What to Keep by Jay Merill

A Here Is?

Sian sits at a table in the cafeteria studying the snapshot of him. Byrne as he was. He himself is absent but the image is right here: A smiley laugh running round his jawline just as she remembers it, a twist of straggling hair. She doesn’t know what her feelings are. Was she in love with him once? Sometimes the answer is a yes, sometimes a no. The image doesn’t seem to help her deal with the question.


A tree behind his head is dense with leaves. There’s a pink blob up on the right-hand corner. Looks like a pic glitch of some kind. She makes to wipe it off with her little finger but can’t. It’s entrenched. Ok then. Sian puts the photo in her purse, gets up from her seat. Next she is walking past the pond with the ornamental fish. Out of its mouth a line of water spurts. She holds up her camera, focuses then clicks. Wow, she’s captured it: That green tarnish, the swirl of foam.

Sound Effects?

She heard the clatter of knives on plates, of spoons on cups; a scrape of chair legs on concrete. All the din of a cafeteria which could never be part of the picture. Well, who needed all of that disturbance anyway, Sian asked herself.

A Then Was?

Sian aimed her lens toward the chair where he was lolling, eyes half closed, head leaning back. Eyes almost hidden, slight sneer of the lips. This was how he exuded love of self. How he felt about her wasn’t clear. His hair swung back towards a sunlit tree. And click, next minute she’d snapped him. Byrne, the man in her life. There he was; she had him now forever. Oh!


To draw in air as a starter. With a stirring of some sort. If you want life in your pic you have to reinvent the subject. Which isn’t possible. The photograph is the beginning of the end, marking the pull from the moment to the caught infinity. Sian sees how it robs you of what is twice over. She exhales, letting go.

Unplanned Oddments?

She noticed a balloon had got snagged up in one of the branches and decided she liked its unexpected presence. Its throwawayability. Yes, she’d definitely keep it in.

Possible Birds?

Birds were possibly hopping on and around the tables. Birds pecking at crumbs and the remains of pastries which they found there. Because there are usually birds to be seen in such an environment. And possibly these same birds flew away when they saw Sian getting out her camera. Because they did not want to be trapped. She can’t know for sure but there may have been starlings, robins, blackbirds and crows. None of them are in the picture. But maybe the picture itself isn’t one of the things Sian should care about keeping.

A Be All and End All Fixation?

Being here brings the past to the forefront of the now. Sian tries to recall the details that were part of what was. Can almost hear the thin surge of Byrne’s laughter. There’s a dissatisfaction in her. She notes how she always wants to turn the living-breathing now into a fixed eternity but knows when she contemplates a set image there’s this unexplained urge to transform it into a life-force thing. The desire for the two opposites goes on and on spoiling the qualities of each. Sian is looking at the photo of the man but finds she’s getting restless. Because it reminds her she is on the lookout for that something more. 

A Now and Then Acceptance?

She does realise though that nothing is perfect, finds she’s become used to the contradiction. Its rhythm is life of a kind. Perhaps life of the only kind. The yes and no and no and yes of the day-by-day. As though she’s attached to the universe by compromise. The photo is real in its way. She has it in her possession though it was and is an image of things which change necessarily. All well and good, she can play the eternity game she says to herself. As long as she remembers to keep her eyes open.

That Dusty Remnant?

In fact, Sian has to remind herself to give the photo a glance now and then. When she’s able to locate it where it lies tucked away amongst all the other junk, that is. It’s part of the picture. She accepts this.

A Monkey and a Hyena?

This is not a zoo, it’s the Botanical Gardens. So a monkey and hyena are improbable. Neither of these animals are in the photo though the photograph does not deny the possibility they were here. Maybe they’d run into the bushes when they saw the camera focusing. How can you keep something if there is no evidence it was ever present? Sian has seen both of these animals somewhere, she’s fairly sure of that. But she can’t be certain where.

All and Nothing Hooked up Together?

And this is completely fine as long as you don’t expect too much. I don’t need it now/I do need it now. Remembering Byrne; how he was. How he was once; how he once was. Breathing. Moving. She wanted him badly; she didn’t want him at all. The slight quiver of his lips. The clinking noise of crockery and cutlery being placed on metal tables. A whiskery wind. The rising up of the balloon before it got hooked on the tree. Soon it would shrivel. Everything changes yet nothing changes in the least. Both/All of these, Sian thinks.

Jay Merill is published in CHEAP POP Lit, Entropy, Jellyfish Review, The Literateur, The Lonely Crowd, Lunch Ticket, matchbook and Spelk. She is a current Write Well Award nominee, a Pushcart Prize nominee and winner of the Salt Short Story Prize. Further work has appeared recently in 3: AM Magazine, Corium, Hobart, Literary Orphans, SmokeLong Quarterly, Spork and Wigleaf. Jay lives in London UK and is Writer in Residence at Women in Publishing. She has two collections published by Salt – God of the Pigeons and Astral Bodies — nominated for the Frank O’Connor Award and Edge Hill Prize.

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