The Stillness of a Picture MAG

June 28, 2012
By Esther Ling BRONZE, Northville, Michigan
Esther Ling BRONZE, Northville, Michigan
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

The sailboat looked as if it was going to sail off the edge of the world. Faintly etched against the horizon, its billowing white sails were barely visible against the cloudy gray sky. That’s what I want to do, I thought as I watched from my vantage point on the rocks. I want to fall off the edge of this world so no one will ever find me. With the sound of water in my ears, I let my mind sing in time with the wind. I become a part of nature.

I know my mother is up on land, watching me and wringing her hands. She doesn’t know whether or not to tell me to come up from the rocks. She doesn’t know how to comfort me. I imagine nothing quite like this has ever happened to her. Perhaps she is contemplating whether to come down, hug me and whisper comforting words to me. But she knows better. She knows it will only drive me even further away than I already am.

This rock beneath me is hard. It’s a good thing I remembered a blanket. As I watch, the waves grow. Some rocks visible only one hour ago are completely submerged. This day suits my mood. Perhaps most people prefer the sun, but not me. You know the line, “Every cloud has a silver lining”? Well, all my life I’ve searched for that silver lining. It doesn’t exist. It’s just one of the world’s ploys to try to keep people interested in life.

“Chelsea! Please come up from there! The tide is getting higher.” I knew my mother would give in to the urge to call me. But I do not answer. She’s only doing what she thinks a good mother would do. She doesn’t know who I am. She, the woman who walked out of my life when I was seven years old to live with another man, is the last person who would ever understand me.

She left a note the day she left. Something about how I wasn’t supposed to blame her for leaving, that the whole situation was my father’s fault. Perhaps it was. I don’t remember exactly what that short letter said; I showed it to Dad and he tore it up in rage. “Never believe what that witch says to you,” was what he said as he became the human paper shredder. I never believed her. I don’t recall them fighting much. I suppose they were smart enough to fight when I wasn’t around or asleep. Perhaps, my mind is just subconsciously blocking it out. Either way, I don’t remember much of life with my mother.

I remember little things, like how she complained about the pictures of the ocean my father kept around the house. She used to say, “Steven, darling, those pictures – they irritate me. I almost feel like I’m drowning with every step I take.” Then, of course, Dad would retort with some statement about how she just didn’t appreciate real art; her only sense of art appreciation was used up in organizing business papers. I don’t remember her ever really hugging me or telling me that she loved me. She spent a lot of time out of the house. Where she went, I’m not quite sure. I only knew that instead of having my mother call me in for dinner like other kids I was given a watch so I would know what time to come in.

I remember her wearing the most colorful clothing she could find. Against the drab decor of our house, she hurt my eyes as if she was the sun. She would play music, full of light and major harmonies, while my father retreated into his study filled with broken chords and melodies. Her moods would change like the weather. One moment, she would be more vivid than the brightest star; the next, even the cloudiest day wouldn’t hold a candle to her. She had whitish-blond hair that was almost always down and free to play in the wind. Oh, and her eyes! They are practically the only trait I got from her: emerald green, they sparkled like emeralds themselves.

* * *

My mother was a chameleon. When she was in the house, she was quiet and her steps were cautious. But once she stepped outside into the world, the chains fell from her and her most brilliant colors appeared. The strings of words would come streaming endlessly. Gone was all the prudence, all the wariness. Her step was lighter and her laughter bounced over every plane. She was a kaleidoscope. No matter what way the world turned or twisted, she came up with a new way to look beautiful and be happy.

I know she doesn’t really care about me. She doesn’t know how to comfort me. She doesn’t know what it’s like to lose the most important person in your life. I do. My father abandoned me in a way no one ever could have expected. He died suddenly in the night. The priest told me that an angel came and beckoned his spirit and he couldn’t resist, not even for me. I know my mother isn’t actually worried about me. She just worries about what the neighbors will think if anything happens to me. They already know that she left me and Dad. Now, with this new turn of events, she wants to prove to herself and everyone else that she can be a good mother. But she wasn’t there for all the moments when I was growing up and I’m not about to let her charge into my life now. Not that there’s much to see anyway. Now, there is only … emptiness.

My father used to collect pictures of the ocean. Framed with wood, gilded with gold, they had resting places all around the house. Sometimes, they would depict a raging storm and sometimes a calm within the eye of a hurricane. “In pictures, beauty never fades,” he always used to say. Often, he would lock himself in the study and just stare at the pictures. When he died, my mother insisted on selling them all. She said that they reminded her of him that whenever she saw them, they made her cry. She lied. Now, all I have to remind me of him is the ocean itself.

My father was a photographer. He saw most of the world through pictures and a camera’s view finder, not taking much time to come up for a fresh look at his whole surroundings. The world passed him by as he turned slowly with his camera. He was a loner. My mother was the first and only person he ever dated. After she left, he regressed to isolation. I was his only company.

I’ve always been a loner. The pale girl with the thin, long brown hair. When all the other girls started going out with the guys who had been friends since childhood, going to dances and parties and wearing makeup, I stayed home, sat and joined my father in looking at the pictures. When I was little, my dad didn’t know how to take care of a little girl. My hair was never really cut; it just grew long and straight. I was always dressed as a little boy. Maybe that’s part of why I am the way I am.

I miss my father. I miss his reassuring presence whenever anything went wrong. I miss the times that we would just sit together, silent, and look at the beautiful pictures of the ocean. I miss the times he used to teach me how to take pictures, arrange flowers Japanese style and examine gems for their true value. Now, already, the imprint of his face in my mind is fading.

As I watch the water, I can see the light reflected and refracted off the waves at different angles. The ocean is ever changing. Now that I think of it, the real beauty in the ocean is its never being the same from one second to another, unlike the stillness of the pictures in my head. I wish I could become a part of the waves and just flow wherever the current carried me. But as I watch, I know that it’s not possible. Carefully, I maneuver around the rocks and head back toward land.

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