Congratulations to Almiria Wilhelm, winner of the March Penn Cove Literary Arts Award. Enjoy.
Timothy Blarney Tells the Truth
Timothy Blarney told many far-fetched stories, but none as unbelievable as that which goes with the photograph I am holding. I’ve been sorting through years of accumulated junk, but I can’t toss it onto the ‘discard’ pile as cheerfully as holiday snaps of my younger self or cheap trinkets from improbably named places. An unexpected wave of nostalgia overtakes me. Not that Timbly – as we called him – had been a close friend. We met him through Sven Karlson, who first brought him on a camping trip. Even after Sven exited this world somewhat dramatically by falling off the side of a mountain, Timbly continued coming. I wonder now who kept him in the loop. Probably the American, Mat Mitchell. He was the communicator, one could say the instigator, of our group of travel-crazed buddies.
I find I can’t go on sorting junk for the moment. As I brew myself coffee, it strikes me that the trip Timbly documented with this photograph was the last one I’d been on with the boys. We did not know that it was the last at the time, of course. Subsequently there were occasional discussions about a trip to India, or a visit to the Rockies, but they never happened. Scattered around the globe as we were, we couldn’t meet up over a drink and fire up our enthusiasm for novelty again after loosing the second member of our adventuring band.
I carry the photograph, taken in the days of dark rooms and negatives, to the window and study it in the fading light. What amazes me is the stillness it exudes, how it shows none of the panic of the days that followed. Even less can I see anything of Timbly’s wildest tale in it. To me it looks, as it always has, like an uncomplicated winter landscape with the sun’s rays distorted into a star by the lens of Timbly’s camera. Perfect, in fact, as a snowy seasonal greeting card.
Tall stories were a tradition with us. We told them on skiing trips, the warm glow of the apres ski firing up both our blood and our imaginations. We tried to frighten each other around camp fires in Africa, our rifles beside us as though we were still in the legendary dark land where something wild might surprise us. I told quite a few myself, but my aim was always to make them almost believable. Timbly, on the other hand, never bothered with even a semblance of reality. His tales were about animals like the ice-age exhibits in the Natural History Museum, or of romantic encounters with women composed of energy and light.
I wondered why, in the end, he showed this photograph only to me. He wasn’t usually shy with his imagination. I had taken a fall the day before and considered this reason enough to stay in bed for the day while the others chased records down hair-raising slopes. Except Timbly, of course. Timbly did not like skiing. He preferred long walks with his camera, returning with beautiful photographs and tales of monster wolves and ice phantoms. When we asked him why he didn’t photograph these things, he said such phenomena did not exist on a frequency his camera could capture.
“I have something to show you,” he said that day, not bothering to knock. I looked up, my mind far away in a world peopled by rotten cops, ex-servicemen and CIA agents. I was prepared to admire his photography, especially as he showed no intention of boring me with the whole batch he had just developed. I was not, however, going to listen to his latest improbable tale. I preferred my improbable novel. He got as far as the radiant spot on the photograph not being the sun but an alien ship in the process of landing before I kicked him out. At the door he stopped and tried to tell me about the beings that had streamed out of the UFO. They were weightless and composed of light, much like his fantasy women. I threw a book at him to make him go away. Not the one I was reading. The one I’d finished the night before. He placed the photograph on the folded underwear in my open suitcase and left.
When Timbly didn’t appear for supper, we assumed he’d gone to bed. At breakfast we assumed he’d taken an early morning walk. Only that evening did the uncomfortable feelings in my stomach become insistent enought that I convinced the others to take action with me. As we pushed our weight against his unyielding bedroom door, I sweated with worry over having missed a coded signal that he intended to commit suicide. But there was no-one inside the room. His luggage was there and his photographic equipment, all except for his camera. We went out into the snow to search for him. The next day, professionals joined us. The third day they called a helicopter.
The photograph was shut into my suitcase when I threw my things in for an early departure. The silence between us was making me jumpy. The local authorities promised to notify us of any findings. I wondered vaguely whether they believed us. Men do not vanish like beings of light and air. Nevertheless, Timothy Blarney was gone. I cannot say that we grieved greatly for our friend. As I said, he was not very close to any of us, but his mysterious dissapearence left a lingering sense of discomfort which, I now believe, prevented us from getting together again.
I tear the photograph into strips, watching the radiant paper sun split down the middle. I intend to exorcise this ghost. Tomorrow I’ll call up Mat, ask him to arrange something. Pleased with my resolution, I stare at the setting sun outside. There must be something funny in the atmosphere today. The sun’s rays are consolidating, coagulating into the shape of a star