When we got inside and mother started talking about how many pills, doses of radiation, months she’d live if this and this and this went that way, I realized the worst moment of our family’s history could be preserved. And so, quietly, I took the picture. Then I took two more.
All of the pictures are exactly the same, except my father moves slightly with each duplicate.
In the photos, my father is at the head of the table where he always sits. He is the only person in view. His elbows are on the table—a position he discouraged during meals—holding his body from falling forward. My father’s hands are covering his eyes, large wide fingers tucked under his glasses. I’m not yet sure whether he is crying.
My father is framed by the doorway to the kitchen, the room he spends most of his time in. I think back to his drinking—gin over ice in short, wide glasses a shot as he made our dinners. While he wrestled with the plastic connecting the cans of tonic, I cut into lemon and squeezed the innards over his brew. Father would hand me the last of the tonic and turn to stir the pots on the burners, brown the bread, pull our dishes out of the oven where they had been warming, and plate up. I’d watch him from the wooden foldout chair, his swift movements blurred behind the can in my hand, out of focus. My can in one hand and mother’s plate in the other, I’d walk into the living room and set them on the table. Behind me, father would carry his plate and mine, returning to the kitchen only for his drink and the salt.
These days, however, he stays dry, and I stay out of the kitchen. He’s too irritable now to have an assistant.
Sitting in the doorway, my father wears a tatty brown flannel. It looks good in the photograph—clean, stain-free, whole. In truth, the shirt is more patched and restrung than many of his other clothes, often hand-me-ups from my wardrobe. In front of his leaning torso is an issue of The New Yorker. He would often read aloud to us during meals, sometimes quizzing us with crossword puzzles and Sudoko.
I notice something strange in the photo: my father’s hands are over his eyes, but his glasses don’t appear to have moved from the bridge of his nose. The photo looks low-fi, an easy photoshop piece of my two fathers superimposed, one over the other. I marvel at my father’s image, identical in each version of the photograph. When I put my phone down, I see my father rock still across the table, a living statue. He is an old photograph even now.
His glasses still hang precariously in place on the cliff of his face. Mother has been talking all this time, her tone rising and falling, medical terms parroted out in memorized chunks. I stare at my father. He is still, as if he were frozen by Medusa, trying to un-see her face. He has become stone with that knowledge, her image.
I am too late. I wanted to capture the worst moment of our three lives so that I would never forget how we looked. Now, looking at the photos and back at my father, I realize I should have preserved anything else – something from yesterday, a week ago, a month. How many family photos does a family get? Was this our last?
I can’t turn to look at mother—I fear my father’s fate for myself. He will always remain here at the table, hands covering his eyes. He will not move. We will never move from here.