Karen Dempsey’s 26-Minute Memoir: “Lie Still”

“Wait! Wait!” my sister Moe cried. She ran into the frame to pull Megan’s sneaker off, and cast it aside. I snapped a picture of the sneaker in the brush, then aimed my Kodak Disk at Megan again, who lay face down, laughing into the curling fall leaves. We’d arranged a few dead branches across her torso.

“Lie still!” I admonished.

We took turns playing dead, posing each other and taking pictures with the camera my mother had given me for my twelfth birthday. I’d brought it along on this trip – our first and only visit to our newly-divorced father in this particular Ohio apartment.

He was on a work call, so we’d wandered out into the patch of woods behind the apartments. I peered through the camera’s viewfinder and tried to decide which set of windows belonged to his new home, but they all looked identical. Then I told my sisters to pose for a picture. They put their arms around each other and fixed smiles on their placid faces. But the posing – the pretense – was too much for us. We were sixteen, twelve and ten.

So amid the dying leaves, we imitated death. It felt more….real. We positioned ourselves precisely under fallen logs and snapped photos of each other’s still, pale faces. A closeup of a hand. Limbs arranged unnaturally. And we laughed until tears streaked our faces.

I come across the pictures in a pile of old photos of un-remembered celebrations. Birthdays, graduations. Anniversaries. The death pictures appear there, vivid and tangible behind so many forgotten moments. I study them for a long time. Replace them carefully.

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