The Photograph

Donna Lynne Griggs

 

The old man sat down at the dining room table with purpose. Taking a deep breath, he exhaled slowly and began to spread the photographs in front of him like a deck of cards about to be used in a child-like game of concentration.

Gladys sat quietly beside him, her thin arms lying gently upon her lap, fingers intertwined in well-behaved graciousness. She looked at him and gently smiled, wondering what this man was up to.

“Are you ready to play?” he asked.

Her smile widened. “Oh, I enjoy games very much,” she answered.

“I know you do,” he said, sitting back into his creaky aged chair. “Pick one.”

Gladys looked at him timidly. The man gave her an approving nod, tenderly coaxing Gladys to return her attention to the life spread out before her. Her hand trembled. She could see how the years had weathered her skin; the deep lines and dark discolorations mapped out the inevitable passing of time. A puzzled look spread across her face, as if surprised to see she was as old as her features portrayed. Funny, she thought, she didn’t feel that old. Her knobby fingers wandered among the worn images, finally settling on one that appealed to her.

He seemed pleased. “You like that one?” he asked.

“Oh yes,” she said smiling. “The trees are so pretty, the sun is shining…and the people in it look so happy.” Gladys saw the old man’s eyes begin to sadden.

“So, you don’t know who the people are?” he asked.

She looked down and studied the photo, her eyes holding the troubled look of a child who’s gotten a wrong answer. She didn’t know the mother who lovingly held the little boy upon her lap, or her son whose lively laugh was now depicted within the white borders of the image.

“We’ll try another,” he said, gently taking the photograph out of her hand. “How about this one?” he asked.

Gladys stared intently. She wanted so badly to please the man beside her, but, sadly, she did not recognize the carefully decorated Christmas tree surrounded with lovingly wrapped gifts, nor the happy faces that hauntingly glared back at her. Her eyes hesitantly perused the other photographs sprawled out on the table. She didn’t remember the joyous birthday parties, emotional wedding ceremonies, or cheerful bar-b-ques scattered in front of her.

He silently hung his head.

This isn’t fun anymore, she thought to herself, placing her hands back into the familiar spot upon her lap. She breathed and expelled a deep sigh, a feeling of embarrassment drifting in; when out of the corner of her eye she spied a picture, half-buried, underneath the vast pile of memories. Taking the tiny tip of her feeble finger, she slowly tugged on the photo, unearthing the black and white image. She sharply drew in a breath while gripping the past tightly in her hand. “This one,” she said. She received no response. Her husband hadn’t heard her. “Glen,” she said softly.

The sound of his name seemed to startle him as he raised his tired head to look at her. “This one?” he said hesitantly.

“It was summer. My sister Ellen had gotten a new camera and snapped this picture of me.” She smiled. “It was so hot that day…sticky and wet like how the kitchen felt after mama was canning all day.” Gladys chuckled softly. “All the dang humidity made that white sun dress stick to my legs as I walked down to Rexall’s drugstore to get a cold pop. It had lace across the top with four large buttons that ran up the back,” she said confidently. “I remember seeing it in the Sears catalog. We didn’t have the money for something like that, so I bought the pattern for fifteen cents and made it myself,” she said proudly. She looked at Glen. “Don’t you think I look swell?”

Glen cleared his throat. “Course you do,” he said.  “But, this is the one you remember…one with just you…and a dress?”

Gladys smiled as a small tear trickled down her cheek. “Why Glen,” she said as she lovingly put her hand on his knee.  “I remember everything about that day…because that was the day I met you.”

 

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