Three Snapshots, Three Countries
It is raining. It is outside. Buckingham Palace. People are lined up, the line snakes around the front to the side. They are standing there, not moving much. They are holding flowers for the Queen Mum, who was hospitalized, yesterday. There are lines, horizontal lines across the whole picture. The palace is in the distance, the rear taxi window in the foreground. The line has not moved. Much. The sky is grey. The palace is blurry. These are not tears in my eyes. As I said, it is raining.
It is out of focus. A picnic table, outside a pub. Two…no three empty pints with Hoegarden written on the glass. One pint, half full. Judging from the position of the sun, and the quality of light, it is around five or six o’clock in the evening. The pub is on a corner, and the street immediately in front is a busy one. The street along the side is not busy at all, or at least there are no cars traveling on this street at this time. The cars travel in the opposite direction, mental note to look the wrong way before crossing. The other picnic tables are full of people, more empty pints, more half-full pints. There is an abandoned shoe in the distance, and an abandoned book, spine facing up, on the table. The book is blue. In the bottom right-hand corner of the picture, a big toe. With purple polish. I think…I took this picture by accident. No one is looking at the camera.
It is raining. It is outside. It is raining hard. People are carrying umbrellas. But they are still wet. Some people hide under an awning, waiting for the rain to end. One man peers up at the sky from under an unfolded newspaper he is holding over his head. In the distance, young adults are sitting on the steps in front of an abandoned building, under construction. They are smoking. They appear to not care that they are getting wet. Wet paper sticks to the street, and the sidewalk, soggy corn flakes. It is raining. I have seen enough.
A small child, a boy. He is sitting in a wheelchair. The wheelchair is an adult wheelchair. The boy is holding a sign, with something written in Polish. A tin can rests between his legs. He is too small for the wheelchair; his legs do not bend but stick out straight, and they are blurry. He is bouncing his legs up and down. He is about three. Or four. He has blond hair. He is yawning, and looks like he would rather be chasing a ball, or skipping rope. His head rests against the back of the wheelchair. He is not complaining. On his shoulders rest the hands of his mother. She is standing behind her son, behind the wheelchair. Behind her, on the wall, is something spray-painted in Polish. The wall is dirty. She has a far away look on her face. She is not looking at the camera. She looks like she would rather be chasing a ball, or skipping rope.
An old woman is kneeling on the sidewalk, her head down, her hands clasped. She looks like she could be kissing the ground, but she is not. She has a scarf tied around her head. She is dressed mundanely, no colors to speak of. Gray hair peeks out from under the scarf. She is wrinkled, her skin is ashen. Behind her is a building. Between her and the building, a tall, red, rectangular mailbox stands erect. She does not look like she is asking for money. She does not look like she is praying. She does not look at the camera. She is alone.
Outside at a night club. Or a bar. It’s dark. Young adults, men and women, are drinking, talking to each other, dancing carefree and wildly. Some are hugging, some are laughing. They are huddled together in small groups, even though there is plenty of room to spread out, plenty of room for all. They are dressed in the latest fashions, t-shirts, jeans, female bellies exposed, tattoos, self-conscious hairstyles, new shoes. To one side three men and a woman are sitting. They are not looking at the camera. They do not notice anyone around them. They for the moment, are done noticing each other. One man stares at the ground. Another stares off to the left. Another stares at the ground, but a different part of the ground. The woman stares to the left, but a different left than the man. They are thinking more than looking. Their eyes are red. From the flash. It is late. Everyone looks tired, but awake. No one shows signs of wanting to leave, to walk the streets toward home. In the distant sky, the beginnings of sunrise.
Nuns, priests, and laymen casting a look of solemn respect, sitting on pews. No one is moving, or talking. They are not looking at the camera. They are looking at a dead man. A dead man rests inside a glass coffin. He looks waxen. He is wearing a religious cloak, white. A red beanie rests at the tip of his head, a red velvet cape on his shoulders, red velvet pointy shoes on his feet. His hands are folded at his abdomen, the international sign for eternal rest. The man is small. His nose is big. His skin is white. Chalky. His face is expressionless. He is not smiling. He is not frowning. He is not here.
A man sits on a moped. In a park among trees. In his arms is a woman with long dark hair. She is standing, leaning against his chest. The man’s back is toward the camera. The woman’s head is cocked to one side, exposing the flesh of her neck. The man is kissing her neck, gently. The look on the woman’s face is serene. She is not smiling. She is not frowning. She is not here.
The hotel man, in a hotel jacket, is older. In his late fifties. But handsome. The kind of handsome that makes you forget he is old enough to be your father’s best friend. He is holding a woman’s face in his hands. His eyes are sad. The woman is looking into his eyes. She is not breathing. She has never seen a look like this before. Her mouth rests slightly open. A small suitcase stands at her feet. The man’s hands are old, rough, but her face says they are made of cotton and flower petals. They do not know each other, this man and woman. She is just a hotel guest. His eyes are pleading for her to stay. Her eyes are saying, “But I have to go.” She does not know why she has to go. She does not want to go.
These are tears in my eyes. It is not raining.
This originally appeared in 2001 on the now defunct (I think?) opiummagazine.com, and for about one day on mcsweeneys .net— until it was retracted because it also appeared on opiummagazine.com.