The last of the family’s 10,000 slides was scanned about a month ago. I start dealing with the prints and digital pictures next (my father was a professional photographer). Until I screw up the courage to put his work out as vintage images, I wander through my parents’ past, making up little stories.
She stands ankle deep in the ocean, still in her Sunday clothes, waiting. She does not see the way he sees. She sees the heat curling up from the beach and relishes the cool water. She sees the crowd on the boardwalk and appreciates the emptiness of the pillars. She sees him and waits. Devotion is not competitive. Photography is, especially to make a living at it. She is a practical woman.
They have come from church, likely on their way to lunch on the boardwalk, when he sees something. She’s used to his visions, almost. She fell in love with an artist of sorts, an observer. Investigation, like the correct shutter speed, comes with the job.
He holds the camera close and captures one moment after the next. Click, click, click. With one hand, he pulls a handkerchief from his back pocket to wipe the sea spray from the lens, then from his forehead. Click, click, click.
She holds her shoes in two fingers tucked into the crook of an elbow and waits, knowing she is competing with his camera and losing.
She sees the incoming tide and takes two steps back. Even in bare feet there is her dignity to consider. She also considers mentioning the tide to him, but she waits. It’s now a competition she can win.
Eventually the camera rests at his waist, taut at the ends of its leather neckband. He looks down. She has moved back another two steps, arms crossed, lips tighter than a new bathing suit. But she waits at surf’s edge. He’s balanced on an old telephone pole tamped into the shore as a breakwater to protect the new steel pier he’s just captured on film.
He doesn’t see her. He sees his new camera on his belly, his dress shoes, and the surf. He calculates, counts the space between waves, their relative height as they come up the beach to his perch, counts again, and hazards the turn toward shore to assess the consequences.
She is waiting. She smiles, raising an eyebrow in supplication. “What would you have me do?” says that curved brow. He smiles, counting the time until the surf retreats, tilts his head in response. “She is beautiful,” he thinks. “She will kill me if I ruin these shoes. No, she will make me wear them. That’s what she’ll do. She’ll make me wear ruined shoes.”
The sea becomes a skim around them. He holds out his arm toward her. She waits.
She calculates. He saved for months for that camera. The shoes, they are expendable, replaceable. She moves closer. They wait for the waves to retreat. She reaches her empty hand to his, and wishes for someone to capture this moment.