External Photo Clues:
“I wasn’t saluting. I was pushing the hat out of my eyes.”
We aren’t surprised to hear this from our mother. Whenever we find old pictures she has to correct the ideas she imagines developing in our heads.
In the wedding album: “I wasn’t smiling about getting married. I was laughing at your father for spilling wine on his shoes.”
With infant versions of us: “I wasn’t posing for a picture. I was asleep on my feet, thanks to you, and the flash startled me awake.”
In any photo in which she is touching us: “Somebody had to wipe the crud off of you.”
We are sixteen and fourteen when we find it, and mom claims to be fifteen in this picture. It seems impossible that she’s not just playing dress-up. But she lied about her age to follow her husband who’d shipped out a week after they’d eloped. We feel as if we want to protect this girl, sandwiched between our ages.
She will never tell us why she asked someone to take the picture.
After she dies, we begin a ritual without really planning to: passing the picture back and forth between us every few months. In a cheap frame from Woolworth’s that looks even cheaper standing next to professional photos of our kids in matching outfits.
Other photos get shoved into old shoeboxes or stuck in albums behind plastic sheets that make a tearing sound when we lift them up. But we can’t stop looking at this one, at the double exposure seeping up from the bottom: a shadow of another set of windows and the skim of a hat implying a different face below. Like a film moving to the next reel. To some other scene; to some other woman who comes back with our father not because her first husband died but because she loved him; to some other day when our mother could look right at the camera and salute.
At some point our kids – cousins who are always in cahoots – become older than mom was in the photo. They announce that they can fix the picture of Gram Bern (as they called her, though she hated that), and it is taken somewhere to be digitized and cleaned up and whatnot. Preserved, is what they say. We all cluster around the computer to see the results. We get to sit because we’re the old ones now, with the latte-breathed kids sagging onto the backs of our chairs. One of them leans over us to do some fancy clicking. And then the image blooms on the screen.
All evidence of the double exposure has been erased. The girl, more crisp now in the darkened shades and whitened whites, just stands. Nothing coming up at her feet, nothing to kick out of the way.
About The Author:
Rebecca Entel is an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Cornell College. She’s had stories published in Madison Review and Leaf Garden and has a few more coming out in Eunoia Review and Unsaid Magazine.
Authoring For The Imaginary Family Project:
Are you interested in “finding” one of our lost vintage photos by authoring a story?
Please visit this link:
Imaginary Family Project Author Request Form
About The Imaginary Family Project:
The 2011 Imaginary Family Project is a year-long collective art endeavor coordinated by occasional amateur artist Quentin Bomgardner and co-sponsored by The Red Dirt Chronicles. This project is based around “lost” vintage photographs, which have been acquired at flea markets, garage sales, estate sales, and eBay – heirloom collections, with no heir. Every week a different author will “find” one photograph by creating an imagined history around one of its subjects. At the end of the year, the collection will be compiled and presented as a group.