A few months ago,* I received a phone-call from a woman whose voice sounded as if I should have recognised it. Was I Michael Cope, she asked, the son of Jack and Lesley? I said I was, and she told me that in clearing out some old things, she had come across photographs of my parents. Did I want them? I did. I gave my address, and a few days later, the doorbell rang. There stood a woman with an air of almost-familiarity. She gave her name and handed me an envelope with pictures. I thanked her, and went to meet the people in the car that had brought her, who seemed in a hurry to go somewhere else.
The photographs, small black-and-white images that look like the productions of a Brownie Box camera, date from before I was born, and include the only images I have, whether in photographs or in memory, of my parents together. I looked at them, put them back in the envelope, and forgot them.
Interested once again, I seek the photos and study them. To my shame, I cannot remember the name of the woman who brought them. Did I thank her? Was I rude and short, or hospitable and gracious to these people who had made an effort to bring me this time capsule? I cannot remember, for the images lie behind the project of forgetting which obscures my early years. Even the meeting with these kind people has been absorbed into it and obliterated beyond the sketchiest details. Brian Bunting was in the car. I spoke to him briefly, but cannot remember what we said. I cannot remember what kind of car it was, or what colour, or whether there were other people in it, and if so, who they were. Did I greet them? The word ‘Joffe’ surfaces numbly in my mind. Perhaps her name is Joffe? Her face, even so recently encountered, is gone.
I am left with the pictures themselves, the familiar ambience, postures and gestures that they depict poking through the cotton-wool of the past.
It is late morning. A group of people on First Beach, Clifton, have removed their sunglasses to present themselves to the camera. The women wear lipstick in the fashion of the 50s. The men have made trumpets from the dried kelp, and Jack has the longest one, an alpenhorn whose end extends beyond the picture.
Lesley’s eyes are squinting against the glare. Her body turns away from Jack’s. In spite of the laughter in her face, I can read tension in her hands as they hold her sunglasses. The position of her hands is similar to a gesture of hers that I would come to know well, the hands on the stomach indicating abdominal pain.
Jack’s arm around her shoulder is lightly draped, its attention culminating in his sunglasses. His head and neck pull away from her, lengthening his right shoulder and putting as much distance between his head and his elbow, the crux of the gesture, as anatomy will allow.
Who is the handsome man whose face peers from behind Jack? Is the smiling woman the same one who brought me the photo, more than fifty years later? The man on the right blowing the trumpet at the photographer strikes me as someone I should know well, but do not. Was he in the car with Brian Bunting?
The rock on which they sit is Table-Mountain sandstone, which my knowledge of such rocks colours with golden beige and rust. They date back to a time when the top of the mountain was an ocean bed. The rock on which the shadow of Jack’s encircling arm falls is granite, from a more recent** intrusion.
** Actually an earlier intrusion