Start with the subject. A subject doesn't have to be totally fleshed out at first—you don't have to know everything about them—what's in their drawers and all, unless the junk drawer or something is what you're photographing. Then search search search to find that character's face somewhere, anywhere.
While you're looking, be scrupulous in caring for your kids—don't avoid them or forget that they've got to eat and sleep and arrive at school on time. If you make a mistake with them, you'll hear about it from the authorities in your life and there'll be hell to pay.
Pretty much nobody will ever accept the excuse that you were looking for a particular person to take a picture of. Pretty much everyone thinks the camera is just a hobby—a pastime that you can control if you really want, if you love your kids. It's better not to correct other adults—they'll just think you're crazy and it'll stir up self-doubt too.
Remember that eventually children grow up, and husbands either leave or die. By that time, it's entirely possible that you'll have found the subject's face, taken the picture, and sold it to Aperture Magazine or someplace that will make you equally famous. You'll be able to relax, having done what you were created to do in the first place. People will understand then and, in their memories, make allowances.
They leave. All of them—both children, and the thoroughly discontented husband. The husband made lots of money, enough to go around. You cry your tears, but underneath the grief pulses a long-lost relief. You clean the house top to bottom, rid yourself of the extraneous miscellany that distracted you from the camera. You excise the unnecessary from your closets, your cupboards, the garage, even your Rolodex. Just wad up the business card of your neighbor two doors down who went professional doing landscapes, cram it into the trash bag. Take a deep breath, make every effort to dispel your wish that her son get into drugs.
Your fingers caress the camera at the top of the closet where it's mostly been during the time it's taken for your family to get their own lives. Some years you only took it off the shelf if it fit into your suitcase on family vacations. Or when someone asked you to take pictures of their kids for free. You attended a few courses, entered a few contests, even earned a little money. Not enough, however, to justify friends or babysitters or nannies to drive your kids to the opportunities that you knew they'd resent not having when they grew up.
But now they are grown-up. One is in Europe studying economics so she can make her daddy proud. The other's a history major at the state university. They don't come home much. The history major called to tell you she's taking another art class, this time a photography class next semester. You're confused by your queasiness when you found this out. You want her to appreciate art, even made her take lessons once. During the semester, she asked for extra money in her allowance so she could buy more film. You got queasy again, swallowed to keep what shouldn't come to consciousness from coming to consciousness. "Of course, honey," you answered, and sent the money.
You force yourself to go out and snap pictures. This time you go to the local Starbucks with the other mommies retired from duty. As you point, click, and smile to gain cooperation, you secret the knowledge that you aren't like them at all. You think you recognize the character you've always searched for—blue eyes too made up and black hair streaked with gray—and you feel a momentary relief. It turns out to be nothing—the woman has a red scar across the side of her face you didn't see at first—and you know that the very visibility of it ruins the character's mystery. For some other artist, of course, the scar would be the mystery, but not for you.
Your daughter comes home for spring break. Proudly, she opens a black leather portfolio that her boyfriend gave her for Christmas. She pulls out ten black-and-white 11 x 14s on resin-coated paper. They are landscapes and strangers' faces and the implements of people's jobs: a tree-studded median on a highway, a white tramp with a sparkly coat and rusting shovels against a garage door. They are good photographs, really good. With a pinch of vanity, you imagine them hanging on a museum wall. The printing, she reports, was called "exquisite" by her teacher, who happens to be famous, and you must agree.
Your daughter speaks. "I love it so much. My teacher says I can change majors and only lose a semester and a half. Do you think Dad will pay? Do you? If not, I don't care. I've got to do this. I just can't believe I'm only now realizing what I want to do with my life."
Your daughter's face is alight. She's never looked more herself. Your heart softens, glad for her, but you run to the bathroom and lean over the toilet anyway. The bile is the worst thing you've ever tasted—acidic, bitter. Worse, even, than the morning sickness you had for nine months—with both girls—while other women suffered only three.
You fear you'll never rid yourself of the taste. You splash cold water on your cheeks, in your mouth. When you lift your hot face and run your tongue over your teeth, your eyes meet your eyes in the mirror. Notice that the daylight from the window bounces off the sprinkle of silver in your hair. You long for your camera, a proper darkroom after the picture is snapped.
"And you'll support me when I tell Dad, won't you?" she calls from the other room.
Avert your eyes.
Title graphic: "Shutters" Copyright © The Summerset Review 2013.