Kath Peters, is Glyn there? No? Alright. No, that should be quite alright. In fact, no, could you just tell him that I called and if he could call back? Thank you. No, that’s it. Goodbye.

When she hung up, she felt the sixth wave coming in, this time sweeping up to her knees. Through the windows, she could see the short cherry tree. The tip of some leaves had started turning bright auburn, agreeing with the season. She dialed another number.

Hello, Sonia? Hi, this is Kath. Is Elaine there? Oh, when do you suppose she’ll return? Oh, alright. No. Sorry? Oh, no, just tell her I rang and if she could call back. Thank you. How are you? Oh, busy? I say. The garden is just lovely! Funny you should mention it. I was just looking at it and I thought I would give Elaine a call to say how it has turned out even lovelier than in summer. No, I can’t tell, but they look healthy. No, no hole in the leaves or anything, I suppose. Oh? Which one are those? Oh, the little colorful ones? That should be nice, I’ll look it up. Sorry? Oh, no, not at all. Well, thank you, Sonia. No, just tell her that. Yes. Alright. Goodbye.

The seventh wave reached up to her hips as Kath replaced the receiver.

She hung her head down and pressed her palms on the teak table. Then Kath turned her head towards another room, and walked to that room, toward a landing cupboard in the corner, the one stacked high with papers and what Glyn called low-use materials. She opened the cupboard, took a chair and placed it in front of the cupboard, and climbed on it, reached to the back of the top shelf. Her palm was slit repeatedly by the thin edge of the papers until she felt a folder. She pinched it between her index finger and her thumb and drew it out from its papery siblings.

Kath knew exactly what was inside the folder and so she didn’t open it. Instead, she took a pencil and with a few strokes, wrote a message in thin, capital letters on the front of the folder. Then she replaced it inside the shelf, safely hidden behind the papers, climbed down from the chair, and closed the cupboard. By this time, the eighth wave was already scooping in, covering her up to her stomach.

I can’t call Mary. I don’t need her affirmation. I know how she feels. Just like how Polly feels. But I need to know from Glyn. I need to know from Elaine.

Kath returned to the kitchen and saw the glass bowl stacked with fruit. Apples.

She recalled her conversation with Oliver that day as Polly was picking up windfall apples in Elaine’s garden. My heart is not broken. The thing is to move away. Before they change their minds. The ninth wave went up to her chest.


When Kath was a child, her mother told her a story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. How Snow White ran away from her evil stepmother. How she ended up in the cabin that housed seven little people. How her evil stepmother, always hot on her trail, gave her a poisoned apple and eventually put her to sleep. How she was awakened by a prince, a passing prince who snobbishly and presumptuously roused her with true love’s kiss. Snow White had never known the prince and the prince had never known her. He was only attracted by her beauty. The prince had never known her, and therefore had never loved her. He was only attracted by her beauty. But Snow White loved him till the happy end.

That story did more to Kath than just refusing Jenny as her father’s new wife. Yet the deepest effect of that tale had been obscure to her, until this moment, when the tenth wave swallowed her up to her chin.

Kath stared at the red apples, stacked and piled one on top of the other. If only I could sleep.

She hadn’t eaten ever since breakfast but she didn’t feel hungry. She felt the emptiness inside her stomach, but not hunger, no, she felt barren. Snow White had the seven dwarves. Kath pressed her right palm on her stomach.

The autumn sun had set two hours ago and Kath was back in the bedroom. She was holding thin lozenges, as red as the apples, but smaller. She had given enough time for the two people to whom she had given everything, but the phone never rang back and Kath knew she had finally received their affirmation. Then, with a rare determination, she swallowed the apple-red tablets, one by one by one, and by the time Glyn came home twenty five minutes after that, Kath had long been swept into the sea.


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