by B. E. Seidl
first published in WhyNicht. Literary Magazine of the Department of Comparative Literature and Language Studies, University of Vienna (2015)
Nothing happened at first. Repeatedly, I pressed my camera’s shutter release button, but it seemed to be blocked. Looking the Leica up and down, I couldn’t find anything wrong with it.
“I think she’s watching you!” Jake’s eyes were glistening with excitement, never letting his gaze stray from the marble statue.
“Don’t be silly”, I retorted. I was annoyed with my camera. The icy air made my fingers numb. I could hardly sense what I was doing. Winter didn’t seem the best season to visit a graveyard, yet the tranquil tombstones looked the most scenic in the morbid twilight of a cold day’s eve.
“Finally!” The camera was working again. In a flurry, I had taken a photo of my muddy boot.
“Do you see her eyes looking at you through the veil?” Jake could be awful at times. I tried to ignore him.
The statue stood with open arms by the tomb, almost as if she was welcoming us. She had a long wide dress, which seemed to move gently in the wind, her face half-hidden behind a veil of stone. Of all the graves we had seen so far, this one was by far the most intriguing one.
“This is exactly what we came here for! Isn’t she beautiful?” As if in response, the flash reflected in the statue’s eyes. I took her photograph and coaxed myself away.
“I don’t think she appreciates it when you take her picture. Didn’t you see the expression on her face!” I wished Jake would let it go. I wanted to focus on other things, other macabre motifs I could capture with the Leica dangling around my neck.
“It’s getting chilly!” Shivering, I zippered up the neck of my coat.
“Did you want to go see the anonymous graves?” Jake was pointing at a sign. I hardly paid attention to him. Teeth chattering, I heedlessly followed his lead. There was a pain in my chest, as if a heavy weight was pushing me down. Rubbing my fingers against my aching ribcage, I hoped that the chill sensation would go away. Why hadn’t I brought a scarf? This was not a good time for me to get ill with loads of work awaiting me at the office.
“Why are you being so awkward and quiet? Are you still thinking of that marble lady?” With a mischievous grin, Jake put his arm heavily on my shoulder. I felt so small, and he had never looked so tall before.
“I’m freezing,” I croaked. I felt as if a cold hand had reached under my clothes and was pressing against my skin.
“You should have brought a scarf.” Holding the coat together at the collar, I sniffled in the glacial air. The frosty pressure intensified. Gradually, the sensation slipped up my collarbone and moved to my throat.
I had to stop, unable to walk any further. “What is it?” Jake looked at me, bewildered. I could sense that he was about to crack one of his little jokes.
“My throat…” I groaned, “I can’t breathe…” In a panic, I pulled the coat open, as if it was the garment that was taking my breath away.
“It was the statue… I told you… You shouldn’t have taken her picture!” Weakly, I shook my head in denial. Jake was being ridiculous! If only he could understand the art of photography.
“What are you talking about?” I muttered, my words stifled by the pain in my throat. The suffocating squeeze was making me dizzy. It was only Jake’s sturdy grip that kept me from falling down on the wet pebble path.
“Don’t you see what’s happening? She’s furious! It’s rude to take pictures of strangers without asking.” Despite my weakness I attempted to push him away.
“Not funny…” It came out as a whisper.
Jake and the cemetery were fading away. The last rays of the evening sun were shadowed by the darkness clouding my view. Something was choking me, colder than anything I had ever felt before, like old bony fingers that had risen from a grave.
“Get rid of the picture!” Jake shouted at me like a madman. With shaking hands, he tore at the camera strap.
“Leave me alone,” my lips formed the soundless words. Wriggling out of his grasp, I stumbled backwards. The pebbles underneath my boots made a hissing sound. I wanted to leave this place. Through my blurry vision I saw endless rows of crosses and tombstones, every path leading to a dead end. Instead of Jake I found the statue looming over me, her stony arms pointing at me accusingly.
Gasping for air, I grabbed for the camera and wrenched it off my neck. Hastily, I switched it on. Hardly looking at the screen, I pressed the icon with the little trashcan. I kept hitting the icon, belligerently, until I had deleted almost all of the pictures from my camera, most of them harmless snapshots of dead leaves in the grass.
Almost immediately, the pressure against my throat abated.