Death stops time

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In the June issue of Harper’s magazine, Geoff Dyer writes about the pictures photographer Chloe Dewe Mathews has taken of places where people died in World War I. Some are battlefields marked by graves or monuments. But they’re also of places where soldiers were executed for cowardice or desertion. There are no bodies. In fact, writes Dyer, “… it seems as if the thing that gives each spot its meaning-a dead body-has been painstakingly removed.”

That made me think about the places where murder takes place (in murder mysteries, of course), something I hadn’t given much thought to before, although I remember that Ms. Mulholland in “The Body in the Butter Churn” wonders whether the museum director will simply put the churn back in the kitchen when the police return it.

There’s something about the place where someone dies, especially in a violent way, that changes it forever – or for at least as long as anyone knows about it. A spiritual revelation, a declaration of love, a marriage proposal – I’m trying to think of other places that are changed because of important events – none of them have the visceral connection with the event that a violent death has.

It’s as if the death has contaminated the place. As if it’s been physically changed. Or, perhaps, it’s as if what happened isn’t past, but present in some terrible and forever way.

Death stops time.

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