Phantom Net (Essay)

Photo courtesy of Davide Illini.

Words by Hope Harvey.

My brother’s camera was waiting for him when I finally opened his door. It was perched on his rickety wooden bedside table, where he used to gently set it each evening as he got ready for bed. I felt flashbacks of jealousy, remembering how much I had hated the bond they had shared.

The camera, a beautiful little black Minolta, had moved fluidly with my brother’s body. He had never been particularly gawky or awkward growing up, but when he took pictures he moved with a grace I envied. His movement always reminded me of the ballerinas our mother took us to see on Christmas. We would compete to see who could dress more formally. I would pull out my nicest dress, one that I had to sweep forward with each step I took. My brother would look dapper in his best suit, hair slicked back from a face that grew more handsome with every year that passed. My mother always won, awe-inspiring in a flowing gown that contrasted the silver drops in her ears and the shawl draped masterfully around her shoulders.

We were children playing make-believe. We allowed ourselves for that one day to pretend that we were part of society we infiltrated. We dressed beautifully, put importance in the minor details of our clothing, and went to see the Nutcracker. One of my mother’s friends worked part-time at the theater, and was able to sneak us in through the back as the lights signified the beginning of the show. We would stand in the very back and watch, ignoring our aching feet.

Even love cannot escape death. If it could then I wouldn’t be waking up each morning with this empty feeling in my heart.

It never mattered how many times I had seen it before. The moment the show began, my mouth would open slightly in amazement at the wonder before me. And just like when I watched my brother in his element taking his pictures, I would feel a pinch of jealously at the grace of the ballerinas. At the pure power in every movement they made. There was no distinction between their bodies and those iconic shoes that allowed them to defy the very laws of gravity. Their tools melted into skin for those two hours. It was something I had watched happen to my brother as he breathed life into an inanimate object.

“Willow!” My mother’s voice startled me from downstairs. “Are you staying for dinner tonight?”

I hesitated, turning towards the bed. “Yes, thanks mom!”

The camera faced me questioningly. It was covered in a light layer of dust, months of disuse visibly quantifiable. Where is he, it seemed to ask, as though no time had passed. I’m sorry, I thought. It felt as though the light reflecting off the lens dimmed a little. I gingerly sat on the bed, looking around the room at his collection of books, a soccer jersey, and a pair of worn down flip flops. All I had left of my brother. My best friend. The only person I had ever felt comfortable showing every dark shadow and bright highlight that shaped me.

I realized I was angry as I settled back against the pillows. As children we were taught so often that love conquers all. That evil loses its power in the face of love. But, loss had forced me to shed that innocence. Harry Potter may have used love as the ultimate weapon, but in the real world love wasn’t a shield. Even love cannot escape death. If it could then I wouldn’t be waking up each morning with this empty feeling in my heart.


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