The box is cardboard, the container the photos
were mailed in. April 21, 2010 is the date of the
postal cancellation; the first year anniversary
of Mom’s death is months away. The box mailed
from Texas, where one of my sisters lives now.
Perhaps my sister sifted through the photos with
less confusion. She’s nine years older than me, was
closer to Mom and I suppose knows much more.
These are remnants of the photos Mom kept through
the years of downsizing and continuous shedding
of possessions. Near the top of the box there is a
photo of her, professionally done, her so young
and beautiful and aloof, sitting and smoking with
a man not my father, a man I do not know. I ask her
memory, and the box, who is this man? Who are you?
There are few photos of Mom; in some she glares
back at the photographer. She wasn’t always like
that. I find a picture in which she is clearly happy
and laughing. From this strata of photos I see that
her mother and stepfather were visiting. For once
she isn’t resisting the photographer. Her hair is
auburn, though I know she’s about to turn fifty.
I’m older now than she was in the photo. There
are a couple of photos of John, her boyfriend.
By then she’s divorced; I know he’s still married.
There are no photos of my sisters; it occurs to me
that these have been winnowed out. There are a few
photos of me, with a broad smile over an impossibly
lean frame. The most recent is from 1978; that fall
I would leave for college on another island.
Her regard for me didn’t freeze then. Her presence,
muted, is here in these photos, in this box. This is
what I know: Mom is dead, her ashes forever fixed
in the mortar binding her housemate’s water feature
together. Robins drink from the pools of water there.
After I look through the photos, I don’t know what
to do with them – or myself. Her presence is limited.
I can reorder them and mount them in an exhibit,
or I can set match to each one for fire to light my way.
This box serves as urn – our love like ashes – consumed.
Andrew Shattuck McBride
April 13, 2012