“Image” – Özge Ada Uzman ’27

The house is lonely, I think.

The skeleton confirms my hunch. He is sitting on the porch swing out front, leafing through a book so old and ruined I cannot comprehend how he can read it. Dead things have a way of understanding each other, I suppose. I am jealous. What secrets are they whispering to each other as I stand here, accompanied by no one but my camera? I try to snap a photo, but neither the skeleton nor the book appear in the frame. As if they are not supposed to be seen. It’s valid. The dead need their privacy as much as the living.

The house seems dead, too.

That is, until I step inside. The skeleton shows me in, book tucked under the bones of his arm, its pages fluttering gleefully. The house is most certainly not dead. The shadows of the ancient furniture rise to greet me, starved for company beyond the skeleton and his book, whose time at the house is limited. The skeleton does have a grave to tend to, after all.

The shadows extend long tendrils of smoky nothingness in my direction—but it cannot be nothingness, I realize, as they begin to play with my hair, hold my hand, fiddle with my untied shoelaces… They must really love company. A shadow tries to grab my camera and, startled, I wave my hand, an attempt to flick the darkness away. My fingers pass right through, however, but as if I offended all the shadows rather than just one, they fly back to their furniture, taking a more expected shape for a shadow, molding themselves into the ground or walls.

I look down at my hand, pouting. The shadow burned where I touched it, and now angry red lines are drawn along my freckled skin. The skeleton tells me that it is normal for them to be wary, as they have not met many other living creatures. I feel bad all the same.

To fill the silence, the skeleton entertains me with stories of his death. He lives in a graveyard not far from the house and takes trips here sometimes when he wants to be alone with his book. Skeletons, he tells me, are very social. Chuckling, he describes the graveyard as one large family. It seems nice to me, and some of that earlier jealousy returns.


A family lived in this house, too, I suppose. I look up at the portraits lining the walls—if one can still call them that, for they have been somewhat devoured by whatever tiny creatures reside in these walls, and the paper is discolored beyond repair. However, the outline of faces remains visible. Were they happy, I wonder? Were they close?

My attention returns to the skeleton. He is in love, he tells me. He is madly in love. But he must wait to reunite with her, as she is still living. He died fairly young, and he hopes it is ages before she meets the same fate, and he hopes for all the best, and he is afraid she will be unable to move on just as much as he is afraid she will forget him. But he will wait anyway.

I consider how painful it must be, and my jealousy wavers.

A curious shadow pokes its head out from behind a chair. We lock eyes—its being two glowing yellow dots, mine green and flaked with brown—and it snakes through the floor to where me, the skeleton, and the book are standing. The skeleton has taken a break from his stories, silenced by the reminders of his overwhelming love. I wish I could help, but this kind of pain I cannot treat.

Holding eye contact with the snakelike shadow, I watch as it rises from the floorboards to my height. It reaches out to the camera, and this time I do not try to wave it away. Not only does my hand still sting, but I also figure the shadows have a right to be curious. I deposit the camera in its waiting arms, and its yellow eyes transform into happy little crescent moons. It’s quite cute.
It begins flitting through an abundance of photos of trees, or graves, or animals, or cityscapes, until finally landing on one of a group of people. I frown. That photo was taken a long time ago, I tell the shadow. I point to the child in the middle. That’s me, I tell it.

It’s not a complete lie. The child and I are the same person, just not the same soul. At least, not anymore. It is difficult to explain, so I don’t bother trying. I suddenly feel very exhausted, as if all this talk of loneliness and love and life and death is finally catching up to me.

The skeleton notices the subtle change in the atmosphere and pries the camera out of the curious shadow’s hands. That’s enough, he says. He gives the camera back to me and guides me outside to the porch swing I had first found him on. I ask him what he was reading before I interrupted him, and he replies saying he doesn’t mind the interruption, and that he was reading a love story. He laughs awkwardly and calls himself a hopeless romantic. I smile. Nothing wrong with that, I think.

After a short silence, I muster up the courage to ask if I can take a photo with him. He laughs again, accepting the very random request. He seems to laugh a lot. I like it. Being able to laugh often is a nice way to be.

I set up the camera, the skeleton’s book kind enough to hold it up for us. Adjusting the settings to wait ten seconds before taking a photo, I press the button and rush back to the swing beside the skeleton.

We hear the click of the camera taking a photo, and I get up to see how it turned out.

When I look at the photo, I don’t see a skeleton. Instead, I see the faint outline of a young human being, as if he is there and not there at once, fading away or becoming clearer depending on which way I turn my head, how I blink, the angle at which I hold the photo… I look up at the skeleton, wondering if he did this on purpose, and he smiles at me, a genuine grin as if barely holding back another laugh. He grabs a long-dead leaf from the ground of the porch, crushing it between the bones of his hand. I lean in, wondering what he is about to do.

When he unfurls his fingers, a little pansy curls up to the sun, and he gently places it behind my ear. I breathe out quiet thanks and turn the camera around to show him the photo. He smiles again and says that he should be the one thanking me. I gape. I had done nothing but bother him when he was reading. When I ask him why he said that, he shoots me his genuine and elusive smile and tells me that it felt nice to talk to someone who understands.

He does not elaborate further, and I do not push him.

He says he hopes I find what I am looking for, and, bringing my hand up to the pansy in my hair, I wish the same to him. As I leave, I take one last look at the photo we took together.

The near-invisible image of the human beside me is now filled with copious pansies, taking the shape of a laughing skeleton.