“An elderly person finally takes the last picture on a film camera they’ve had for decades. Today they’re going to print it.”
Mary was weary of the task ahead of her. In her slow motions towards packing up the house, she had left Michael’s closet for the very end. She had not felt up to it at any other juncture.
Mary and Michael had lived in that house for over forty years. The house’s walls, its very essence, in fact, resonated with memories of their lives within it. Living through the transient presence of their children, friends, visitors, Mary and Michael had been the two permanent inhabitants, taking stock of everyone who passed through.
A few months ago, Michael had himself become a transient dweller as he transited past life into something else, unknown.
It took only a few days of his absence for Mary to realize that she could not remain in a place that now seemed more haunted by memories than nourished by them.
She had not opened his closet since his passing. It stood, as it had since the day they moved into the house, in the Northeast corner of their bedroom. He had very benevolently agreed to take the smaller stand-alone closet so that Mary could have all the space in the walk-in. She remembered how shocked he had been when she requested this of him, not believing that she could possibly have enough clothing and accessories to fill the whole thing. Boy, was he wrong.
Mary opened the big oak doors, weary with age as she was, exposing what lay within. She smiled in spite of herself. What lay behind those doors was the most exquisitely organized array of clothing. Michael had always been meticulously tidy—almost to a fault. Everything had to have its proper place and had to go back to that place when it was not in use. His closet was the perfect depiction of his mania. Here, he could be as particular as he wanted without the reproof of his wife or children.
His shirts and sweaters were all hanging neatly, each category separated by a hanging piece of cardboard. Each of the garment types, however, were sorted by the predominant colour of the pieces, forming a double rainbow of fabric.
In each of the drawers she opened, a similar spectacle awaited her. Trousers and shorts folded carefully along their seams, T-shirts split into those with collars and those without, and a sock drawer displayed in the same way that other men showcased their watches.
It was spotless. After months of disuse, it was as if time had worked to keep the items within unaffected by its passing.
Mary looked at the picture of the open closet and smiled once again.
“Of course you’d make this easy for me, my dear.”
Except for his obsessive tidiness, Michael had otherwise been the most unimposing husband. He strove to keep his problems his own and rarely stepped beyond his pride to ask for help. He didn’t like to have a fuss made at his expense. And now, in death, he was the same. All Mary would have to do is pull out each organized segment and place them in the labelled boxes she had ready to send to the Salvation Army.
She started first with the shirts, pulling three or four out at a time, and then the sweaters. As she pulled off the last of them, she noticed a box that had been placed in the back of the closet. She placed the sweaters on her—their—bed and bent into the closet to retrieve the box.
It was nothing more than a shoe box that had been covered in newspaper like one of the assignments her children had been given during elementary school. These, however, were news clippings from before the children were even born. Inspecting the sides and the bottom of the box, she found a date. It was from the month she and Michael had started seeing each other.
“Curiouser and curiouser,” Mary muttered to herself. She had never seen the box before.
She lifted the lid gingerly and found within the box a single film camera sitting on a black cloth. She pulled it out and found beneath it a letter in an envelope from her own stationary set. On the front lay her name, Mary. It was written, without much flourish, in his handwriting. She could recognize his straight-legged ‘M’ anywhere.
She sat, put the camera down on the floor, and opened the envelope. In it there was a single sheath of paper with his handwriting dancing across both sides of the page.
If you’re reading this, then it must mean that I’ve finally kicked the bucket and said my final ‘peace out’. (Michael had a wry sense of humour) I know this may seem a little morbid, me speaking from beyond the grave, but I needed to leave you with one final gift.
With this letter, you’ll have found a camera. If your first thought was ‘this is an old piece of junk’, you’d be right! This thing has been around since you and I started off on our little adventure.
There’s a little secret to it, though. I’ve only ever used one roll of film in it.
‘Why?’ you ask? Well, I wanted this to be the roll, at the end of my life, that had all the big moments of our lives together. THere’s a picture in there of our first date, of when I proposed, one of our wedding day, one of you sitting in the afternoon light when you were expecting Alex, and well, you get the picture (ha-ha).
I’ve used up the whole roll except for one picture. I want you to take that last one. Make it of some sort of legacy you and I are leaving behind, or of something of ours you want to remember, and then go print them all. I want you to be able to see all those wonderful moments as I saw them. To me, they were the very best.
I love you always,
P.S: Sorry I stole from your stationary set…It was all I could find!
Mary let her tired tears fall freely as she read her husband’s words and, when she finished, she picked up the camera that her husband had so sneakily kept from her for all those years. Sure enough, the antiquated dial that counted down the number of photos remaining was down to a single, solitary one.
She looked around her, trying to fathom what she could possibly photograph, coming up with a blank.
“This is something that requires much more thought,” she said to herself. “And I have just one more hour before the movers get here.”
She put the letter in the pocket of her cardigan, patting it lovingly against her body, and put the camera, wrapped in its black cloth, into her purse so as to not forget it. She then made quick work of the rest of the items in Michael’s closet, and was ready when the movers arrived to help rid her of the maze of boxes that had formed within her house over the course of the past week.
Once the van had driven off and she had bid farewell to the empty dwelling that had once been her home, she stepped out and locked the door for the final time.
She walked down the path towards the street and looked back at the house. Instinctively, she pulled out the camera and took the final picture.
“There you go, Michael. Our legacy,” she said, looking upwards as she spoke. “I’ll go to the drugstore to get them printed.”
And she did. She went to the drugstore and dropped off the roll of film. As she walked out of the store, however, she knew she wouldn’t go back for those pictures. As she had stood saying goodbye to their house, she had poured over her own collection of memories of the life they had lived in it. She had her own favourites, her own set of best moments, and each and every one of them had Michael in it. And now she had one final memory with him.
And that was enough.