Holiday Snaps

by Hazell Ward, from Wrexham, Wales

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Then, Jane painted portraits, mostly. But when Laura knocked at the door of her flat and gave her one of her holiday snaps and asked her to paint it, Jane reluctantly agreed. It wasn’t that she found landscapes difficult. It was just that Jane couldn’t help feeling that it was a little tactless of Laura to ask her at all.

Venice at sunrise. It was a lovely snap and Jane knew just what materials to use to do it justice.

But still.

Jane could feel Outside pushing against the walls of her basement flat, insistent and menacing, and she double locked the door against it after Laura left, and she held her hand against the edges of the windows to check that Outside was not stealing in through the cracks. She felt the familiar constriction in her throat and the pounding in her chest. But she was safe, for now, and she checked the blackout curtains and breathed again.

Jane worked hard on the picture. She wanted to capture the peculiar way the light reflected off the water and the buildings, which were old and crumbling, but still with the remnants of magnificence, like a beautiful woman, just a little past her prime. She painted day after day, and long into the night, to get it just right. The first picture was good, very good she thought, but it didn’t quite live as she wanted it to, so Jane set it aside and painted another. Quicker this time, the brushstrokes more assured, Jane knew exactly what to do and her brush moved by itself, reforming the canvas and the paint into a living, breathing, Venice before her eyes.

Jane stared at the picture for hours. She could feel herself sitting at a cafe table, along the bank of the Grand Canal, sipping espresso and watching the waking-world float by, and she found it comforting. This was not a feeling she had had about Outside in years, so when Laura came to collect her picture, Jane gave her the good copy.

‘It’s fantastic,’ said Laura, and Jane was pleased because now she knew that Laura didn’t deserve the great copy, which was hanging on the wall behind Jane’s carefully closed bedroom door, at just the spot where Jane could see it when she opened her eyes each morning.

Laura gave Jane fifty pounds for her trouble, then she put the picture on the floor without another glance, while she told Jane all about her trip.

‘... You really ought to go,’ she said, as she finally stood to leave.

Jane said that there was no need. She had the picture, and that was enough.

‘But you don’t even have that anymore,’ said Laura, picking up her painting, again without looking at it. Jane felt a quickening of her heart as Laura opened the front door. Outside was stealing in, and Jane wanted to give Laura a great push and slam the door shut. But Laura turned in the open doorway and said, ‘I’ve had an idea.’

Outside was filling the hallway. Luckily, Jane had closed the doors into the other rooms or the whole house would be infected, but she could already feel Outside suffocating her, creeping into her lungs and expanding; squeezing out the oxygen.

‘Oh yes?’ Jane gasped.

‘I’m going to Paris next week. Why don’t I take some snaps and if I find a likely one, I can bring it and you can paint that for me too.’

‘Ok,’ said Jane, gripping the wall for support.

‘Great,’ said Laura and stepped out and up the steps to her own flat.

Shakily, Jane double locked and bolted the door. She took a moment to steady herself, then got the cleaning materials from the hall cupboard and began to disinfect the hallway until all traces of Outside had been expunged and the tight band around her chest had loosened. Then Jane went and lay on her bed and looked into her picture of Venice and felt the rising sun begin to warm her skin, and watched the sun play on the ripples of water as a Vaporetto motored by slowly, carrying tourists and Venetians alike.

Over the next month, Jane began to feel rather happy without knowing why. She caught herself humming a tune more than once and sometimes she would get a sudden urge to throw open the windows, which she knew was silly, and dangerous. But she would open the blackout curtains and stare at the little patch of daylight which was all that could be seen of Outside from the confines of her basement flat, and she would wonder whether Laura was home yet.

It was almost six weeks before Laura came round again, which, Jane felt, was typically inconsiderate of her. At first Jane was disappointed with the picture – the Champs Elysees at night. Then she noticed how the streetlamps were reflected in the pavement, newly wet after a shower of rain, and the black night sky transformed into inky blues and browns down the avenue of lights. If she shifted the perspective just slightly, she thought, she would have the perfect place from which to view Paris.

Jane was so anxious to get to work, that she barely noticed when Laura left, and though she closed the door after her, she forgot to double lock it and never knew a thing about it till the following day, and by then she was caught up with the sky and hardly even worried about it. The sky was tricky. She wanted to capture velvety thick darkness pierced by diamond bright light, reflecting far up into the heavens, shimmying through cloud, softening and diffusing as it went. She wanted to feel the crisp night air on her face, hear the slap of her shoes along the wet pavements, and the sound of cars going by, horns blaring, engines revving down the crowded street.

Then, Jane painted two pictures, and this time both of them were very very good, and she kept one for herself and hung it in her room on the other side of the bed, so that she could be in Venice every morning and Paris every evening. Jane was happy. Once or twice in the early mornings she opened her bedroom window a crack, closed her eyes, and put her nose to the gap and breathed in fresh cool air and imagined that she was walking towards the Arc de Triomphe.

When Laura came back for the Paris picture, she wasn’t quite so pleased. ‘It doesn’t look exactly the way it did in my snap.’

Jane explained about the perspective, and how by moving just slightly to the left, she had improved the balance of the picture and how it now gave a sweeping view down the avenue.

‘Hmm,’ said Laura, ‘but, you see, that’s where I stood when I took the picture... Never mind, I’m sure you did your best.’ She gave Jane twenty pounds for her trouble and took the painting up to her flat.

 

Jane heard, from the lady in flat 2, that Laura was planning a trip to Prague and Jane grew excited at the prospect of visiting somewhere new. But Laura didn't bring her any holiday snaps, though Jane waited and waited. Yes, the lady in flat 2 said, she was definitely back, but perhaps she was busy.

Jane lay in bed and looked at a space on the wall in front of her where she longed to hang Prague. She tried to go there in her mind, but without the holiday snap to work from, she could see nothing. Perhaps Laura had simply forgotten to bring the snaps down. It would be just like her, Jane thought. So inconsiderate.

Jane could not sleep. Laura should have given her the photo by now. It had been weeks. What if Laura didn't ever bring the photo? What if she didn't ever get to go to Prague? The next morning, Jane opened her front door, stepped out, just as Laura was leaving for work, and called out a friendly greeting. Laura looked surprised to see her.

'Er, hi Jane,' she said, stuffing papers into a briefcase.

Jane said it had been a while and why didn't Laura pop round for a chat one night and show her the holiday snaps?

'Er, yeah, maybe,' said Laura, and hurried away.

Then, Jane knew that Laura was never going to bring her the pictures. And though she could feel Outside pressing against her, touching her skin, creeping through her mouth and her nostrils and the pores of her skin, still Jane made her way up the steps as soon as Laura had left, and she slipped inside the building. Jane had a spare key to a lot of the flats – Laura's, the lady from flat two, and a gentleman who had a flat on the second floor but only visited three or four weeks a year. Jane was the ideal person to hold spare keys. She was always in and could be relied on not to snoop through the rooms while the occupants were away.

Usually.

Jane could feel a pounding in her chest, but it was excitement, not fear, that drove her on. All she had to do was find Laura's camera and borrow the memory card. She could put it back tomorrow and Laura would never know.

She had never been in Laura's flat. It was larger than her own and furnished expensively but not, Jane thought, with any style. She looked around and wondered where the camera might be. She opened a few drawers without luck, checked the bureau in the hall and looked in the kitchen cupboards. She opened the door to the study and saw the picture of Venice on the wall above the desk. Jane looked around for Paris and eventually found it down the side of the desk on the floor, along with a pile of old newspapers and a few magazines.

Jane was incensed. How dare she? She took back the picture of Paris, and for good measure she took Venice back too. Laura didn't deserve to have them.

Then she spied the camera sitting on the desk and grabbed as well, before hurrying back to her own flat.

Jane checked the camera carefully but there were no pictures of Prague. In fact, there were no pictures at all since the Paris trip. Jane wondered whether Laura had another camera. She would have to go back tomorrow and check again.

There was a knock at the door and Laura was standing on her doorstep, coldly furious. She knocked Jane out of the way and marched inside. 'Have you been in my flat, you little creep,' she said, and strode into the living room, where she saw her camera on Jane's desk.

'You have. You have. Pretending to everyone that you're claustrophobic. Sneaky little bugger.'

'Agoraphobic.'

'Whatever.' Laura marched around the flat. 'Where are my paintings?' She opened the bedroom door. 'Aha!'

'Those are mine,' Jane said, grabbing Laura by the neck, trying to pull her away.

'Get stuffed, I paid for them,' said Laura and she yanked Venice off the wall so hard that the nail ripped through the canvas.

Jane could see Outside draining from the picture, reforming before her eyes, until all that was left was canvas and paint.

 

Jane snapped.

 

Now, Jane sits at a café table beside the Grand Canal in Venice. She may move on soon, perhaps to Paris or to Prague, or anywhere, but for now she sips espresso and watches as the waking-world floats by.  She loves to feel Outside touching her skin, filling her mouth and her lungs. She loves to feel the sun warm against her skin, as she watches the vaporetto cruising by. Sometimes she paints. But she never keeps her pictures. She doesn't need them.

And the only thing that can be found hanging inside her flat, is her rather inconsiderate neighbour.

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