Is It Really Me?
Something falls to the floor as I pull the last batch of papers from the box. I glance down, trying not to drop more.
I leave it there. I will pick it up when I have dealt with the papers in hand.
It is a bitter sweet task I have: clearing the attic of my parents' house. They have moved to sheltered accommodation where help is on hand. The house is sold and must be cleared. The house they had made into a home has made no concessions to the frailty of their advancing age.
I am sifting memories from the mundane strata of old bills and manuals for appliances long gone. Distilling their lives into some papers and a few photographs.
Photograph! I look back at the picture on the floor. The coloured scene is of an older boy lying over the prow of a small boat studying the water. I do not recognise the setting or the lad. I do not think it me, but of who else would they want to keep a memory? I have no brothers or male cousins.
I return to my task, but soon succumb to the distraction on the floor.
I scan the image for clues to answer those old favourites: who? when? where? what? why?
What? should be easy; it's a photograph. The boy, whose face cannot be seen, wears a white shirt, striped with shades of blue, and dark fawn shorts. Shorts whose cut could have inspired the invention of Lycra. His legs have a pleasing tan, showing the shorts are regular attire. The sartorial picture is completed by sandals and socks black with orange hoops!
From the length of shapely leg on view I judge his height around five six, implying an age of fifteen, maybe sixteen.
The boat on which he lies is made of white GRP, the inside crudely finished. There is wooden duck-boarding in the bottom of the boat. A soft bag of fake leather rests on the boards by the boy's legs. There are clues enough to make me think mid to late sixties.
Where? would be a boating lake or lazy river but more than that I cannot guess. For who? and why?, I leave my sub-conscious to process as I go back to my appointed task.
As I work I am troubled by that boat. The proportions do not fit the expectations of my experience. Something feels inconsistent but I cannot see it. I lean down and retrieve the photo from the floor to have a closer look. In so doing I turn the picture over. There is a single word there; inscribed in a hand I do not know: my name.
Is it really me? I do not think so. I do not remember wearing shorts frequently at that age. Maybe it is an instruction that it was for me, but then why was it not passed on?
I put the picture on the corner of the empty box where it is easier to glance at while I work.
Ah! Now I see what bothered me. The change in position of the photograph in my perspective has triggered a new look at the perspective in the picture. The camera must have been held below eye level, exaggerating the verticals. That would explain why the proportions of the boat seemed wrong.
I reassess the scene.
The boy is not as tall, maybe four six, and age eleven or twelve, more in keeping with those unblemished legs.
Maybe it is me.
I did wear shorts more often at that age although I do not remember those in the picture. Nor do I remember the socks. How could I forget those!
I finish with the papers I am going through and as I move them to their allotted piles, scrap or keep, the picture falls into the box. Looking in, I see a crumpled note that I had missed. I pull it out with the photograph. The note, addressed to my mother, states the enclosed photo is of me and for me as a memory of our day out in Scarborough. The note is signed 'Harry'.
My father had moved around the country for his job, and for a couple of years we lived in the same Yorkshire town as mother's cousin Edith and her husband Harry. Uncle Harry was a lot younger than Aunty Edith and although they appeared devoted to each other, mother used to say the family thought him 'a bit odd'. He seemed alright to me. Maybe a bit prim and proper, but Aunty probably insisted on that. He used to tell some amusing tales when she wasn't around. The only thing I thought a bit odd was he liked physical contact with whoever he was with. Never anything inappropriate. These days we would say he was a touchy-feely type and think nothing of it. I wasn't used to that, father was very reserved, and I think I must have mentioned it to mother.
The memories are coming back. I remember the day now, I had a good time and I think Uncle Harry enjoyed having the experience of having somebody young to talk to and show things to. He always liked sharing his knowledge.
So the photograph is of me watching the ripples from the prow of the boat, intrigued by the distorted reflections they produced.
But why did I not get the picture? Mother will not remember or will not want to remember. I can only guess. If the family thought him odd and he liked touching me, a picture with my bum and bare legs centre stage was probably deemed inappropriate.
All I know is that the next and last time I saw Uncle Harry was at Auntie's funeral many years later. We had moved to another part of the country about a month after that trip to the boating lake in Scarborough.
Copyright © Pedro 2015
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