A Picture of my Mother




I came across a small piece that I wrote some time ago. It was intended to be something that was going somewhere but, in retrospect, I have no idea where.

I post it here for no particular reason other than to garnish opinion and criticism. There is something about it that doesn’t quite click, but I’m not sure what.




There is a photo tucked inside the cover of a book somewhere. Black and white and cut from an old newspaper. It is of a young girl, perhaps of only fourteen or fifteen years old, captured on film as she is emerging from the shallows having taken a swim, fully clothed, in the muddy torrent of the Macquarie. Three days earlier the river had broken it’s banks in the floods of ’55 and her blonde hair is matted and stained with the detritus that has washed downstream from Wellington and Bathurst and places further to the south-east. Her white Sunday dress clings to her body along with the mud and the leaves and the reeds and the sticks. She is carrying one shoe and blood is visible running from a cut just above her right knee. She is staring straight into the lens.
A well intentioned journalist snapped the shutter with thoughts of ‘local interest’ but captured instead a disturbing image of beauty that defies not only convention but also an act of God.
It is the photograph of a mermaid.
And it is inappropriate, nowadays, to describe children in any sexually suggestive terms. It probably was then, too. So we will have to assume that I am mistaken and that she was sixteen or perhaps even eighteen years old. Because there it is, as I say, in black and white. There can be no getting around the erotic impact of it.

Inappropriate it may be too, to think of a close relative in such a manner.

Believe me – I try not to.

It is not the only photo giving testament to my mother’s dangerous magnetism and it may not have even been the first. But it is an early piece of clear evidence documenting her insanity. She had leaped from the bridge and floated downstream along with the uprooted trees, bits of roofing, old car tyres, dislodged fenceposts and drowned sheep. She had been alone. She was not showing off. She was a strong swimmer. She had no thoughts of suicide.
She was just crazy.
She came ashore to the north of town where the river had spread across the plains and the current had slowed and where she was met by the small crowd that had gathered with ropes and boats to intercept her passage. The story goes that as she set foot onto dry land another river parted for her and, refusing offers of towels and blankets, she strode between two lines of awestruck townsfolk and, carrying her one shoe, continued home.
Not a word was said.


10 thoughts on “A Picture of my Mother

  1. are you sure dad … I can barely swim so how can I possibly be descendent from a mermaid! But you did describe me well so I obviously take after her in other ways [smile]


  2. It reminds me of young Angelina Jolie a bit. The photo expression seems quite hostile and/or defensive to me, as if the person did not want the photo taken, or did not like the photographer, although there could be puzzlement there too. It comes across as intriguing, and maybe the off-ness is the sense of trespass on the person’s privacy or the sense of the subject not knowing what was wanted of her. Dunno. Interesting photo for sure.


      1. That’s helpful to know, since I read a lot of blogs and some are literary and some are private factual journals and I sometimes don’t know what is what since they all appear on my feed.


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