14 February 2010

Slides

I love the sound of the slide projector, handing my father slides with images I have never seen, then watching as it cycles through them, turning memories into stories, and his heart into words, sometimes choked with emotion: elaborate gold palaces in Russia, a bucolic scene in Ireland, ruins in Greece, snapshots of Jerusalem, Amsterdam, Lucerne - and of course those portraits of places he struggles to remember. And then the smile of my mother, and the click of the projector either going too fast or too slow depending on the moment, the bloodshot mist of his eyes resurfacing from their home always underneath.

Last night we found slides of our house. They were taken through a fish eye lens, and the sun dappled the driveway and crystalized in soft-focussed gems on the film. Each room of the house was drenched in yellow light, and each looked unfamiliar until we studied patterns emerging from a radiator and its adjacent windows, our subconscious bubbling in warm retrospection. These rooms were skeletons dressed in different skin: foreign wallpaper, strange carpeting, and furniture I had never seen before. And in the case I did recognize something, it was changed - whether a different color or placed in an alternative orientation.

There was a shot of the upstairs bathroom. I remembered the grey and black tiles on the wall, and the small, white, hexagonal ones on the floor. I thought I remembered the sink and perhaps the shelf just behind the toilet, but maybe I was inventing those thoughts. What I did recall was an earache, the glow of the nightlight, a sip of water before bed, and kissing my parents goodnight in their dimly lit bedroom. Then I went back further to a time before me, and helped my parents move in to what would be their first and only home together, imagining everything those rooms would hold for them in time.

Then another image. This one of my mom and dad together in Greece. My dad didn't recognize himself. And then one of my mom and sister blowing bubbles in the backyard and, in the background, a shed which was no longer there, and bushes which have long since died. But I remembered them there, and I remembered my old neighbor emerging from that shed with his lawnmower. I heard it whir and smelled a freshly cut lawn, then there were white coals and a summer's barbeque.

And the projector clicked, and its light cast the past on the wall in front of us. The cat pawed at the back of the painting we had taken down for our slideshow; the sound of my dad's oxygen machine hummed softly, punctuated by his sharp inhales, and my sister arranged slides we had already seen in glossy sleeves. I sat with a full heart as if in a dream I never wanted to end, but felt the sting of knowing that it already had.

We've fallen back asleep now; we'll remember this part when we wake.