When Terry begins scrolling through her phone, none of the photos she finds are hers.
Only seven this morning. That’s a blessing. Sometimes there are as many as two dozen. At first (two months ago? four? more?) she’d deleted them as quickly as they came in. But now she checks each one.
There’s never anything extraordinary or striking about the photos, nothing indecent that would prove embarrassing if the people in them were identified. In fact there are no people in them.
She’s done everything possible – changed her ID, the app, her password, had the store clean the phone and return it to factory default, and even bought a new phone. Still the photos keep coming.
And her photos?
She no longer takes photos. They don’t show up on her phone anyway. The only photos she sees are someone else’s.
She goes through the seven photos as she eats her bowl of cornflakes. Taken from the back of a bus, they show back views of heads, t-shirts, collared summer shirts, tanned necks. The bus windows are glaring rectangular blanks. As though outside the sun is blazing. The air looks dusty. She clears her throat and coughs.
“That’s it,” she says when she’s seen them all. She’ll close the phone and never open it again. She says that each time.
Instead of getting the metro to work, this morning – Friday – she goes to the bus stop. She shivers in the cold. There are only two other people at the stop. She looks at them carefully.
When the bus finally comes, she pushes through the crowded aisle to the back. The middle-aged man glowers as he lifts his computer bag from the last available seat.
She looks at the backs of heads in front of her. Hats and toques rather than heads, furry and woolly, pulled down as low as possible, tucked into scarves. In this bus the windows are dull and grimy with dirt, salt and ice. She watches every person getting on or off the bus. She looks at them looking at their phones.
On Saturday the photos are of a lake. On winter Saturdays she usually loafs around in pyjamas until lunch time but after the photos come in, she heads up to the lake in the big park in the middle of the city. The frozen lake isn’t the lake in the photo, that’s obvious but…
Sunday there’s one photo only — of a hotel room. A perfectly ordinary hotel room. She can even see the wrapped chocolates on the pillows. On the wall above the bed hangs a picture of a horse mid-gallop, turning its head toward her. Not to her specifically, but to whoever is taking the photo. Still, she has the feeling the horse is looking at her. Through the window is a faint outline of…of… She can’t make it out. A beach? A quarry? A desert?
She spends the day wandering around the gravel pits in the east of the city, even though the wind is bitter and the sign says “Strictly No Admittance. You Will Be Prosecuted.”
Tired and footsore, she trudges back into town. At the sound of clip-clopping hooves behind her, she grabs a lamp post and holds on tightly.
Two mounted police smile down at her, ask her something. Only afterwards does she realize they’d asked her if she was all right. What had she said? What should she have said?
Monday morning, new photos: fruit, gleaming and luscious. Stacked as though on a market stall. She gets off the bus even though it’s not her stop, and heads to the indoor market.
She walks up and down the stalls. Meat, cheese, pizza, flowers, maple syrup, vegetables, fruit…
She won’t go in to work today. She’ll call in sick. Again. She is sick. She’s got whatever that sickness is that makes you do what a photo tells you.
She won’t look at any more photos. She’ll close her phone, go home and go to bed.
Across the road, in big black letters on yellow: “She felt her freedom wafting in off the arid air.”*
What’s that supposed to mean? It doesn’t make any sense.
For one thing, the air isn’t arid, it’s damp and cold. And, she now notices, full of wafting, swirling snowflakes the size of dinner plates. She’s never seen such huge snowflakes. One lands on her sleeve. A glistening lattice of crystals.
She snatches her phone out of her pocket and takes a photo. And another one, a close-up. And another as it melts.
On the bus she checks her snowflake photos. The only photos on her phone are those taken by someone else.
Where have her photos gone? Who is looking at them?
She takes a photo. Backs of heads, furry hats, toques, and hoods.
“Look!” she whispers to whoever is watching the photo upload to their phone.
She gets off the bus and takes a photo of a manhole cover, a crushed soda can on the ground. A hawk flying over the trees. She knows it will be blurry but she doesn’t care.
“Look!” she says again, this time more firmly.
2016 is my Year of the Blurt: each week I’ll take advantage of spare moments that would otherwise be wasted to write something quickly which I’ll post on Thursdays. Probably the Blurts will mostly be fiction, but who knows!
Thank you for dropping by to read this week’s Blurt. It was inspired by Jonathan Maberry’s prompt on StoryADay: “When Terry begins scrolling through her phone, none of the photos she finds are hers.”
* “She felt her freedom wafting in off the arid air.” Alice Feldt: Windswept (Dare-Dare project near Atwater Market, Montréal, fall 2015)
Please note: all material on this website, except for comments by others, is © Susi Lovell