Oh… here we go again. Packing up, but hopefully the last time I recon if in truth I get there. I can’t remember the number of times I’ve moved in my life – too many. I’m trimming my chattels ‘cause my new digs are compact. Now I must decide what goes and what’s tossed. I’ve carted and carried these Herculean bags of photographs from home to home. Let me bestow another glance. Do I even remember who’s in these likenesses?

I’ve given the armoire to the couple next door. I don’t want to lug a heavy piece like that across country. I know it’s worth a few bucks, ah…. what do I care? Time is a ticking. Tickety tick. Tickety tock. I’m heading for the dock. I think about it a lot. The dock, that is. Loading my pockets with stones and taking a leap right in. I wouldn’t say I’m a misery. OK, sometimes. Still, I feel like a rusty old bolt where everything hurts, seized-up from overuse and senectitude.

Now let’s see, eye us fresh and full of expectation. I must be about seventeen and there’s Ida and Henry. Aren’t we a tasty lot? Time has had its way with us. Ida passed long ago and I have no clue whatever became of Henry. Myself, I stay well clear of mirrors now. My turn is a-coming.

First off, have a peek. Art school. I can’t throw these away. I think those days were the most fun of my life. The contact sheets, black and white emulsions falling on the wooden floorboards like turned autumn leaves. Leather and pale skin. Mohawks. Bejewelled faces and ears adorned with rings and studs. Bright eyes with hints of the devil in them. Danger. Those were the days all right. We thought we were something and I guess every generation does. Why has life become so mundane? Dull as dishwater they say from whence I hatch.

I’ve recorded these visual memories like a diary. So when someone becomes foggy in my recollection, I only have to pick one up and there they are whole and complete and I’m instantly living in that moment when the light, the longing and the joke was savoured like it had been in that sliver of instance.

Not sure what to pitch. Here are cousins I think. I don’t even remember their names. Out. And these ol’ high school photos? Well, that’s Heather, my bestie, back then. Man, she could be long dead for all I know, but I’ll keep her because she meant something once. The others – sayonara.

Oh, my! Check this out – the oil patch years. There we are smoking a joint, layered in mud leaning on the hood of our truck. Those were crazy days. Working four hundred hours a month, seven days a week. Doing seismographic exploration, everyone saving for a distinct cause. I remember living deep in the bush and waiting for ‘message hour’ that came on the local radio somewhere far from us at the same time every afternoon. Folk lived so removed from each other that the local station put out messages for neighbors. Don’t forget now, this is about fifteen years before the Internet. One could hear an announcement like:

“Fred, come pick up your yellow bucket.”

“Mike. Stop shooting deer on my land.”

“Hazel. Those cheddar tea biscuits were out of this world. Give me some more my lovely.”

And here, we are around the sixth hour in an eight drive on a cutline through the hinterland to the nearest town when Look and Behold! A hunter with a rifle slung over his back hitchhiking, standing there in the middle of nowhere smoking a cigarette. Of course we gave him a lift to town.

Our fortress. We were lucky as children with the sea spread before us and the woods at our backs. We had it all. Treasure hunting, forts in the woods made of tree branches and old rocks. Often, a bit of cloth topped with the cool breath of emerald moss. How we played outside from morning to night, swimming, roaming. Stopping only for a quick bite. Endless days of summer with hours of playing dress up with spears made of tree branches and crowns woven of twigs and wild flowers.

Man. I thought I had destroyed all of these, yet there she is – Ophelia, smirking, staring right at me with her intense blue eyes. They never found her body, I made sure of that. I’m not proud of what I did; still ya can’t shift the past. The night was humid and the sky clear bursting with stars. My mind is dimmer than it used to be yet I can remember it like it happened a mere nanosecond ago.

It was our party place deep in the woods. Far from the eyes and ears of the police. We drank, smoked reefers, often consuming other illicit substances. Hell yeah, it was the seventies and we were teenagers. Those were the days all right, full of freedom and hope. Not as now, where the world seems to be nearing the edge and there isn’t a single thing to grab on to.

That particular evening Ophelia came across Alfie and me. She was what you would call – a mean girl. Always smiling with her perfect orthodontist-treated teeth as she plotted to steal someone’s boyfriend or ignite a rumour about a rival. Alfie had fallen for her charms as all the boys did.

We were hanging out drinking wine and dreaming about a future, which we imagined would be more interesting than where we were sitting amongst the trees on that summer night. She rolled up in her sky blue Karmann Ghia convertible on the old road next to the lake. We were at the rocks with a cozy fire at the base of our feet from the ground level fire pit. We weren’t allowed to make fires up there, yet we always doused it with lake water at the end of the eve. We respected the land.

I reckon Ophelia was looking for a party, because most times there was always a gang tripping out and skinny-dipping up there. She was none too pleased when she saw only Alfie and me. She started name-calling, saying I liked her sloppy seconds and firing off a slew of insults that hung in the air like the fireflies that danced against those nights.

Feast your eyes, my parents’ wedding photos. What a vision. I am an only child and I never had any of my own. Who’ll want to keep these? My grandmother is also there in the bridal party. She always said, Lucille, you were born on a Wednesday and Wednesday’s child is full of woe don’t you know?

I was a moody kid. Bored I reckon, because I was often alone having no siblings to hang with. We lived a ways out and I had a fair hoof to my playmates’ homes. I had a friendly mutt named Buttercup. She was so sweet and we went everywhere together until she was killed by a pack of coyotes.

Look at her smiling for the camera with a juicy beef bone at the base of her front paws. It still can bring tears. I’ll keep this one. And there’s Marty, Rhonda and me on one of our canoe trips down river in middle school. We camped and spoke about our future plans, which never came to fruition. Vamoose.

Ophelia leers again in a group photo at one of our parties. I don’t remember the names of the others. This one has to go. Sure, I’ve had interludes of remorse at times. But hey, she asked for it. Getting out of her fancy car and spewing those contemptuous remarks, well look at you two losers and so forth on that hot summer night.

Alfie and I had a couple of bottles open and when she strutted over she purposely knocked them with her foot, breaking them without apology. Who gives a shit about your cheap slosh anyways, as she kicked dirt into our fire? It was at that precise moment I got up and pushed her. It happened in an instant. She lost her balance and fell backwards, striking her blonde endowed head on a boulder. Our watering hole was a ridge of smooth and sharp bedrock with the atmosphere of an ancient monument. I knew she was dead and in that jiff I didn’t feel a single drop of guilt. Then the panic set in.

Alfie started screaming and I quickly told him to hush. We had to think about what to do. His uncle was a sort of crook and had a garage where he bought and sold stolen cars. Sometimes, he just stripped them for parts. I imagine he got a tidy sum for the Karmann Ghia. He probably just repainted and sold it. I never asked.

I suggested we drive the car over to his shop once we got rid of her body. The lake was out of the equation. That was the first place the police looked. Sending the divers down there to the depths and others to the forest to scan the timbered floor.

Well, well whom do we have here? Look at us on Halloween. Happy with our pillowcases overfilled with treats, our faces brimming with mischief and delight. And there we are again, my childhood comrades, carolling on Christmas Eve. Every year there was a fight deciding who would carry the bells. The older kids in our tiny group always beat us on that one.

I don’t like thinking about Ophelia. I’ve put her way back in the deep pockets of my mind, nevertheless re-examining this photograph I can conjure up her snarly little mouth with her oh-so-perfect pouty lips. Alfie was crazed with fear that night, but he was bound to me and I needed him. We lived in a land of lakes. Each one a short distance from the next. They couldn’t explore all of them so we took her out to Sawmill Lake. It was a fair drive away and disarmingly pretty from the shore, though you wouldn’t want to swim there. It had leaches the size of small snakes.

We stuffed her in the trunk, which was rather easy and gathered some heavy rocks to load her down. Luckily enough, there was some rope in the trunk with the spare tire. We needed a boat and headed to a lake further away where cottage folk congregated on weekends. Alfie found a light, compact rowboat straight off the bat. We untied her from the dock and quickly portaged it up the hill securing it onto the roof of Ophelia’s car.

Hush! Hush! Hush! I told Alfie who was driving erratically shouting and crying and stating this is the end of life as we know it. Pay attention now! We have to be clever. Once we dropped her in the middle of the lake with the spare tire loaded with rocks and debris we came back to shore and burned the boat, saturated it with lake water, then covered the ashes with fresh dirt and forest vegetation. Keep in mind now, this is years before DNA was testable.

Alfie took the car to his uncle’s and it was never seen again. We don’t know exactly what he did with it, but Alfie told him he was in trouble and to get rid of it. We made an oath never to speak of her and we never got the chance, really. Poor Alfie took sick not long after and died quickly from acute myeloid leukemia. He was the sweetest boy and it took a lot out of me. Sometimes he visits my dreams. He sits in that rowboat not uttering a word only staring at me as I repeat hush, hush. Only his presence is tangible.

The blue dress. I had bought it for the graduation prom. I imagine girls still do those things. Who knows, I’m never around young ‘uns. I felt good in that rig and had searched for weeks looking for the perfect gown. And wouldn’t you know it – Ophelia turned up in the very same. Only our corsages were unique. Anyway, most of us partied too much and ended up spewing our din-dins over our pretty steamed frocks. I left the prom early with someone other than my date stepping out into that summer evening. I didn’t want to be anywhere near her.

There we are on the ice. We skated on the small cove that froze enough each season for winter fun. And even though we were just little bits far from the eyes of adults, we jumped on the broken ice sheets that shattered with the tides. Leaping from one floating block of ice to another. Sometimes getting wet toes from losing a foothold. That’s Ana, Cindy, Liz and me all sporting pink little cheeks with wool hats and mittens. I’m holding a big stick. I’m holding on to this one.

Another family photograph: my aunt Jane and her boyfriend Dean. He was a true creep always inviting me to sit on his lap or go for a little walk far from the eyes of others. I never did. I remember his sinister eyes and his slanted grin. Why she stayed with him I’ll never know. Anyhow they’ve all long checked out. Arriverderci.

Ophelia’s family put up a big reward. The search went on for a few years with the flyers dwindling over time until the case was cold. Frosty as her heart. Folk used to say how sad it was and all that rigmarole just to sound sympathetic and to feel better about themselves, still beforehand they always said what a little bitch she was. And truth be told, she wasn’t missed.

There we are at the folk festival down in the valley. Don’t know half the folk in this picture. We camped there for the weekend, our own little Woodstock. We weren’t yet eighteen, but we got the go ahead to hang there for the weekend. Only if our parents had known the goings-on, there would have been another story. My friend’s cousin gave me some kind of tranquilizer and I missed the entire festival sleeping the day away. What a waste of time.

Here’s one of mom and dad. Often it pains me to look at these images. Lost loves and dead friends. When my parents died I couldn’t look at their photographs for many years. I felt their disappointment and judgements. I wasn’t the easiest of daughters. I was wild, yet most of us were back then. We wanted excitement and change and we were certain that we were going to get it.

The years settle in and before you know it many have passed, accumulating with them age and hardships. Bitterness and banality. I know it isn’t so for all folk, but it has been for me. Life is closing in. Becoming smaller and smaller and insignificant.

When I ponder at some of these frames it ignites a sort of joy or at the very least a warmth in my heart. Especially when I see the old black and whites. We all shot with black and white film back then and developed in our art school lab. We tried to be avant-garde and we were for the most part. There’s Erik with his blue comic book hair all standing on end with spikes that nearly reached the heavens and Freda with a thousand ear studs and a nose ring. We always got into the clubs. Never had to wait in line for even a minute anointed with the outstretched arm and pointed finger. Bloody hell, now I’m lucky if someone offers me a seat on the bus or holds a door. Societies run on their inner egos.

Lookie here. Sarah. Now Sarah was a character. Sweet name, but she could drop you in a second if you glanced sideways at her. Heard she was a veterinarian. Out in the boonies. Treating cattle and horses. Pigs and sheep. I have no use for this memento.

Man, I can’t believe I’ve held on to this. Freddy. He raped me. I guess it’s what you’d call date rape. I reckon it happened to many a girl back in the day. Everyone high on something with order unpredictable like a shifty foundation. Don’t know what became of him. Bye bye.

Bryan. Now he was something or rather still is. Here he is with his face airbrushed robin egg blue. He’s still around. An artist. I check him out now and again. Follow his work and installations. He has a big life. And I’m a bit jealous I must admit. I wonder if he’s happy…? Folk like to pretend they are even if it isn’t true. Obscuring authenticity and hiding their disappointments like an old dirty hankie.

I’ve taken to drink over the years. It keeps Ophelia away, off in the distance of time and space. I won’t keep her photo. She’s branded in my memory. A loathsome little image that I can’t get rid of. Some of us have talents for obliterating recollections. Nevertheless her she’s always there like an itchy scar.

She came to me in a dream last night. Sitting in the very same rowboat with Alfie. She was talking aggressively, yet I couldn’t decipher a single word. Her mouth twisted and moved and I knew she was oozing obnoxious remarks. I wanted the boat to sink, but it sat there fixed in the clear water.

Then in an instant it drifted far out into the blue and I couldn’t see their faces or imagine her words spun of scorn and spite. A dense mist descended, obscuring them from sight. I hope she stays there in the fog of my mind. Never materializing as the succubus she truly was if only for a second. Let her suspend in forgotten remembrances. A mere daydream in the tempo of my camera-eye.

Susan E Lloy is the author of two short story collections, But When We Look Closer (2017) and Vita (2019). Also a children’s book Coo and the Loo (2020). For fiction Susan likes to write about unconventional characters and context who exist on the edges of ordinary life. She lives in Montreal.