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THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN NOW AND THEN

At the top of a flight of stairs leading up into the attic, a place that doesn't seem to belong to Evelina Mansions at all, stands a very thin door - so thin, that I imagine the resident would have to edge through sideways and hope not to get stuck. The sides of the door have been nailed shut like a coffin lid, and a streak of dull light shines underneath from a faint glow within.

As I knock on the door, I hear a tearing noise and a concussion, as if something heavy has fallen to the ground, and then a shifting sound as something edges toward the door. A voice cries out from inside - a thin, hollow-sounding voice of an old man. My batteries all being flat I am unable to record this exchange so I decide to jot down the conversation later as best my memory allows:

"Psst! Psst! Over here! In here! That’s right. Do you know what they did to me? I mean, do you want to know what they did to me? Oh, it hurts even thinking about it! But that’s good. These things should hurt, shouldn’t they?"

I can hear very laboured breathing. The person is clearly restrained by something and is having great difficulty moving about:

"Listen – you won’t tell, will you?  Don’t tell them I spoke to you…please…I just need to…[ouch!] You…you…[ouch!] No, I don’t want to tell you. I won’t. Go away! Go on – get lost! [Ouch!] No, please don’t go…it’s just they’ve got me…[ouch!] Listen, you gotta get me out of here! Here, take this;"

A folded-up bit of paper slides under door. It shows a picture of a woman.

"See that…that’s my wife. Can you see her? I bet you’re jealous, aren’t you? Go on - I bet you're jealous, aren't you! Here, take this one;"

Another picture slides out under the door, but this time it is a much younger woman, who hardly looks like the woman in the previous photograph at all.

"That’s my wife when she was 18. I bet you’re jealous aren’t you? Please be jealous – won’t you be..[ouch!] I can’t take it! Listen – are you listening? You gotta do something for me. See those two pictures? Now turn one of them upside down. Good. Now put that one on top of the other one. Got it? Ok. Now rub them together."

As I rub the two photographs together, I hear ecstatic noises coming from the room. I look at the two faces closely; at how the mouth, once turned-up at the corners on the young lady's face, has gradually turned-downwards over time strikes me in a curious way, as though her mouth had been put on the wrong way round. I cannot describe the sensation of these two images, couped with the noise within the room, but something tells me I am to keep the pictures, either for the archive, or for my own private use. I decide to sneak away quietly so that I may keep the photographs without the man noticing my departure.

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