Evie Wyld's debut novel, After the Fire a Still, Small Voice (Vintage) won the 2009 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and was shortlisted this year's Orange Award for New Writers.

Past pauses arrested

Oscar is waiting at the gate.

It's written on the back of an old black-and-white photograph, and when you turn it over, indeed, there is Oscar, or a man I believe to be Oscar, waiting stiffly at the gate.

The gate is the gate to my grandmother's home, from before she was a grandmother, or even a mother. Oscar is her father, who went on to die shortly after the photograph was taken, his lungs in pieces from poison gas.

I know the date because Oscar is still alive and the pattern of iron on the house makes it Australia, after they moved from Brussels, to let the hot weather settle Oscar's lungs.

Oscar is waiting at the gate is written in my grandmother's blue ink hand, with her odd sense of words. There is no one else, just Oscar and the house and the gate.

She could have just written Oscar on the back, maybe with an exact date, but instead she chose something to be written as an epitaph, a reminder that at some point we will all meet Oscar waiting for us at the gate.

Oscar, when the photograph was taken, didn't see himself dead within a year. He didn't see his daughter Gladys in an orphanage, or know Pops who married Oscar's widow.

He didn't see Pops' slippery hands that slipped over Gladys when she moved back in. He didn't see Gladys move out to work with the clock dealer. He didn't see her marry Phil who went to war to play the euphonium.

He didn't see their children born and the pie shop and the farm. He didn't see Phil's early death, or Gladys's daughter, speaking from across the other side of the world with Gladys' dementia. He didn't see Gladys die.

Oscar didn't see me find the photograph, read Oscar is waiting at the gate in my grandmother's blue ink hand, sit down, and feel something lost.

All Oscar saw, waiting at the gate, was the dark lens of a camera. Perhaps he never saw the photograph of himself waiting at the gate. Oscar was dead before it could be written that he was waiting.



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