This excerpt is from the short story, "The Balloon Man's Dictionary", which I'm writing as part of a challenge from a friend and colleague, and experiment in making fragmentary images into narrative. It is entirely experimental, and I would love some feedback.
By Hila Shachar
Lee Miller decides that memory is like a hallucination with photographic borders. Her fingers click at mechanical buttons that seek to intercept memory before it disappears.
A camera is not simply a mechanical object, but a memory box filled with locks of hair, lost buttons, mildew and paper cuts.
The day she sat in Hitler’s bathtub she considered how this would look in a photograph years later, frozen in time.
An old woman flicks through a magazine with this very image and captures her breath like a photograph. She suddenly becomes swollen with history, a telltale sign of her impending death.
She too remembers the war, but not through Hitler’s bathtub, or through the visual. It is an assault of the senses in the dark: sweat, stale bread, acrid milk, explosive skies and the texture of blood. What they don’t tell you is that memory is all-encompassing, and how little these photographs penetrate what was, and what is made from it.
When the war ended, she dreamt in subtitles, and could not bear to look at photographs. The smell of freshly made jam, clean laundry and soap became imprints upon the process of memorialisation.
A photograph should convey the smell of rotting bodies, she thought. And of fire. And the agony of numbers stamped upon flesh. It should not be a hallucination, but a tremendous enclosure within defined boundaries of the past.
She wants to forget, and to remember. She admires Lee and her clever camera, and mocks her attempts at capturing history. Above all, she despises her cool blonde hair.
Memorialise: An irretrievable smell and sound. To honour and mock memory. To create a box of light in which horror becomes hallucination. Lee Miller in Hitler’s bathtub, the lost precision of numbers on a forearm.