Living Room Story: What the camera didn’t see

This one came after I went through an book of old photographs.

That summer at the farm was a perfect summer for the Davises. The camera stood waiting for one last photograph before the family headed back to the city for their winter life.

The camera saw the mother. Hope stepped through the front screen door and onto the porch. She took her place in the large wicker chair. She smiled at the camera’s eye, radiating the look of someone who had found the secret of happiness.

The camera saw Marty step behind her, a tall, lanky kid soon to be in his senior year in high school. He placed his long, thin hands onto his mother’s shoulders. She reached up and squeezed one of them.

The camera saw Marty’ sister, Grace, slide up beside her brother, wearing her engagement ring, thinking of the wedding to come. Standing there in her soft summer dress, she gave the camera a wink.

The camera saw Richard, the oldest son, join the others behind their mother. In his lieutenant’s uniform, he had that all-American look of promise that said he could accomplish anything he set his mind to.

George, the father, walked out onto the porch and sat down on the porch steps beside his wife. He looked around at his family and the camera saw the pride on his face. He was on his way to becoming the Ted Turner of laundromats, having inherited one from his father and turning it into five.

But the camera didn’t see Hope’s breast cancer and her death two years later. The camera didn’t see the knife plunged into Marty’s gut as he tried to stop a convenience store robbery. The camera didn’t see Grace’s three divorces and then her suicide from an overdose of sleeping pills. The camera didn’t see the bullet chasing Richard in the jungles of Vietnam.

The camera didn’t see an older George in a run-down motel, sitting on the side of the bed. He was left with only with an empty wallet, a half bottle of scotch and a cough that won’t go away. His accountant had embezzled him into bankruptcy.

And the camera didn’t see that time in the future when the family gathers for another perfect summer.

Near 500 words:Elgar

The farm was dying. Elgar knew it. His wife, Beatrice, knew it. His son, Jock, knew it. The question was what to do with it. After all, it had been his great grandfather’s, his grandfather’s, his father’s. For three generations before him, the farm had prospered. Fed the family. Kept them happy. Now he had failed. But not one of his forebears had had to deal with the droughts of the last several years.

Elgar’s feet were rooted in the soil like a tree. Elgar wrestled with the what-to-dos like Jacob wrestling with the angel long ago. To pull up and seek a new life, Beatrice and Jock knew would kill Elgar.

The farm was dying. God had abandoned this land Elgar loved so much. As the other farmers sold out and moved away, Elgar became lonelier and lonelier. When you’re the last of your kind, it’s hard to avoid the isolation, the alienation.

The tall, thin farmer walked his land one last time. As he did, he came upon his father’s old tractor seat, that “seat of power” where Dad ruled his domain. If his father had taught him anything, it was not to dominate the land. But to be its steward. It was still not too late to return to his father’s ethic.

He reached down and took the seat from the tractor, raised it above his head and began to dance. It wasn’t a rain dance. It wasn’t a folk dance. It was the dance of a man who loved his land.

Near 500 words: Ancestors

The woman in the door of the wooden hut stood before Rufus. Her dark hair and her brown eyes were full of life though her life was hard.

Her focus reminded Rufus of the last time he saw his father. It was late at night and the old man sat at his desk, studying a photograph of his father who had been gone some thirty years. There was a light in the old man’s eyes. It wasn’t the light from the table lamp. It was another kind of light. It was the light of memory.

Or was it more? Was it the light of someone who has experienced some piece of the divine in his life? Rufus’ father never spoke of his father.

“Can I have some water?” Rufus asked the woman in the doorway.

The woman smiled. Instead of water, she invited him inside her one-room house. A house that was spotlessly clean. In the corner was an altar to some god or other. He didn’t ask since he knew it would be as rude as asking his father about his grandfather. She brought him a cup of tea and offered him a seat on one of the three wooden chairs.

Rufus took out his camera and pointed to it. “Can I take your photograph?”

The woman blushed, then shook her head yes.

Rufus pointed and snapped several pictures. Then he finished his tea. He thanked her for her hospitality.

It was a brief encounter but not as brief as the night he saw his father studying the photograph of his father.

As he walked up the path away from the woman’s house, he missed his father and his grandfather. Perhaps in another life. Perhaps.

Near 500 words: Disagreements

Cameron, 21, stood before the painting and studied it. Finally, he said to Louise, “Raphael or no Raphael, that’s just too baroque for me.”

“You’re such a stick in the mud. You always have been, and you always will be. You probably wouldn’t like Vermeer.” Louise, 23, wore her light blue suit, and nothing could spoil her mood. Especially her brother.

“I love Vermeer. Wonderful light. And that girl with the pearl earring. I would have dated her.”

“Question is would she have dated you.”

“Course she would have. I’m not a bad looking fellow, and I do have my good points.”

“Name one.”

“I can name two. I like Vermeer and I’m your brother.”

“Aren’t you the smarty pants,” Louise said. “Just what is wrong with the Raphael?”

“It says it’s The Triumph of Galatea. Who the heck is Galatea anyway?”

“From some Greek story, I guess.”

“Another thing I don’t like. The women are supposed to be naked. It’s like Raphael has put skin suits on them. Nothing really showing. And all you get of the little guys with their wings is their butts. Geez, I don’t want to see a bunch of guys’ butts. If I did, I could look at mine in the mirror. Oh, I correct myself. There is one guy in the corner. You get to see his stuff.”

“It’s all supposed to be symbolic.”

“Symbolic?” Cameron snickered. “I think I’ve enough of this art for one day. Let’s go see a movie like you promised.”

“All right, but I get to pick the movie.”

“Oh, no. You picked the art. I’m picking the movie.”

They turned and headed for the entrance of the museum. They passed the guard and walked down the stairs to the street below.

“If you pick the movie,” Louise said, “you pay. I paid for the museum.”

“Want to get a dog and a coke?” he said, pointing to a hot dog stand over in the park.

As they hurried across the street, she said, “We’re not going to another one of those shoot ‘em ups you love. I absolutely forbid it.”

“Let’s go see ‘Heat’.”

They arrived at the hot dog stand.

“No. That’s another shoot ‘em up. Absolutely not.”

They took their food from the man and found a park bench. Cameron plopped down on the bench. Louise checked it for anything that would dirty her skirt. Finally, she sat down beside her brother. They both bit into their wieners.

“This is good,” Louise said to Cameron.

“This is good,” Cameron said to Louise.

The two looked out at the park and both smiled.

“This is the life,” Cameron said to his sister.

“This is the life,” Louise agreed. “Mom would be proud.”

“Yes, she would. We do agree on something.”

“But we’re not going to that movie.”

“It’s got De Niro and Pacino and there’s romance in it. I’m sure.”

“Over my dead body,” Louise said.

“That can be arranged. Maybe I’ll get Pacino to do the job.”

Louise laughed. “I’d rather it be De Niro.”

Near 500 words: Frank’s Day

Frank was excited. His mother was taking him to the fair. He was seven years old and he had heard a lot about the fair from his friend Gina. His friend, Roger, too. Now it was his turn. His mother was excited for him as well.

The first thing Frank discovered about the fair. It was alive with noises, and they were happiness noises. Then there were the colors that filled his eyes with brightness and variety. And the smells of popcorn.

Gina told him about the horses and he just knew he wanted to ride them and there they were, on the carousel. And they made music. Frank loved the music.

He pulled at his mother’s dress. “Can I? Can I?”

“We have to buy a ticket,” his mother answered him.

He could hardly wait. He was so excited. It was like the times he needed to piss in his pants and thought he would die if he had to wait. Of course, he didn’t die, and he didn’t die waiting on the ticket.

His mother lifted him onto the white stallion and she got on the black mare beside him. Then the carousel took off. Up and down it went. And it went up and down some more. And the music played. Frank was in heaven. But like most things Frank loved, such as chocolate cake and hot cocoa, heaven came to an end.

It was such a short ride. Frank wanted to ride for a thousand miles like Genghis Khan and his mongol hordes he had read about. But his mother insisted they try something else.

She insisted, “You’re going to love cotton candy as much as I do.”

He did love cotton candy as soon as he had some. It was like eating a cloud.

“Now we’re going to ride the ducks,” his mother said, as she grabbed her son’s hand.

“You can ride ducks?” Frank asked. Then he saw it. Giant white ducks at the pier of a lake.

And then it was the biggest surprise of his birthday. Gina and Roger ran past him, yelling, “Frank, Frank.”

Frank joined his two best friends in one of the ducks. The moms of Gina and Roger joined Frank’s mother and got into the duck with their kids. The gondolier guided the duck away from the dock as his passengers jabbered away. Then he sang at the top of his lungs “The Quack Song”. Soon his passengers joined him with their singing.

Across the lake the duck and its gondolier carried the six. As they pulled up to the dock, a young man grabbed each of their hands and said, “Welcome to the Land of the Unicorns”.

The six stepped onto the dock. The kids were all excited. “Unicorns, unicorns,” they sang in unison. Into a large tent they went. On the sides of the tent, a movie projected. It was the Unicorn Story. Everybody went “ahhhh” when they saw the giant white creatures with their large orange horn running like the great steeds they were once upon a time.

When the day was done, Frank kneeled at the side of his bed. His dad kneeling on one side and his mom on the other. Frank prayed, “Thank you, God, for the best day ever.”

His parents tucked their son into bed and snapped off the light and said, “Good night, Son. We love you.”

That night Frank dreamed of friends and unicorns and horses and giant ducks with gondoliers singing “The Quack Song”.