Sunday, June 17, 2018

“The Girl in the Photograph” by Paula MacDonald


“I think she’ll be okay,” Charlotte said to the girl in the photograph. “She still looks like trouble, but she’s doing so much better.”
Charlotte spoke to the girl often. She had come across the photograph in a library book that she had checked out for her daughter’s school project. The project was on whales, and Charlotte and Jenny had gone to the local public library to see what they could find. That was more than ten years ago, when Jenny was six years old and going somewhere with her mom was still acceptable.
Charlotte gazed at the black and white photo and thought again, as she had when she found it, that she could have returned it to the library. Her friend Nora worked at one of the branches and she knew from Nora that the library staff were always finding interesting things in the books. Sometimes patrons returned their own books, school library books, or books from other library systems. Library staff would put non-library books aside in case the owners returned for them, and there were procedures in place to return books to other libraries. If items were found in books, the last borrower of the book was called to see if it was theirs. Most often, things returned erroneously to a library made their way back to where they belonged.
So the photo Charlotte found could have made its way back to its rightful owner, perhaps. If Charlotte had taken it back when she found it. Ten years ago.
But there was something about the photo that made her hesitate. Something that drew her to it and made her want to keep it. Perhaps because the girl looked to be about Jenny’s age at the time. Although this girl looked nothing like Jenny, Charlotte thought. Jenny was dark haired and very slight. This girl looked fair, tall and strong. She was standing in an open front door of a house, a large entryway and a staircase with white spindles visible behind her. In the windows on either side of the door were reflections of trees and another house. Although there was not much of the surroundings visible, Charlotte had always pictured the house and property to be very grand.
The girl was barefoot, wearing a dress with long sleeves and the outline of an asymmetrical star on the front. Her outfit was accessorized with a tiara and she held a domino-style mask on a stick. There were no birthday party decorations or anything to indicate that this was not just another day. The effect was somewhat otherworldly and Charlotte had imagined the girl to be a miniature elfin gatekeeper, guarding a flutter of fairy children from the outside world.
Charlotte knew this was fanciful thinking. And normally she was not at all flighty. She was a part-time accountant, wore Birkenstocks, and shopped for groceries on Sundays with both coupons and the week’s menu plan in hand. She did not believe in angels or crystals or tarot cards. But she felt intuitively, and illogically, that the girl was an old soul and wise beyond her years. And that she could somehow hear and help Charlotte. So Charlotte had spent a fair bit of time over the past ten years speaking to this girl. Always about Jenny. Her own beautiful child who had grown up and, for a while anyhow, turned to the dark side.
“Hi, Mom! We’re home. Sera’s here!” Jenny’s loud voice filled the entry way and was followed by the sound of the front door slamming. Charlotte didn’t mind the noise. Not long ago there would have been no greeting at all from her daughter.
The two girls walked into the kitchen, looking like night and day. Charlotte was struck by the difference in their appearance, as she had been a year ago when she first met Sera.
Jenny was Goth. Her ponytail bounced as she walked across the kitchen. The ponytail was purple today and with her hair pulled back the shaved sides were very visible. Charlotte liked the purple more than she had liked the blue, pink and red that it had been at one time or another over the past four years. She supposed she like the current style better than the fully shaved head of three years ago. And she had become accustomed to the piercings - three earrings in each ear, one nose ring and one belly button ring. That was all Charlotte could see and cared to know. Jenny was dressed in her usual Doc Martens and black clothes. All her friends looked just like her. Except Sera.
Sera dropped her backpack onto the kitchen table, pulling her waist length, wild brown hair over one shoulder as she did so. Sera was tall and strong with glasses that enhanced her pretty features. She was so very normal looking in her blue jeans and white t-shirt. And since she had come into Jenny’s life, Jenny had really turned herself around.
There was still the odd night she would come home having had a bit too much to drink. But no more stumbling or being sick. Her eyes never had that unnatural stare anymore, the one that made it seem like she was somewhere else or perhaps sometime else. Her grades had gone way up. And she had even taken it upon herself to get her lifeguard and swim instructor qualifications, and now had a job at a new swim school in town. Charlotte was no longer so afraid for her daughter’s future.
“Hi Jenny. Hi Sera. How was your day?” Charlotte asked, pulling a batch of chocolate chip cookies from the oven.
“Hi Mrs. G. It was good”. Sera never seemed to be in a bad mood.
“Same old, same old, Mom,” said Jenny. But she smiled brightly at her mom, softening the mundane words.
Charlotte put the cookie sheet on the counter and saw that the photo was still there. Usually, she kept both the photo and her propensity to speak to it, hidden. But before she could slide it into her pocket, Sera saw it and grabbed it.
“Hey! Where did you get this picture of me? I think it was taken when I was six. My uncle Rob took it. He’s a photographer and only takes black and white photos. He still has a dark room! It was at my Grandpa’s house. Grandpa’s gone now. This is my mom’s all-time favourite picture.” Sera picked up the photo and hugged it to her chest, before turning to show it to Jenny.
Charlotte stared at Sera as what she said sank in. Then she smiled and spoke to the girl in the photograph one last time. Thank you, Sera, for saving my girl.

Paula MacDonald is an aspiring writer. She left the world of finance many years ago to be a stay-at-home mom, and is now pursuing her passion of writing. Paula lives with her family in Oakville.

See Brian Henry’s schedule hereincluding writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in Algonquin Park, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Cambridge, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Saint John, NB, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

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