I still have the photograph. I keep a paper copy in my old, battered wallet. I also have it on the USB stick that I keep in the tiny pocket on the right side of my jeans, along with the few songs that I really liked, and the few pictures I liked enough to save when the world was sane. Dawson and I cheering in the New Year, arms around each others shoulders, grinning, holding our foaming glasses in the air. My mum in her most magnificent Sari, embarrassed to be photographed, hands out as if to halt the moment. An old group shot of Me, Wroey, Cam, and little Dave, sat by the pool table in the local pub, all of us huddled, illicit pints clutched in hand, debating something that I’m sure was deadly important to us when we were sixteen. Things that make me smile when I think of them. I wish that I’d known that I was making memories, that those times would have come to mean so much, that I would miss them so terribly once they were out of reach. Oh god, they hurt my heart… And then there’s the photograph. It’s black and white, and it shows the love of my life applying kohl around my eyes. In the foreground, the fingers of her left hand hold steady against the back of my head, touching one of my scars but not caring. Then it’s her right hand, held angled against my unseen face, fingers at work. And she smiles. Oh, how she smiles. She looks into my eyes, laughing, and the joy in her smile touches her eyes. Her sculpted black hair is immaculate, as always, adorned with the cheap hair band that I’d bought her earlier that day, and she is beautiful, the huge hoop of her earring brushing her black top. I always called her my princess, and that’s how she looks.
A shadow passed the hall window.
The copy that I have in my wallet is the one that I took from the stack of half-forgotten prints that lay in my bottom drawer, before I left home for the last time. It’s what I would die for now, because like Prince said, money don’t matter tonight. Neither do diamonds, nor stocks, bonds, Damien Hirsts, fast food franchises, bags of coke, oil companies… All that’s really priceless now is your will to survive, and whatever you’re carrying. In my case, the clothes I’m standing in, my USB, two cans of tuna, three bottles of water, half a loaf of extremely dry brown bread, my wallet, and the photograph, not to mention the crowbar and bread knife I have slid into the loops of my belt like a dollar-store gunslinger.
It’s really the photograph that’s kept me going, kept me moving, mile after mile, day after day, because I needed to know. Everyone I’ve met that’s still drawing breath in the last month has had a goal, something that gives them a sense of purpose, a place, a person, an escape. They’re going to the coast, to a prison, to an airport, anywhere they will feel safe. And I passed them all, heading inland to where I had to be. Like everyone that’s left, I’ve defended myself, done what has had to be done in order to survive, and felt the horrible guilt. The shambling, eyeless thing who’s head you just caved in was a person, somebody’s son, somebody’s grandma, somebody’s something.
So the curtains just moved again.
It’s funny, the way it all goes out of the window when the shit finally hits the fan. Everything that was important to you, the big things… your car, your savings, your goddamned lawn furniture. The best friend you always said you’d take a bullet for. You give them all up for a photograph. It’s nothing really, just an image, a ghost of a memory, but now, well hell, you wouldn’t just die for it, you’d kill for it. You’d travel on foot across half a country, starving and desperate for it. Spend nights freezing and terrified in barns full of rotting cattle for it. Anything for it. And you’d get there, if you wanted it enough, finally reach her home and crouch behind a burnt-out car, watching the windows, hoping for movement, and hoping for no movement.
So I’m going inside, and god willing, she can talk. If she can’t, then please god, let me have the strength to do what I have to. Either way, it’s worth it. Because of that one moment when she held me and smiled. Because she loved me. Because of the photograph.