Photograph by Carla Borel, Story by Ali Harper
“Shoot me,” he’d said. “I’d rather die than experience life without you.”
She hadn’t got the rest of her sentence out, scared of what would happen once they escaped her lips. He’d left for work and she’d paced the apartment ever since, a bubble about to burst.
She caught sight of her camera hanging on the hook behind the door. The law of perpetual movement - a centrifugal force that might pin the words inside her. The camera gave her purpose, agency. She slung it over her shoulder, wore it like a shield.
The fiesta had taken everyone with a pulse to the west of the city. She turned east, thrust her hands in pocket and strode forward. Was it perhaps part of her punishment? To be banished? The sin inside her not yet released but there all the same. She knew, God knew and of course on some level he knew. He must know. She was altered, different, not the same.
They’d been together fifteen years and in the beginning the intensity of him had been what attracted her. He knew what he wanted and he took it, believing that everything belonged to him. He told her he loved her, said he’d known since the moment he’d first laid eyes on her, crossing the restaurant, her tray balanced mid-air. She didn’t notice him, - apparently he’d been in three or four times before he’d offered to buy her a drink. She’d told him she didn’t drink and at the end of the night, the manager gave her the cash he’d left for her behind the bar.
Cash was important back then, because the rent had to be paid. But for the first time in her life being poor didn’t matter, because art school was everything she’d hoped it would be - the gentle intelligence of the tutors, the other students, bright and colourful, like exotic birds. The materials they got to use, the small studio she’d been allocated on her first day. She’d grown up dreaming of it and now she was actually here and it didn’t matter that she spent more time waitressing than painting, because breathing in the atmosphere was enough.
Their first date he’d taken her to see the Alambra, the palace built to the ideal of leisure, of art, of a life without work, a life of beauty. She’d wandered round the gardens, bewitched. That life could be so abundant, carefree. He’d laughed at her and said he’d go mad without work. He belonged to that world – the world of money, business deals, of buying and selling. He said he’d be content just to be her muse. The next day in her tiny studio with its secondhand radio, she’d tried to capture the sights, the smells, the feeling of being with him, to nail them to the canvas so that she would always remember their intoxicating freedom.
She’d moved in with him the next month, into his flat overlooking the river, the bridge outside the window, spanning the world, a stairway to heaven. And she no longer had to worry about the bills. He earned more than he could spend he said, and he liked to spend it on her. She tried to resist but he was persuasive. Told her she could pay him back when she’d made her name, when her paintings were selling for thousands on the walls of the Louvre, the Tate, all over the world. He wanted to invest in her, he said.
She’d experimented, found the camera to be her favourite. She’d never had a camera before art school, her dad unable to afford such luxuries. She put aside her paints for photos, because with a camera it was all about the moment, you either caught it or you didn’t. There were no second chances and there was something about that she liked. The fact that some moments escaped.
The first gallery to exhibit her work was smaller than her dad’s kitchen, and that was saying something. But another year later and a larger gallery in a better part of town. She was nearly thirty by then and they’d been together eleven years. Eleven years in which he’d paid for everything.
In the four years since she’d made enough money to leave him. She’d known by then that he didn’t want her to pay him back, so she’d hidden it away, a secret bank account. She’d stockpiled like those who had lived through the wars do because she’d always known there would come a time when she wanted to go and he wouldn’t let her. She’d learned that from her father. Men don’t love, they own.
She stopped, stood still and took the phone from her pocket. “Meet me on the bridge,” she texted. “It’s the perfect day for a photo.”
The bubble had stretched to breaking point. She couldn’t hold it. If he wouldn’t let her go, she had to let go of him.
After fifteen years, he still had no idea. He’d never experienced hunger, didn’t know the extremes it drove you to. He didn’t realise how ruthless it made you. Didn’t understand that when you have nothing, you cling to your dreams like life-rafts, because your dreams are all you have to keep you afloat. He believed her father committed suicide because he couldn’t live with being poor.
“The skyline is amazing,” she said, as they met in the middle of the bridge that spanned the river, south-east of the city. “Look at the colours.”
“You must have a hundred photos of me on here.”
“Today, you look more handsome,” she said. “Show me your teeth. You know I love your teeth.”
He smiled at her and she moved in for the close up. “Step back, just one step,” she said. She held a hand against his cheek, the camera still between them, waiting. One push. Short, sharp, hard. The shutter clicked for the final time, caught the surprise in his eyes.
Jo Jakeman was the winner of the prestigious Friday Night Live competition at York Festival of Writing. Her debut Psychological Thriller was published in the UK as Sticks and Stones by Harvill Secker (Penguin Random House) and as The Exes’ Revenge in the USA and Canada. Her second thriller SAFE HOUSE is due summer 2019. Follow her on twitter @JoJakemanWrites
Yigit Gunel got his first camera when he was 12. This led him to study Journalism; he got a bachelor’s degree graduating with a photography project in 2002. After that, he took an MFA in Visual Communication Design. Since 2007, he has been working with worldwide advertisement clients, agencies and magazines. Follow him on instagram @ygstudiouk