My step-mother was sitting on the coach my dad had built. In front of her was the kitchen garbage can and beside was a box of photographs. She and my father had been married for for only a few weeks and I’d started public school. My step-mother wasn’t Catholic and didn’t want to send her daughter or my father’s money to priests and nuns.
My step-mother picked up a photo and either tore it into pieces and dropped it in the garbage can, or she left it intact and set it back in the box.
“What are you doing?” I asked, my school bag still hanging from my shoulder.
“Getting rid of these pictures,” she said and pulled apart another one. “Nobody wants these. I’m not going to have anything of that woman in this house.”
“I’ll take them,” I said and saw her rip another image of my mother in two.
“Are you listening to me?” she said. “After what that woman did to your dad, you want to keep these?” She used both hands to shove the growing pile of shredded pictures deeper into the trash can.
“I’ll take them to my grandma’s house,” I said. I wondered what she would do if I bolted forward and grabbed the box.
“Don’t you want you daddy to be happy? I’m always telling he’s to easy on you. Let’s you do what you want–that’s why you’re so ungrateful and can’t even think what it’s like for him.” She waved a photograph at me. “You’re not going to run me around like that. That stops right here. You hear me?”
My mom had written my dad a note congratulating him on his new marriage. “Your father,” my mom had said to me when I told her dad was getting married again, “deserves to be happy. I hope she’s the right woman for him. And it will be nice for you to have a woman in the house.”
I watched my step-mother tear another picture and decided in go into the kitchen. I sat on the counter and ate Tang straight from the container, the sharp sweet powder clouding up my throat. I ate another heaping spoonful. A few minutes went by before my step-mother walked through the kitchen to go to the bathroom. I ran into the living room, grabbed a handful of pictures, and ran on to my room.
Whenever my step-mother wasn’t looking, I stole photographs. I took down the other box of photos in dad’s closet and stole the ones in danger, keeping them in my book bag, smuggling them to my grandma’s house.
And I’ve been a thief of endangered photographs ever since.
Visual images are important to me in my writing. While I don’t use photographs to inspire fiction, I do use pictures in my head. My first novel started with one image–marbles on the stairs. Why? The story grew from there. The second novel–a dragon falls from the sky and lands in a playground? Then what happened? The third–a girl is whispering to her younger sister in the middle of the night. What is happening between them? The fourth–a young woman is in the water under a bridge. Did she jump or was she pushed? The fifth–a girl is putting on red lipstick. Where is she going? And the most recent–there is a man who can’t sleep searching the attic for a book. Why?
I start writing and see where these images and their questions go. I’m always surprised.
What about you? Do you ever use art or photographs to jump start a story? Help you imagine a character? Create a mood?
And have you ever stolen a photograph?