Photograph

By Michael James Cook, PhD

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The day was empty already, the sun rose in a blood red sky as Nathan pondered on a third mug of coffee and smiled. Like always he said, “Today is going to be a good day,” as he looked at his wife’s photograph in his wallet. It was the only one he had and it went everywhere with him, just like when she was alive. It was a little dog- eared with ever more creases appearing, not unlike his own face. It ain’t easy getting old, he thought. It was grocery day and Nathan picked up his pen and started to make a list but the pen had run out of ink. It didn’t really matter because invariably he would forget it anyway, like an important item which served as an excuse to go back.

It was Nathan’s big day; he never thought that going to a supermarket could be so exciting. Spruced up in his best pants and shirt and with a dab of aftershave he went through his pre rehearsed speech. It was the same speech every week but the words never came out. Falling in love with a complete stranger can do that to you. But today was going to be different for Nathan.

Pulling the shopping cart out of the line he smiled, it was as though it had been waiting for him. Was it some unexplained anomaly that every week he chose the one with a wonky wheels and a mind of its own. Nathan glanced to his right has he entered the store and there she was working check out number four. Even the Christmas Carols being played in October didn’t detract him from his mission. The bachelor essentials of cheese, bread, eggs, and milk were loaded with haste. Making the final turn down the aisle he could see her. You can do it, you can do it, he thought.

One customer was in front of him which Nathan liked because he could take in her beauty. Reaching for an item she saw Nathan and smiled. It was a smile of thousand love poems dressed in a claret lipstick. Her hair was a moonless night cascading down to the middle of her back. He imagined it tickling his chest as she drifted off to sleep. Only the tap on his ankle by the shopping cart behind him broke his train of thought. Watching his groceries move closer to her he followed them till he was standing in front of Claudia. They exchanged pleasantries, like always. It was make or break for Nathan, as he opened his wallet only to find the photo of his wife was missing. Looking down to the floor to see if it fallen out, it wasn’t there. The day was done now and any thoughts about inviting Claudia and her son for pizza and a movie evaporated.

Nathan left the store distraught and started retracing his steps in his head as to where it could have possibly fallen out. Arriving home he looked on the floor of every room, but to no avail. The day was closing in and for Nathan it couldn’t come fast enough. Sitting on a bar stool in the kitchen he poured two glasses of red wine. He was no longer alone as the dark crept in, and switching the lights on seemed too much of an effort.

Looking into the living room he saw a dazzling orb dancing, changing shape. Sometimes it would become oval and Nathan could see a defined face within it. Closing his eyes for a few seconds he saw his wife Evelyn as clear as a photograph. Then when he opened them he saw the other glass was empty and the orb had gone. Clinking the wine glass against the empty one, he toasted, “Here’s to Life Rewritten.”

It didn’t matter that the photo was lost now, because Evelyn had given him a sign to find love again. Closing his eyes once more he saw Claudia and her son Marco. It was definitely a trip to the store in morning and so confident was Nathan that before he went to the store he ordered a pizza and went to the tianguis for the new Transformers movie.

Claudia smiled, “It's only taken you a year to ask me. Si, si.”

It became a regular evening occasion, and for once in the week the house was alive again and full of life, a family life. Both thought the language barrier would be a problem but it just added to the fun of being together. Marco, a bright student, spoke broken English but that really improved as they learned from each other, and more often if Nathan was stuck Marco would translate. Claudia would look on and smiled as Nathan helped him with his homework as she prepared food in the kitchen. A bond was building between them and it showed in Marco’s grades. Nathan would praise and encourage him; it was something maybe his father didn’t do.

This was soon to become apparent when her husband, Carlos, unbeknown to Claudia turned up at her parent’s house, demanding to see his wife. Being a staunch Catholic and believing in the sanctity of marriage Claudia’s Mother let him in. It was almost confessional the way he explained how he had changed and had regular employment. Claudia wasn’t taken in at all by his words as she looked at him with disdain.

“She dumped you, didn’t she? I can’t believe she lasted six months that must be a record.”

“No  mi amor, I realized that marriage is all about family.”

“Chinga! Carlos, you know all about making a family and then you move on to your next wife.”

“Your Mother said I could stay. She obviously believes in marriage.”

Claudia looked to see her Mother nodding in agreement. It was a done deal.

When Marco arrived home from school he immediately sensed the friction. His father jumped up and smiling, he began to shadow box, before lifting him into his arms and hugging him.

“I have plans for us all to live in Puebla, I have a good job and the schools are very good, hijo.”

A few days passed, Claudia and Marco had gone. When Nathan went to the store and was told that she had left, he didn’t know what to do. His Spanish was not good enough to hold a conversation with Claudia’s parents and he wasn’t sure if they would tell him anyway.

It didn’t take long before the misery of her husband returned. Claudia was trapped and her son couldn’t go to school because Carlos had spent the money for his school uniform on drink. Now unemployed he spent most of his days sat in a salsa- stained almost white vest watching daytime TV. It was time for Claudia take charge of her existence so she found a job at sewing factory. The hours were long and the money was minimum wage, but she had to give her son a fighting chance for an education. Feeling pleased with her first wage packet she treated herself to an ice cream on the way home. When she got home, Carlos was snoring in his chair. Sneaking past him she went in the kitchen to hide some of her wages at the bottom of the cereal box.

Carlos woke and held out his hand, “Hand it over.”

Claudia handed him the envelope with her wages. Spreading the notes like a deck of cards, he handed Claudia back 100 pesos.

“That should keep you and Marco in tacos for the week.”

Claudia watched in disgust as he rubbed a bar of soap under his arms, changed his vest, and ran some water through his hair. She knew her work was going to be spent on a whore. And as Carlos was about to leave she shook her head and said, “You make sure you spend it on someone clean.”

Carlos looked over his shoulder and laughed as the metal door slammed.

“Come here Marco, I have something to show you.”

Retrieving the money from the cereal box, she put her arms around him, “Look, a few more weeks and then I will have enough saved for your school uniform.”

“Mama, I don’t want to go to school here. I don’t like Papa, why don’t you use the money to buy us bus tickets home.”

Cradling his head to her breast she started to cry, which started Marco crying too.

“I tell you what, let's get out this house and go to the park.”

It was Saturday evening and the young couples walking past Claudia hand in hand, sneaking kisses brought back thoughts of Nathan.

Nathan soon retreated into himself once more thinking that what he had wanted had been snatched away. Looking into the living room from his bar stool he said to himself, like he did every morning, “Today is going to be a good day.” It was grocery day, but without the excitement now. And as always he looked right when he entered just to see if Claudia was there.

Waiting in the line a young boy with his mother smiled and said, “You’re Marco’s friend. I miss playing with him and Puebla is such a long way from here.”

Nathan’s smile was so broad that it was hurting his cheeks. He knew what he had to do.

Knowing Puebla was a big city, Nathan was quite prepared to stay as long as it took. The first few weeks he stayed in a hotel until he found somewhere to rent. It was basic with little furniture and a two-burner stove. His days were spent riding the buses in different areas looking for Claudia. Occasionally hopping off to take in some lunch, he would sit and while away a few hours watching the world go by in the hope that he would see her

“Marco, Marco it’s getting late.” Claudia said.

Marco was into playing soccer with some boys who he befriended, and he was too engrossed to hear his Mother’s call.

A light rain began to fall and people started to scurry for shelter. The park was emptying quickly.

“Marco, Marco, we have to leave now.”

On hearing a man’s voice shout, “Marco, Marco, your Mother's waiting,” she turned quickly to see who it was.

Nathan smiled and said to Claudia, “Today is going to be the best day of my life.”

The  End

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