Sunday 26 November 2023

Sunday Serial: The Story Weaver and Other Tales by Sally Zigmund, SNAP DECISION, thin soup




‘Jesus, Mary, what’s all this junk?’

      Bridie Durcan emerged, rump first, from under my bed and brushed dust from her starched apron. ‘No wonder you wheeze.’

‘That junk, Mrs Durcan, is the story of my life. Destroy that and I might as well be dead.’

She wagged an accusatory finger. ‘We’ll not have that now I’m in charge.’

In charge? She’d only entered my life the day before. She was the compromise I’d accepted when I told them I wasn’t going into a home. Me, one of the enfants terribles of the late twentieth century—in a home? Andy Warhol called me his mentor (mind you, he was pissed at the time) and David Bailey told The Irish Times I taught him everything he knew—and more.

 And Bridie Durcan itched to throw it all away.

She returned later with a plateful of something suspiciously like dog food with a side-serving of shamrock, propped me up and spooned it into my mouth, wiping my dribbles with a napkin. Oh, how are the mighty fallen.

‘So you took snaps, did you, before you took the cloth?’ she said. ‘Any good, were they?’

‘Any good? I’ll have you know I was brilliant. None of this digital stuff then, you know. It took skill, deadly poisons swilling about in trays and drying prints pegged across my dark room as stiff as nuns’ knickers.’

‘Is that so? A little less chatting and more eating, if you don’t mind then you can have some afters. You won’t have tasted anything like my rice pudding.’

‘I don’t doubt it,’ I said. ‘Will I need a knife and fork?’

‘And less of your cheek.’


One thing I soon learned about Bridie Durcan was that she never gave up. She burst in the next day, armed to the teeth with brush, bucket, dustpan and a fistful of bin-bags. ‘Let’s blitz this germ factory right now.’

            That was it. I swung my legs out of the bed but I hadn’t reckoned on the lethal hospital corners she insisted on which welded my to the bed. They grabbed my legs as I launched a flying tackle against the offending weapons of mass destruction. ‘Over my dead body!’ I shouted.

My prophecy was almost fulfilled. I ended up on the floor, with my pyjama trousers round my ankles and one of my coughing fits.


We looked though my ‘junk’ after supper. Bridie was unimpressed. Not even by the series Yoko Ono had raved about in Time Magazine. She took no interest in the composition, the placing of shadow and light, the depth of field. A stunning monochrome of Marilyn Monroe elicited a pitying shake of her head and Woody Allen gazing towards Times Square, a sharp, odd little man.’

            Given her limited artistic eye, it wasn’t long before the only item left was an old biscuit tin. She spent so long prising off the rusted lid that I felt dying would have been the more exciting option.

Then. ‘Jesus!’ and a hundred unframed prints sprang free like Jack from a box and slid to the floor.

            ‘Now these are much more interesting,’ she said, stooping to pick them up. ‘Is that your mother? Oh and this must be you—weren’t you the darling boy in your little trousers and school cap?’ On and on she went. I closed my eyes.

It was the silence that woke me. I looked at her. Her face was radiant and she was praying.

            Between her trembling fingers she held a small black and white print. Did you take this?’

            ‘You’ll miss the last bus if you don’t go now.’

‘Well, did you?’

‘Of course I bloody well took it.’

‘Then, look at it, you silly man.’

I snatched it from her. My God.


I couldn’t have been more than twenty. I was on my way home to my flat after a particularly wild party and was probably full of happy pills, magic mushrooms and a lot more besides. It was January, well after midnight, and a mist was rising from the Liffey and drifting through the narrow streets. Anyway, I was soon lost. I staggered about for hours, slowly sobering up and feeling like Hell.

            It began to rain. I turned a corner and there he was. An old man staring into the window of a harp shop, of all places, as if selecting the model to take with him into the afterlife. He was stooped; snowy haired and his eyes couldn’t have been up to much by the way he was struggling to focus. What the hell was he doing out at that time of night?

            My Leica was in my shoulder-bag. It was my talisman then, my fetish, my religion. I couldn’t wait. I wanted that shot. I would have killed for that shot.

Nothing mattered but me and him. It was the first time I’d felt something beyond me, more important than me. He remained oblivious to me as I prowled around him, seeking the perfect shot.

I pressed the shutter once. When I looked up, he’d gone.

            I developed that photograph the next day. I watched the man emerge again like a ghost from the blank paper and take shape and I knew it was the last photograph I would ever take. I put it away with all the others and never looked at any of them again—until now.

            ‘Well?’ said Bridie.

            I didn’t have to say anything. What wasn’t clear then, was now. The man in the photograph; the man my arrogant, selfish, pleasure-seeking self had snapped, was me; me as I am now. White-haired, half-blind, arthritic. Dying.

            Bridie turned her gaze from me to the crucifix above the bed. ‘It was a sign.’


            There’s no ‘maybe’ about it, Father Kerrigan. Now how about a nice mug of cocoa before I tuck you in for the night?’

            I nodded. ‘Only, this time, spare me your hospital corners.’




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