Summary: A case, a box of pictures, and some musings of our favorite redheaded agent.
Disclaimer: All the characters within are just borrowed, no infringement intended. I have nothing you could take if you sued me, except a couple of cats and 2 or 3 dogs. You could have the cats though!
Acknowledgments: Thanks as always to Zuffy, without which I would post some indecipherable babble! To Flea for the support, and for the rest of the online Philes that encourage my obsession.
I am thinking of you today.
Not the usual thoughts, the ones that occupy the part of my brain that silently categorizes the little nuances of each day. Today my mind has drifted to other thoughts, not so usual ones. You would say that I had these thoughts because of this necessary chore that we are executing right now. These thoughts were triggered, you would say, because of a shoebox full of pictures.
How do you make sense of a person's life with a box of pictures? How do you fathom someone by looking at a stack of photographs? Are there any clues to be gleaned from them? Would you be able to tell my story by the photos that I have hidden away in my apartment?
Of course you could.
But could any one else? I have somewhere a picture of my mother and father, before they became Mom and Ahab. Smiling into the camera, they were captured, an image of life etched onto celluloid. But does that picture say anything of me? Because I kept it?
I have a Polaroid picture, one that never made it into the file it was supposed to be put in. It is a picture of me, hand reaching out for help, eyes wide and fearful. Would that tell my life story?
How do we do this? We are in this little house, shaded by trees and sky, sifting through a young womanís photographs, trying desperately to find some motive to her horrible death. We are looking, you attest, for a suspect. Who would want this woman dead? Faced with no tangible evidence, you offered an intangible idea. But I ask you, how do you expect us to read this victim's life by a box of pictures?
Not all pictures are on paper, Mulder. I am wondering if a mechanical lens ever captures the most important ones. If the mental images that I carry were placed on developing paper, they would take up more than one shoebox. With the ease of a well-traveled Navy brat, I prefer my photos to occupy the shelves in my memory, not my closet. I have a lot of portraits there. One of Mom and Ahab, from our last Christmas together, Ahab enjoying the simple home cooked meal, Mom smiling on us both with extreme tenderness. And then another, an image of Melissa, hair swirling around her face, smile reaching from ear to ear. I donít remember where I took that one; I just kept it because I prefer that picture to the last one we ever had of her. Quiet and serene in a silk lined box.
Faster, like spinning the cylinder of a rol-a-dex, the pictures come back to me. Bill Jr., acting all paternal and grave. Charlie, chasing Melissa around the back yard of our childhood home.
Here I pause the scrolling images to gaze, unhurried, at the gentle face of my daughter. The one that I never felt growing below my heart, never felt the pain of her birth, only the pain of her death.
Eyes so like mine. But fortunately, so UN-like mine as well. Her eyes remained innocent, right up till the end. I made sure of that. Never letting on that the fatigue and fever she felt was anything to be concerned about. It isnít right that a child should know the meaning of death. Especially her own.
Would these images, if viewed by a stranger, tell my life? Would there be a clue in any of them to tell of why I loved these people so? Would there be a trace of experiences shared, of feelings exchanged, or of obstacles cleared? Perhaps, filed under Partner, the widest section of photographs would tell my life story. It is a gathering of my favorite photos of you.
There is the first one that I took. The look on your face as you turned to me for the first time, glasses settled on your nose as you challenge me with your mind. Why are you here? You seem to be asking. Next to that picture, although out of order, I keep another image. In this one you are smiling. Your hair is all hospital-bed messy, and as you opened your eyes and focused them on me, you seem to be asking, Why are you still here? But you are smiling, so I always think that you are glad that I am.
In my mind, I have more pictures of you than of anyone else in my life. What does that say about me? Would any impartial judge of these photos find something untoward in them? Would anyone be able to tell the feeling that I harbor for you above all? Could you read the reverence and love in these treasured images?
I pick up another pile of pictures from the glass-topped coffee table, and let them fall one by one. Photos of families, pets, a few of children. The young woman who had taken these pictures liked various subjects, no one person caught her lens more than once or twice. Again, why, I wondered, did we think that the answer to this case lay inside the cardboard confines of a shoebox? Another one of your theories, half hatched, yet followed through as if it had gone to term. This photographer took photos of everything she saw, could she not have captured the killer on film? I have no answer for that now, nor did I then. Could she just as possibly been taking pictures of what she wanted? Not what she had?
I close my eyes to see another photo, a slick glossy one, of a house surrounded by trees and fence. A small, tidy house, with children playing in the front yard. Two adults lounge on the porch, smiling and holding hands. I didnít take this picture; I found it in a magazine advertising dreams in the form of houses for sale. Why did I keep it? I donít know. Actually, I do know. It represents what I would like to own someday. Not the house in the picture necessarily, but what it holds. The perfect dream of normalcy. I know you would argue with me of what the photo does not show; the mistress that the man is surely hiding from his wife. The womanís bottle of sleeping pills that help her to settle down all the panicky anxious feelings she suppresses. The perfect children who get along only when company comes, saving all their fighting for when the doors close.
I shuffle the pictures remaining in my hand aimlessly, letting the images blur together. As a profiler, you could surely tell more about this woman than I could. Maybe you could see that the subjects that she chooses to photograph tell her life story, but I donít understand how. This picture of the little child. So like Emily. Smiling into the camera. What does this tell you about the victim, Mulder? That she likes kids? That this is her child? What? How about the pictures just below it. Trees. Clouds. Is she longing to be up there in the peace and stillness? Or does she just like the colors, the shapes, and the interplay of dark and light?
I drop the rest of the pictures to the table, and stand, stretching my arms above my head to work the kinks out of my shoulders. Cases like this, the quiet, contemplative ones, are hard. I would rather be doing something, anything, than just going through glossy images and trying to find out what that says about me. What prompted me to examine her life and compare it to mine? I pad quietly around the small living room, trying not to disturb you. You are in studious pose, draped over a large pile of photo albums. What about this victim reminds me of me? She apparently lives alone. Her body was discovered by a curious neighbor. Nobody had reported her missing, which makes me wonder if she has any close friends whom would miss her. Her entire life seems to be taking photos of apparent strangers. If our murderer was one of these randomly encountered men or women, then we have ample suspects. We havenít turned up any family members, and we are grasping at straws to find anybody that she may have photographed who was not a stranger. Someone must have missed her, or know something about her other than her affinity for taking photos. I leave the profiling to you, and ponder again what my pictures could say about me. I allow my eyes to wander over your face, classifying each detail.
My favorite subject. You push your glasses up the bridge of your nose, and turn another page in the album. You must have sensed me watching you, as you turn and offer me one of your crooked smiles. I think that I will take that picture too, and add it to my collection. I must have smiled about that, because you refocused your attention on the books in front of you. I wander into the kitchen, and pull a chair up to the breakfast table there. Placing my elbows on the table, I drop my forehead on to my fingertips, and let the pictures continue to scroll by.
A trio of mismatched men. One lanky and scruffy, one all business yet wary, and the third looking slightly unfinished. I could have kept several pictures of them, but I like this one, all of them hunched over a keyboard trying not to look me in the eye. I could label this one, Ďfinding out about the chickadeeí.
A stern visage, yet kind. Glasses perched officiously on his nose, as he hands me a slip of paper. I wonder if he realized at that time just how close I felt to him? Of all the times that I ever suspected him of nefarious actions, that one little moment showed me his true self, greater than any other material image.
A dark photo scrolls into my mind next. An evil man surrounded by gray smoke. I could have tossed this one away gladly, but I keep it to remind me of all the malignancies in the world.
Then you again. Your face surrounded by ice crystals. You dressed all in black, as you hold me tightly and try not to let me see how close you are to crying. Your face leaning in towards me, the look in your eyes unlike anything I had ever seen before. Telling meó
I snap up from the chair, and reach the living room in three strides. Stirring pictures aside; I grab one, the image having burned itself into my mind. "This one!" I declare, nearly tossing it at you in haste. The curiosity and wonder on your face says it all, as I try to explain the look in the eyes on the photo. "He is looking at her intently as if he knows her. Knows her very well."
"Is he the killer?" You stutter.
"I donít think so. But I do think he may have had a relationship with the woman."
"How?" you ask. I canít explain, not without telling you of the photo I used to compare it to. The look of love and knowledge on this manís face mirrors the one that I saw on yours. That I see in yours every time I look at a certain image in my mind. You rush out the door, handing the picture off to one of the policemen sent to help us out. You explain about getting a name, address, phone number and an APB. The policemen run out, and you turn slowly back to me. Mentally I reload my camera, and focus in on the look that reappears on your face. Click. Another snapshot.