The Photograph

“What will you do?” Voice quiet, a hand on my back.

I didn’t look up and the beam of his flashlight remained on the sleek photo I held lightly in my hand. I didn’t know what to say either. The photo was old with the bottom right corner torn off. The edges were curling and yellowed. The top left corner dripped, the only part of the photo that was wet. It was one of those old Polaroid pictures, the kind that the camera spit out right after taking it. The image showed a small family, two parents and two kids. And a dog but the dog was partially lost behind the legs of the people.

Young. The children were too young to even stand on their own. The father held one against his chest. It looked like a girl with shoulder length blond curls. Her eyes were closed as her head rested against the father’s shoulders. The other leaned against the mother’s legs, standing with his tennis shoes on the tops of her feet. The mother held him there by a hand on each shoulder. She was bent down slightly at his shorter stature. Her own blond curls fell forward against her cheeks, hiding her face in shadows.

I couldn’t remember what my mother’s face looked like. I had been too young when she died. As I stared at the photo, I got the feeling that I wasn’t supposed to know what my mother’s face looked like. Even now, trapped for eternity, I couldn’t see what her face looked like.

“Well?”

I still didn’t say anything as I stared at the photo. My right thumb rubbed across the little girl in the father’s arms. My sister. I hadn’t seen her since we had been separated.

I lifted my gaze from the photo to stare into the darkness of the hallway before us. The entire house was dark. No electricity murmured either. It reeked of gasoline.

It was a simple job really. My gaze returned to the photo. Not anymore. The photo. What else from my past was hidden within the walls of that house? And does it matter? My grip tightened on the photo.

“I can see now why this had to be our job.”

“I guess . . .” Shane agreed. “Could just be a coincidence . . . .”

The photo fluttered in my hand. My gaze swept from it to my arm and I realized that I was trembling.

“The house is abandoned,” he said. “Has to have been for more than five years.”

“I know that. We wouldn’t be here . . . .” I shook my head. The weight of a small cardboard box in my left hand returned to the forefront of my mind. I looked at the photo. After the divorce, I had never seen my little sister again. Or my father. And she had been so close, in the same city and I hadn’t even known it. But where are you now? I bit my lip. “Maybe she’ll come back.”

The hand on my back lifted for a moment before he was patting my back. “We don’t have to, you know,” Shane said. Patting turned to rubbing. “I’ll even take the blame.”

A small smile touched my lips as the photo fell from my fingers. I turned my back on it and the beam of his flashlight fell on my face. He didn’t say anything as I pushed past him and out the front door. It was a wonder that the thing was still on its hinges. I heard papers crunch and squelch under his boots as Shane followed me out. The door creaked shut behind us.

“Guess we’ll both be stung up, huh?” he said. The flashlight was still on and its beam trailed up and down the dark street. Not a soul was around and the nearest street light was dead.

I bent to scoop up the nearest chunk of rubble I could find in the gutter. Its weight was comfortable in my hand as I turned back to the little house. Each of the two front windows still had glass in their frames. It was a strange thought, almost as though no one had wanted to disturb whatever life my father and sister had left behind.

That didn’t stop me from hurtling the broken cement through the nearest one. I heard a gasp behind me as I moved forward, bringing the small box of matches up in my left hand. I quickly lit one before sending it in through the window after the rubble.

A moment later, flames licked up the tattered drapes, growing larger as the wind came in through the broken window. It wouldn’t be long before the entire gasoline soaked house was ablaze. I turned my back to it, to my past.

“Job’s done. Let’s go.”

B. Valdez 3.21.14

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