Thursday, May 5, 2011

Photographs and Memories

I wrote this for a contest. It had a 1000 word limit and was to be based on a theme of a photo evoking paintful memories.

“Oh, it’s beautiful!” gushed Karen, eyes goggling at the rock on Tina’s finger.
“I think so,” beamed Tina. “And he was so wonderful last night. Of course the restaurant was beautiful – “ she started.

“Where’d he take you?”


“Oh swanky!” Karen said appreciatively. “Did he get down on one knee and everything?”

“Absolutely. After I found the ring sitting on a curl of chocolate atop the crème brulee.”

“Oh, what a romantic!” sighed Karen. “Have you set a date?”

“June 15th.”

“June 15th! That’s only six weeks away! How on earth are you gonna be ready?”

“You’re gonna help me.” Tina dragged Karen down the hallway by her arm, sending Karen’s coffee over the rim of the cup. “First thing I have to do is find that blue garter from my grandmother’s wedding.” Karen put her coffee on the nightstand as Tina manhandled a box from the top of her closet, grunting as she dropped it on the bed. Tossing the top of the box onto her pillows, she pulled out papers, pictures, notebooks and other treasures. As she dropped a composition book on the bed, a picture slipped out onto the floor.

“Here,” said Karen as she picked up the picture and handed it to Tina, “you dropped this.”

The light left Tina’s eyes so fast it was like a solar eclipse. The picture dropped from her suddenly limp fingers as her knees gave way and she sank to the floor leaning against the side of the bed.

“What is it?” asked Karen as she picked up the picture. She glanced at the happy family posing with Mickey Mouse and recognized Tina’s smiling teenaged face. Setting the picture on the bed, she sat on the floor beside Tina and wrapped her in a hug. “What’s wrong?”

Tina’s skin felt cool and slick. Her eyes were distant. When she finally sighed deeply and spoke, her voice was hollow with the monotone Karen had come to recognize meant Tina was furiously fighting back the tears.

“That was the last picture ever taken of my Dad.”

Karen had no idea what to say.

“That was taken at Epcot when I was thirteen years old. Dad was so excited about going there. He and mom always meant to take me, but we never had enough money. Finally, Dad decided it had to happen sooner or later so he took out a loan for the vacation. Dad was like a little kid at Christmas with the idea of going to Epcot.”

Tina paused for the space of several heartbeats before continuing.

“We got there early in the morning and the first thing we had to do was have our picture taken with Mickey. That was so important to Dad.” She sighed deeply. “The next thing was ride Mission: Space.” She looked from the picture to Karen, but Karen noticed her eyes were still far away, seeing whatever images she had seen on the day the picture was taken. “Dad always loved the space program. He said it was America’s finest hour. So for him to get to feel like he was going to space, that was a total kick in the pants to him.” She paused again. “Maybe we should have read the warnings but we figured it was like a roller coaster. And we didn’t know Dad had heart problems.”

“He loved it. But afterwards, he had to sit down for a while. He said he just didn’t feel good. A couple hours later, he collapsed in the doorway of the aquarium. We figured it was the heat, but by the time they got him to the emergency room he was gone. I don’t remember much of the hospital, but I do remember the doctor telling Mom something about the stress of Mission: Space being too much for his heart.”

Now the tears escaped and Tina’s voice became thick with guilt. “If we’d only known about his heart condition. Or just hadn’t gone to Disney.“

Karen squeezed her tight again. “That’s why you never talk about your Dad and never, ever want to go over to Disney, huh?”

“Yeah. See, after that trip, we still had to pay back the loan. And Dad didn’t have any life insurance. So Mom and I really struggled. She ended up having to use all my college savings to pay it back. That’s when we started to fight, too. She never said anything but I know she blamed me for Dad’s death.”

“You don’t know that!” protested Karen, but her thoughts were on how distant Tina and her mother were.

“If he hadn’t wanted so bad to take me to Disney, he would still be here. And now Dad’s not even going to be able to see me walk down the aisle.”

“You know he will. How many times have you told me your Dad is your guardian angel?”

It was a foolish belief fashioned by a young teen’s mind when her dad was no longer there to cling to, but it was comforting. Tina’s logical, twenty-two year old mind tried but couldn’t quite shake the guilt planted when she was thirteen. Determined, though, she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and gave her friend a weak grin.

Encouraged, Karen sprang to her feet, dragging Tina with her. “C’mon. We have a wedding to plan and we’re going shopping!”

“It’s only 8:00 in the morning. Nothing’ll be open.”

“Walmart’s always open. By the time we’re done there the mall will be open.”

Tina’s arms flew around Karen. “I’m so lucky to have you!” They turned to leave but Tina paused at the doorway. “Hang on.”

Karen watched as Tina crossed to the bed. Picking up the picture, she stared at it for a few long moments. She gave her father’s picture a kiss before putting the picture back in the composition book and the book in the box. Turning to Karen, her smile flashed like sunlight. “Let’s go!”

Copyright © 2010 Denise Duggan