For a long time there weren't any photographs of the two of us together. I found pictures of you from before and put them on my mantelpiece, almost as if I was trying to claim another part of your life
In one of them you're a skinny teenager, wearing an over-large grey jumper, sitting in front of a bed of municipal daffodils. Behind you the traffic passes in a blur, a transit van in one direction, a blue Ford Capri in the other. It's a bright looking day with patches of clear blue sky between the high white clouds, but the daffodils give away the season and the jumper suggests that it's not yet warm. You grew up by the seaside and I like to think you're looking out to sea in this photo. I like to imagine that you're gazing away from the terraced houses of the town, towards the open grey expanse of water beyond the harbour. The sound of the waves, crashing on the pebbled shore is enough to drown out the noise of the traffic behind you. There are no other people around on this sunny spring day, just you and the girl with the camera. Perhaps you've snuck off from school to hang around together. Maybe later, when the cold sea air creeps in through your jumper, you'll grab her hand and run laughing to a nearby cafe where you'll warm up with steaming mugs of strong sweet tea.
You're older in the other photo, but I love the carefree look on your face, the relaxed way you lean back in the chair and the broad smile that brings creases to your eyes. Your smile was for another woman then. I think you were on holiday together, sitting at a pavement cafe, parasols in lines behind you. Your sunglasses are hanging round your neck from one of those string things - are they called lanyards? I can't imagine you wearing them that way now, not the you I know. You're looking straight into the camera, as though you're happy to have your picture taken, happy to be sitting there. I wonder what you said to her just after she'd clicked the shutter.
In the early days, when I hadn't known you long, I sometimes wondered what would happen if the worst thing occurred. I was no next-of-kin, no name stored in your wallet, nor the front page of your diary. Your sister, in a far-off northern town, had only knowledge of your last long love, no note of me. If something happened to you, how would I find out? Who would think to tell me? In those early days, when I placed your smiling pictures on the mantel, it was almost as if I was trying to claim another part of your life. I longed to place beside them a framed photo of the two of us together, believing that would somehow make us real; prove that we had a shared history, a promised future.
There are lots more photos now; other pictures of bright spring days and warm summer evenings and in some of them we're together. You still have a smile that creases your eyes and a way of gazing out, asking the world to tell you its story. But I've stopped putting photos on the mantelpiece. Nowadays that's full of other clutter; your recent birthday cards, red candles on china saucers, the antique clock we bought together. It seems that somehow, almost without noticing and without the need for photos, I have claimed part of your life.