A/N: I wrote this when I was in a somewhat relaxed, odd-ish mood. It doesn't really make sense to the mind at first glance and there's really no focused "point" - but that's the beauty of the story. Questions, comments, compliments, and critique welcome. Flames will be noted.
She always had a camera with her. From the time she was a baby and Hart accidentally dropped the family's best Canon into the carriage—and consequently almost cracked her skull open, thus receiving a harsh scolding from Mama—Elle was always looking through the eye of the camera, taking on a different view of the world.
People said it was because of her disability. Elle could only see like the classic black-and-white photographs she produced: she was never able to see the colors. Mama said it was a shame, really, because Elle was the most alert one in the family. She said that if maybe Elle could see in color, none of this would have happened. For hours at a time, Elle would just sit in a corner of the house and observe things, taking everything into her bright, piercing blue eyes that could not see the color they possessed.
Elle's world was limited; not because of her disability, but because other people made it so. In kindergarten, her teachers would always call on her—the quietest person in the class automatically always got picked on—to point out the different colors of the rainbow. Elle didn't answer but sat obstinately still, lips set, hands clenched around her Fisher Price 'My First Camera'. It wasn't until Mama came in to explain her disorder—and her stubbornness, at that—when the teachers let Elle slide off their 'bad children' list.
But the other children didn't let it go from their own simple minds so easily. Elle was teased, pushed around, called names, and just because she had a little problem with her eyes. The fact that Elle never retaliated, only stared at her abusers with a knowing eye, caused the children to give her all the more grief. It did not stop, and Elle grew up paler, thinner, smaller, and wider-eyed than Mama would have liked. She seemed to often shrink into her black hair until her face was hidden, only her blue eyes peeking out of the curtain. She never knew, nor admitted to, how pretty she was and how beautiful she could become if only she smiled more… and maybe cut her hair to the latest style. And Elle was quiet. Even Hart teased her about that for a while as siblings do… until he saw her photographs.
Elle's photographs were always a little disturbing. Even as a toddler when she was lugging around her Fisher Price toy, when Mama took her to the local drug store to get them developed, she got them back expecting to see her daughter's photos of the family smiling, flowers from the backyard, and Elle's stuffed animals. Mama had been fondly spying on Elle, and she knew all her daughter's favorite capture spots.
The photos were of those subjects… but different. In the group picture of the family, all of them were looking off to the side somewhere, without a trace of a smile in any of them. There was an odd sense of fear in all of their faces, and most of them had red eyes even though they weren't looking at the camera. Flipping hastily to the next one of a perfect red rose, Mama had almost smiled until she noticed the rose wasn't in focus, but two tiny things at the bottom were. One of them was a pair of red ants: one was carrying its dead mate in its mouth, struggling to get it back to the anthill; the other one was a half-smothered stamp of Queen Elizabeth, her eyes neatly peeking out of the gravel. The picture of Elle's stuffed animals was no better. The stuffed animals were all turned away from the camera, their distorted shadows taking up most of the picture.
Mama didn't ask Elle about these; merely took them home and tried to hide the photos. But Hart found them when he was searching for loose-leaf paper; and his similar blue eyes grew wider with every shot before Mama discovered him sitting amongst the scattered photos and made him put them back.
After that Hart didn't tease Elle anymore. Mama tried to encourage Elle to take brighter pictures; she bought her countless books on photography for kids and placed them strategically around the house, hoping Elle would pick one up. Elle didn't. She merely scrounged around for them all, found them, and took a picture of them. She tacked them on her wall, though nobody knew why.
At school, whenever there was a competition for photography, Elle never won any recognition. It was as if the judges were frightened of this little girl's capability… almost as if they were afraid if, Elle's photos were publicized, she
would be able to destroy the world with the pieces of developed paper like she had already destroyed their view of what an 'exceptional photo' was.
Elle never gave up. During her teen years, she moved on to cadavers, taking pictures of different body parts from different angles and making sure to capture the sickly tinge in their skin just so. These she tacked on her ceiling and walls as well, until the pale yellow paint couldn't be seen anymore and nobody, not even Hart, was brave enough to enter her room for very long.
By the time Elle entered her junior year in high school, she was carrying a professional Mitsubishi GT600 around with her in her schoolbag at all times, randomly taking it out and snapping a photo. The teachers had given up telling her to put it away, and the other students already knew to ignore her by now.
"Why don't you take a picture of me," Mama would ask Elle when they were in the greenhouse tending to flowers, or baking a cake in the kitchen, still with a frail hope in her mind that Elle could capture a positive moment. And Elle always complied, but she had a knack to capture Mama's movement of accidentally spearing a worm with her spade, the loose dirt in the act of spilling onto the ground below, the roots of the poppies sticking out like gnarled hands. Or when Mama mixed the raw eggs and flour together creating mulch that she dug her hands into, Elle somehow made the mush look like crushed organs running through Mama's hands.
One time, when Hart came home flushed, sweaty, and in a bad mood after a horrible game of basketball, he decided to take it out on Elle when the first thing he laid eyes on was a picture of a green, molding foot that had drifted under the mahogany table in the front hall.
"Why don't you get a life, freak?" He yelled at her. "You need to get laid or something.
"Maybe if you saw things in color you'd realize there's life outside of dead bodies." And he stomped to his room.
Elle didn't say anything back. She merely watched her older brother leave through blank eyes.
And that was the day the accident happened.
Elle was driving home from school one dreary evening in December. That day, after Hart's outburst, Elle had had a lecture from her photography teacher. He'd told her that if she didn't shape her grades up in that class, then she wouldn't be able to graduate from high school. "Take a good, meaningful self portrait," He told her, placing emphasis on the word 'good'. Elle had been concentrating hard, thinking of a good portrait as she slowly veered her gray Ford Taurus out of the parking lot. As Manhattan winters go, the whirling snow and torrents of fog made it hard for her to see. As she slowly turned a corner, her camera slipped from the backseat and tumbled under Elle's seat. Elle frantically dug for it, her hands scrabbling under her seat, when a flash went off.
Scowling that she'd wasted one of the three last pictures on the roll of film, she dug around some more, her hands full of stray lint and molding bits of crumbs, until her thumb finally caught on the cloth strap. Anxiously pulling it up, she was locking the capture button and suddenly saw something she never hoped to see in this life but one way or another did: a dashing whirl of brilliant colors flew by her eyes…and then she raised her camera…
The witnesses said that the middle-aged man had stepped off the road exiting the bakery with his baguettes, the car that came around the corner slammed into him quickly, veered to the side, hit another red car, and flipped over.
When the discombobulated voice on the other end of the line informed Hart, the only one home at that moment, he panicked and ran out into the snow in only his trousers, his hair still damp from his earlier shower.
Even as he pushed through the crowd of onlookers, pushed himself under the yellow CAUTION tape, pushed himself past the huddled police officers and the ambulance drivers to the three stretchers in front of the red and blue flashing lights, he didn't believe Elle was dead. She couldn't be, not when the last thing Hart yelled at her to do was to see things in color—the one thing she wanted more than anyone else but couldn't have. She couldn't be dead. It wasn't fair that way.
Even as he unveiled her pale, lifeless face caked over with blood, open blue eyes still emptily gazing out at the life in which surrounded her but one where she could no longer be a part of, he didn't believe it. Elle was just observing again, wanting to know what it felt like to lay in a stretcher and stare up at the gray sky. She wasn't dead. She couldn't be.
Hart's eyes were stinging like mad when a police officer tapped him on the shoulder. Jerking around, he looked down and met the short, stubby woman's eyes. She was holding a badly dented, bloody camera in her hands. "We found this with the girl." She told him before gently placing it in his hands and walking away.
Hart ran a finger down the cloth strap, which now contained red fingerprints all over it. He turned it over in his hand.
The camera lens was neatly cracked down the middle; the ugly gash making sure that it would never take a picture anymore. The camera had died with the possessor.
They decided to develop the roll of film still safely contained in the camera. Amongst the usual pictures of odds and ends, three of them made Elle's self-portrait. The first was a blurred, hazy shot of a Manhattan winter from inside a window. A hand darkened most of the picture, the fingers stretched out in bizarre positions as it desperately grasped for the viewer. The second one was nothing except a flash of magnificent colors that made no sense at all.
The third one made Mama cry when she saw it, both out of grief and fear. Elle had not changed her ways. She had apparently timed the camera and propped it up on something to take a picture when she lay crushed under the car, dying. When the picture of that one was shot, Elle had already died. Of course there was a crack down the length of the photo from the injured camera lens; her eyes were glazed over, the piercing blue now dull and milky; the blood from her face and body was seeping out to the edges of the photo; her black hair was smeared over her sweaty face, covering one of her eyes; her neck was twisted to an uncanny angle… but she was smiling.
When they remade Elle's room a year later, Hart went temporarily mad and took the liberty of tearing all the photos down from the walls rather violently. Then, rushing outside with a huge bundle of torn photographs, he drove down to Elle's grave, hastily piled all the pictures by the big oak tree, and set the whole mess on fire.
The pictures lit up and glowered at Hart accusingly before curling into themselves, turning a dark brown. Fortunately, it started raining before the fire could spread; the fire grew smaller and smaller, the smoke gradually clearing away. Before it went out completely, Hart took out from his pocket the three pictures on the day of Elle's death.
He lit the one of the colors on fire first and aggressively threw it into the brown pile of pulp, watching the colors of the photo disappear into a murky brown… just like Elle's vision. The second one, the one of Elle's hand, was next. He ripped that one in halves, quarters, eighths, sixteenths; before he threw them into the air and watched about half of them float into the flames.
The last one, he stared a long time at Elle's face before tossing it in as well. His sister shouldn't have to be remembered that way. The flames started at her face first, destroying her glazed blue eye's distant gaze.
The pouring rain got to the last of the fire before the last picture was completely burned.
It was a long time before Hart picked it back up again.
There was a charred hole where Elle's inert face had been. All that was left was the intricate details of the grit and gravel… and the seeping blood.
Hart carefully put the ruined picture back in his pocket, turning to head for home again.
All traces of the old Elle were gone. She could probably see in color now.
Take a breath and make it deep; it might be the last one you get…
…So much life away from pain…