Still Life


By Eric Erickson

I took pictures of the snowfall down Tenth Avenue.  There was something more magnetic about the stills than of the reality.  Snow falling, when you are watching it, starts out serene and lovely, then descends into a sort of foreboding, before finally leading to a completely unnerving feeling.  But when you capture it, when the streetlights shine on the flakes and the snow covered cars that line the block, then we can get a handle on it, we can use it to show how we bend and almost break , but are never quite subject to the whims of weather.  I’ve begun to use the camera like this in other facets of my life.  I didn’t know that life would put me in the position I’m in, but deep down I’ve learned that we are equipped with the means to pull ourselves out of any situation handed to us.  I even feel thankful that it’s me and not someone else, not seeing in the windows of my neighbors I can only imagine what they would think of something like this happening to them.


I’ve felt things like this ever since I was a little girl.  I’ve been sensitive to other entities, in tune with the presence of souls that inhabit the earth dimly.  I live in a two-story brownstone in the city, with two other rooms beside my own that I don’t really need but keep furnished for some reason.  I stayed inside most of that week when the snowstorm hit.  Most things were closed, people were advised not to drive anywhere, and I was too broke to pass the time at the neighborhood bar.  I got used to my surroundings in a way that can only occur with that kind of loose time.  I read books, watched some old movies, created imaginative dishes with stale pasta and cans of tuna fish.  I sat in silence sometimes and looked at the pictures on my wall and the dust above the bookshelf, the beginnings of a spider web in the corner of the ceiling.

I am a sensitive woman, and by that I mean that I can feel things that many people would ignore.  I sensed my husband’s infidelity, my sister’s cancer, my own professional downfall before I possessed any concrete proof or any occurrence.  It was always just a matter of time.  Beyond the failings of the past year, I found myself in a pretty good place as the New Year approached.  I was sort of just waiting for the next thing to happen, the next relationship, the next job, the next passion.  I knew that I had once hated my apartment, and the space I inhabited in general, but I realized that once free of excess baggage, I knew that I could grow and begin again.  Sometimes a new beginning comes as a lightning strike, sometimes it comes as a wispy shadow that looks like a man, sometimes it comes under the thick wet blanket of snow that covers cars up and down the block.  I’ve been alone before, and I know what alone is, whether you’re with someone or not, and I now know that I am not alone in this house, that I have a roommate unseen and shaking the improbable thought from my mind will do nothing to dismiss his presence.  Ignoring my cohabitant is as fruitless as trying to stop the falling snow.

The first time I saw the man I was asleep, and I know what one might think, dreams are not the same thing as seeing, but this was surely different.  I awoke in the afternoon and, as I tried to adjust my eyes, I gazed out the window of my darkened bedroom into the street below.  Thick canopies of snow hung over the sagging trees, the telephone lines, the distant rooftops, the whiteness created a rather soft glare, not so harsh to be momentarily blinding, and I realized that the softness of the afternoon sky and its earthly product, dull and serene in its ubiquity, recalled an almost preternatural anti-ghost moment.  If three in the morning is considered the prime-time for supernatural activity, including the presence or activity of apparitions, then it dawned on me, as I slowly awoke in my bed that afternoon, that three in the afternoon would be the polar opposite, the peak time for all that can be seen and touched, for rush-hour traffic, for buying eggs at the store, for looking out on the remnants of a deep snowfall from underneath a bedspread and know deeply the difference between inside and outside, between winter and central heating, between reality and fantasy.  Nonetheless, as I turned my gaze back toward my bedroom doorway, I witnessed without exaggeration or any self-doubt, the figure of a man, blue-jeaned, denim-shirted, wearing a faded red baseball cap and an expression that offered little expression, other than the emotions that I imbued it with: “Who is this? What am I doing here?” that kind of thing.  I watched him for a moment, half expecting him to introduce himself, and when he didn’t, I turned back around to look at the snow, and then, only then, when I turned back around to see the man, he was gone and only a subtle acrid smell remained in his place, a definitive otherness that began to pervade the hallway, the bathroom, the staircase, every corner of the apartment that I lived in, that I lived in but now somehow shared with an uninvited roommate.

Although I am a woman that values her perceptiveness, pays attention to her instincts and hunches, I am also a woman that values credibility and soundness.  I quickly, or rather over the course of several television episodes and one movie that I’d seen before, devised a plan to document the existence of my co-habitater.  I even sketched his likeness to the best of my memory so that I, and any interested teams of scientists, psychics, or any combinations of the two, could as well, verify that this apparition was real once my plan came to fruition.  I had been looking at the photographs of the snowfall I had taken several days before.  I noticed the way some flakes appear to be solid balls of ice at a certain point in the distance, while other larger ones are opaque, revealing their true selves as crystallized drops of liquid.  I fetched my magnifying glass and looked closer at the pictures to see if all the flakes could be revealed in such a way.  The result was that no, they remained solid under magnification.  I determined that this must be the difficulty with ghost photography.  Wisps of ethereal nothingness appear on photographs all the time, only to be dismissed by skeptics as dust particles, but what if…what if the smallest of such abnormalities could be magnified a hundred, maybe a thousand times to reveal their true selves.  This was the magic of photography, that a tiny solid object would still be a tiny solid object under deeper scrutiny as it exists in the composition of the frame.  I fiddled with my camera for some time and figured out how to capture time lapse shots at intervals zooming in and out of a specific area.  I chose the door frame of my bedroom and the white wall paint that was once covered in my perception by the leg and arm of an adult man.  I felt that if my pictures could catch even a wisp of something disrupting the whiteness of the paint, that a variety of shots could capture the surety of this being.

I set the camera up and watched some more television, perusing a stack of photographs that I had collected for several years.  I was amused by the pedestrian quality to the older ones.  My ex-husband and I on our trip to Florida, posed with generic smiles, the kind of photos you think are essential when you take them, only to realize years later that they disguise the past more than they illuminate it.  Over time, though, the pictures got better and better, more still-life, including candid shots of strangers waiting for buses, an overturned lawnmower, an empty wheelchair stuck between two parked cars.  Most of my photos were naturalistic though, thunderclouds, freshly bloomed violets and daisies, a creek bed jutting down a hillside from a deep grove of trees.  I always liked those pictures the best because that was when surprises occurred.  I knew what I was taking a picture of, carefully composed the frame and measured the lighting and all that, but the results almost always displayed something unintentional, and that made the entire process so enjoyable.  A face appearing in the clouds, a mystical message coded in flower petals, an unexpected and unexplainable shadow cast along the gravelly creek, a reflection, it would seem, of something meant for my eyes only, something waiting in the invisible world for my camera to shape it, to present it to our preconception of the natural world.

Over the next few nights, I relocated the camera to capture different portions of the room.  I reviewed the photos briefly knowing that real examination would come later.  I slept a lot and watched the city slug through, cars being buried by snowplows, more and more people venturing out into the street to waddle their way over snow drifts and ice patches to get what they needed at the store.  The Christmas holiday came and went and I watched recorded shows to avoid being bombarded by the hubbub.  Late at night and then early in the morning, as I made my way to bed, I could still smell the acrid otherness, and even sometimes, as I was falling asleep, I swore I could hear someone talking, but not exactly in words, more like humming, ruminating to itself about duties or grudges, the way people do to sort of pinch themselves into remembering that they exist.  I could feel the footsteps, though they were not loud or deep, and I could almost feel the breath inhaling and exhaling, memories of breathing, memories of walking, instinctual repetitiveness of going about one’s business.

Finally, I awoke to find the sun beaming into my bedroom window with greater intensity, and the dripping of melting snow from the gutters made it difficult to close my eyes and go back to sleep.  I got dressed and put my tall boots on.  I pulled my hair back with a rubber band and put a dark stocking cap and sunglasses to complete my attire.  At the photo shop I played with the photos I had taken, reproducing several close-ups of each.  I printed out a large selection and headed home.  On my way, I noticed a lifeless pigeon encased in a melting chunk of ice in a snowdrift piled against the curb.  The wings of the bird were splayed slightly as though it were beginning to fly.  Its eyes looked upward toward mine, toward the telephone pole and now uncovered wire that it might find as a perch, toward the gleaming yellow sun that caused the constant dripping from a thousand different sources in every direction.  I wished I had brought my camera, but then I realized that the scene lacked the naturalistic qualities I searched for.  I realized that the bird would be preserved in that way for another few hours, best, and that it would then begin its journey toward decay or scavenged obliteration, it would not, as the current scene might suggest, simply continue the flapping motion of its wings and take to the sky.

As I walked in my door holding the bag of photographs, the apartment appeared to be different, somehow vacant.  There was certainly the faint smell of sweat and smoke and unwashed dishes, but an emptiness pervaded the sunlit furniture, floor, even the staircase and the upstairs bedrooms.  I sat near the bedroom window and examined the photographs.  In the pictures I noticed the urine stain on the floor from the cat that used to live here.  I could see the thick layer of dust on the top of the dresser.  I even noticed a bra that I had assumed had been lost for months.  On the door frame, where I had once seen the figure of a ghostly apparition, I saw nothing but wall paint, and a series of faint black marks that had been made by my husband to denote the growth of our son.  I stared at the photos for hours as they gradually started to arrange themselves into some type of pattern.  I set them out on the bed in descending sequences of close-ups overlapping one another in such a way that I could see my bedroom in a much more naturalistic way.  Grouping the photos together, I pulled a small tear back from my lower eyelids and watched the sun trail toward the horizon.  The dripping that I had become accustomed to began to slow, leaving a dull metronome thud against the metal awning beneath my window.  I sat for a few minutes as the room darkened, staring intently on my bedspread and the work that I had created.

Category: Fiction, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student