In a past life I think I was childhood friends with Maria Fallon. This time I met her in the only museum ever to be built in Poznan. It only had one permanent exhibit, and the rest of the rooms were converted into offices and a coffee bar after the governor decided no patron in their right mind would lend them anything worth looking at. There were numerous offers, but he always thought they were holding back the very best, so he refused everything. Some true lovers of art became so emphatic that what they had really was worth displaying that they gave the museum sculptures and paintings for free, asking only that the works be displayed. This offer only further convinced the governor that what the patrons were peddling was truly worthless. But another principle of the governor's life is never to turn down anything free, that it may be God's way of getting into your hands something that will be direly important later.
Consequently, the bottom floor of the Poznan museum is the most ornate and beautiful section of the entire building, as well as the city. It is underground, and only accessible by an elevator, which was turned off as soon as the last worker had returned from hanging the last portrait.
I was looking at the small collection of photographs in the permanent collection (all done by Timothy Holebrook - "Poznan's one stop for family portraits, business portfolio shots and important event memory making!"). The picture that seemed to hold my attention was a sepia print of two women, one the daughter of the other. The text to the right of the photo said their names were Josephine and Tamara Reed. The text also said that the photograph was taken to commemorate the leaving of Tamara's husband for a second tour of duty in the desert, which Mr. Holebrook had been commissioned to eternalize.
Tamara was visibly sad, but stood straight and wasn't weeping. Josephine had her left arm around her daughter's shoulders, and her expression was somehow off-putting. Mr. Holebrook had noticed this after developing the photograph, and purely from curiosity asked her what she was thinking about that afternoon. "My mother used to tell me about having to see her brothers go off to war. In Poland that was widely considered to be a death sentence. Three of her brothers went right away, but the other three went individually, once they had 'made right with God'. She told me that by the fifth brother, she had learned to almost lock herself off. She would put her arm around her baby sister and stay motionless until the train couldn't be heard anymore. I was thinking about that the day we saw Evan off. I realized what my mother meant, and then it was like all common feelings, feelings and reactions I'd had and used all my life, just fell out. And I was trying to think of what new feeling was forcing itself upon me then. It was the same train station, did you know that? Same platform and everything. Well, maybe not the same train, I guess they must've changed that out, for environmental reasons. Anyway, I was just trying to figure out what it was I was feeling, and then he was gone. Tamara said the train had been out of sight for almost two minutes, and that people were staring."
Mr. Holebrook couldn't remember the first two minutes after the picture. He'd been busy fiddling with dials on his camera, checking light and exposure rates. He asked Mrs. Reed if she'd figured out what the feeling was on the platform. "Nope," she said, "but I can still feel it a little. Every now and then I stop and try to think about it. But mostly I keep busy."
"It's her soul," Maria said, through God-given olive lips. I hadn't noticed someone beside me. She was still reading the block of text.
"Is that what makes this picture so....disquieting?"
She straightened herself, and I promised myself something viciously alcoholic if I didn't make an ass of myself right there, for only her to see. She looked back at the photograph, at Josephine and Tamara.
"Yes. Her soul doesn't know what to do when another is departing - one it new so privately. It's trying to turn away, and she's trying to figure that out, but gets lost in trying because she doesn't see how a soul, particularly one's own, could will something without the person also willing it."
"Can the soul do that?"
"Look at the picture."
"That's a bit of a circular argument."
"Yes, well. Look at yourself then."
I looked her in the eyes.
My Captain My Captain.
Maria Fallon walked out of the room, then out of the museum and into the light and heat of Sol, ages and ages old.