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Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by InkWren, Jan 24, 2015.
So begins the tale of two hearts...
Jim really didn’t know why he was bothering. He hadn’t been back to the old neighborhood in years, and he didn’t even know if anyone from the old days was still about! None of the other Tollivers were. He was pretty much the last in his family except for a few cousins and their kids somewhere out on the West coast. Buffalo born and bred, Jim was the last of the Tollivers. Only years of finance and brokering deals across the world had kept him from his home town for decades, with the idea of returning only a passing fancy that crossed his mind now and then. He remembered weekends at the Broadway Market and celebrating Dyngus Day even though he wasn’t the least bit Polish. There was the Italian Festival down on Hertel Ave. in the summer and the German Festivals in the fall, and Irish bars all over the damned place with folks singers coming in from all over the world. That much would never change about the place he was sure. Even the Colored Musicians Club was still active downtown, although someone with more smarts than money was trying to run a museum of some sort next to it. He had payed a visit there as one of his first stops. While he was clearly as white as mayonnaise, the CMC had always accepted members of all races.
None of his friends from those days were there either. No one to chide him for letting his dues lapse or letting his trumpet gather dust in whatever storage locker he had left it in. Most of his possessions were in various such places across the States. Jim just never had the time to settle down long enough to collect them all in one place.
That had all changed with the heart attack.
He’d been pushing himself for year, really, with no real breaks or downtime. Every second he paused to think about taking a vacation, a client appeared who needed help or a company wanted his advice or some emergency or another had come along… Jim wasn’t even sure he really had friends, per se, more just business associates. Pushing into his fifties and following his doctor’s advice to retire, returning to Black Rock was the only thing he could think of.
Now, as he sat on a bench in the middle of Broderick Park and watched various re-enactors prepare for their annual festival, he wondered if it had been such a good idea. He felt old. Out of place. The September breeze off of Lake Erie was still warm enough, but Jim swore he could feel autumn’s approach on the wind. It made him all the more maudlin. For all the things that hadn’t changed, it had ceased to be his hometown somewhere along the line when he hadn't then looking. There was nothing but memories in Buffalo for him, memories that he had no one to share with now.
Phoebe planted each step with that determination and confidence that only came with youth. Her scuffed sneakers lead her down the sidewalk path through the park as her eyes wandered, not watching where she was going. She would pause from time to time, snapping shots of the re-enactors. The flowers, mums and other fall time wonders. Ear buds graced her ears, their thin chords dangling like modern day jewelry to the iPod clinging to the V of her sweater. The soft green material slipped from her shoulder from time to time exposing the white tank top she wore underneath and the caramel skin that it set off.
She was young, turned 26 just four months earlier. College was in the past. She had a job she loved though it payed worth a damn and a boyfriend who was making a name for himself at a law firm downtown. Sure she didn't see him much these days, but they were happy. They were gonna get married and have kids. She could see her future like a rising sun on the horizon.
She hummed happily to herself as she reached the park bench. Planting her knees on the painted surface, she leaned, using the back for support as she tried for an artistic shot through the rose bush that stood shyly behind the bench offering up its perfume. It took a moment or two for her to realize that the bench was occupied. As she straightened, still kneeling in her place, she glanced to the side. In the habitual hands of a photographer, the camera snapped an image of the man sitting there.
She glanced at the screen and spoke to the image, though it was to the gentleman. "You mind?" She often forgot that some people didn't really care to have their picture taken. Fingers manipulated buttons, zooming in on the face saved into the camera's memory. Her eyes lifted and truly focused on him for the first time.
The young woman didn’t even register on his radar at first, his mood making him stare off past the re-enactors and early crowds to the open waters of the lake beyond. Gull cries and the roll of waves carried his memories back to him as Jim sat there brooding in his grey silk suit and purple shirt, looking out of place as he sat there among the slowly growing crowds. It wasn’t until she clamored up on the bench besides him and leaned over to snap a photo of the flowers that he turned his head. Jim watched her with a detached amusement. She was young. Pretty. Clearly more athletic than he was, or at least more graceful. Jim had maintained a habit of working out every other day for years, only that was no protection against heart troubles when compared with late nights, early mornings, no rest, and lots of bad food. He felt vaguely envious.
“Your camera,” he shrugged. “Not as pretty as the flowers, though.”
He decided that he liked her eyes. Peering at him from over the top of her camera, they were large, dark and expressive, and if Jim was going to assign any word to describe them, it would have been alive. A wave of regret passed over him. How many lively, pretty, young women had he paid no attention to the past few decades? Maybe if he had been paying more attention, he wouldn’t have been sitting by his lonesome on a park bench in a town where he didn’t know anyone. Jim turned to face the distant waters again.
Through his maudlin mood and against all expectation, Jim still found himself talking to her. “You like taking pictures? You should try Forest Lawn Cemetery over by Delaware and Delevan, if you haven’t already. Beautiful place. Least it used to be.” A chuckle bubbled up as a kinder memory surfaced. “Had a friend who used to take pictures of ‘For Rent’ signs in front of some of the older tombs for laughs. Between that and the bubble-blowing parties I’m surprised they didn’t ban us. Less said about the impromptu clown parade, the better.”
Phoebe laughed lightly at his words about the flowers. "Well, I wasn't taking your picture because you were pretty. I don't like pretty men." She turned with a dancer's grace and shifted from kneeling to sitting. Her gaze swept over the gathering crowd and a smile tugged at her mouth. She'd played a child in the event two or three times as a little girl. The dresses she'd used were probably at home in the attic.
"Of course it's still there. It isn't like the occupants are gonna get up and walk away." She wasn't looking at him as she spoke. Her eyes were fixed on the screen of her camera, flipping through images. But she was smiling. "I love the Blue Sky Mausoleum." She glanced sideways at him and noted again the almost sad mood he was in.
Turning his way, she brushed a leaf from his shoulder. "You know, I have never heard anyone use bubbles and clowns in a sentence with such a mopey face before. You need to cheer up! It's a beautiful day!"
He was handsome, in that polished older man kinda way she secretly liked. She'd told one person about her attraction to older white guys and never heard the end of it, good natured thought the teasing was. She admired the lines at the corners of his eyes and indulged in that secret fantasy of kissing a man just there but quickly pushed the thought away.
This poor stranger on a parkbench needed to have some fun. Real fun. Her eager young eyes began looking for just that.
Her exuberance was slightly contagious, her words making him chuckle a little. “Ah, but it was a somber occasion some thirty years ago, you see? Last day before most of us graduated high school, nothing but summer jobs and pre-college course work after that. There’d be graduation parties, yeah, but it wouldn’t be the same. So we took our fun seriously. After all, you never know when that one banana cream pie with your name on it is going to find you! All around Mirror Lake with the Three Graces watching on as we stomped about in floppy shoes, baggy pants, and honking noses; me, playing ‘Mental Strain At Dawn’ on my pawnshop trumpet… badly. I would have liked to think the Three Graces approved, even if the groundkeepers didn’t.”
Jim leaned back, eyes raising to the bright blue September sky as he rested his elbows on the back of the bench. “Could have used a photographer then,” he mused sadly as he realized that he had no pictures from that time, no proof that the march of the clowns about the graves ever happened. “We didn’t even make the news.”
With an almost visible shake, Jim tried to throw off the melancholy a little as he focused on the lively young woman again. “So what’s your prescription, doctor?” he rallied with a bit of smile. Jim’s mellowed baritone of a voice contained a hint of bitterness but seemed far more filled with a laughter of self-depreciating humor at his own expense. “Fifty-two year old male, bad ticker, former drinker, occasional smoker, in a hometown where he doesn’t know anyone, and just found out his childhood home got bulldozed for a Walmart. Whaddya think? Fifty cc’s of sunshine and a kick-up-the-ass enema?”
Without even waiting for an answer, because truth be told Jim really wasn’t expecting one, he gestured to the camera with a flick of his one ringless hand. “So, you a professional?” The question was a sincere one, as one was the next. “Or you do it for fun?”
She was on her feet as he asked if she was a professional. It seemed perhaps he didn't really want to be given a good time prescription, but she played along. "No, not yet. But I'm working on it." She swept her heavy hair aside and lifted the camera's lanyard from her neck and held out the camera.
"Here. Take one of me." There was a large boulder close by and she left him with her cherished camera to climb up on it. Lifting her arms over her head, her fingers entwined and she lifted her face to the clear sky. In an instant, she was lost in the pleasure of the feeling. Warmth on her dark skin and the cool fall air sweeping softly around her. It never entered her mind that this stranger might refuse and simply walk away.
She spoke without opening her eyes. "Why was the clown sad?"" A breathe of time later she answered. "Because he broke his funny bone." Those same dark eyes opened and sought him out. "At least you don't have that problem, right?"
Having the camera handed to him was not a thing he would have expected to happen. Jim knew nothing about cameras, but hers seemed professional grade and most likely expensive. It found surprising that she would just hand over something of such high quality to complete stranger sitting in the park, and while he thought he hardly looked the sort to run off with such a thing, one never really knew. To cover his surprise, he went with the flow and took the camera from her fine-fingered hands. Jim frowned at it for a moment as he tried to figure out if there was anything he had to do other than click and shoot.
"Well, if you insist," he muttered as he looked her camera over. There was a vague awareness of her climbing up on the nearby boulder, and his body reacted automatically by rising to follow after as he continued his examinations. Jim finally decided that point and click was probably the best way, and if he got it wrong she's say something. He could only hope that he didn't delete any of her previously captured images in the process!
She looked... right... sitting up there on the rock like some ancient spirit of wisdom. The sun gave her dark skin a glow that made her pleasant features all the more interesting to gaze upon, and Jim almost wondered if it was possible that she was glowing from the inside out! He knelt down with slightly creaking knees and aimed upwards.
Through the lens and at the angle from beneath, she was a goddess at her temple. His finger clicked several times in a row at different perspectives, and the retired financial advisor could not find any angle at which she did not look beautiful and peaceful and full of life all at once. Slowly he rose upwards, coming ever closer to the level of her face. Then she asked her question.
Jim paused. Why was the clown sad? Was she referring to his earlier story about the clown parade in the graveyard? He'd used the words 'somber' and 'seriously', yes, but it hadn't been a sad event. That he was sad now, well, yes, but he was scarcely dressed as a clown at the moment! Was it her way of asking why he seemed so sad? Or did she mean something else altogether? The camera lowered so that he could look upon her without the camera in the way; for all the high definition of the images on the back screen, it still didn't match the radiance of her just sitting there with that smile upon her face.
He was about to answer her with some random remark about himself, how he wasn't so much sad as he was nostalgic, when she hit him with the punchline.
His eyes closed and he groaned as though grievously wounded. "No," Jim conceded ruefully as he shook his head and opened his eyes again, "That is a problem I don't have, true. Although that, my dear, is a truly horrible joke."
It hit him them. A combination of vertigo and deja vu that made his legs weak and the world swim about him dizzily. Jim pressed a hand to his temple and closed his eyes, wincing against the sensation. There was something familiar about the moment, something that struck him out of nowhere to leave him reeling. Hadn't she cracked that joke before? And he had chided her for it, chuckling as he just had in appreciation for a truly bad joke. Her upon the rock, people milling about, the gulls crying overhead.
"Sorry," he stammered as he teetered a bit. "Stupid meds make me a little lightheaded sometimes."
Phoebe scrambled down and to his side. Concern made her dark eyes deep. "You sure? Cause I failed First Responder Training." She left her precious camera in his hands. She never considered that it wasn't perfectly safe in his hands. Linking her arm in his, she set them in motion in the general direction of the First Aid tent that sat ready to help the Underground Railroad Re-enactors with any unplanned mishaps.
"Go ahead. Don't stop. A good photographer keeps taking pictures." As they strolled, still nameless but not quite strangers, she pointed out different places that would make good shots. A woman dressed as a slave with a child in toe. Two young friends embracing in their farewells. The contrast of their skin made the shot only more poignant. Women in their concealing bonnets giving those who chose to leave the States altogether gifts of food and clothing.
It always moved her. For a moment she paused and an ache gripped her. The artist she was couldn't see color as anything but a palette of life. She sighed. The sound moving from sadness to hope. "We've come a long way, haven't we?" Her face lifted to the face of the man beside her and she could see him in a top hat. Solemn but confident and looking at her so longingly.
She drew her arm from his and took back the camera. "Let me get one of you. The light is good here."
The dizziness passes as they walked, and yet Jim still could not shake the feeling of deja vu. It wasn’t as strong once they walked away from the boulder, her urging him to snap pictures here and there as they moved along. The effort of raising the camera with one hand to take photographs helped him to focus against the last traces of vertigo that threatened, as did the warmth of her arm interlocked with his other one. That provided a completely different kind of distraction! Jim could feel the woman’s physical presence and smell a clean, perfume-like scent exuding from her skin and hair. Despite their obvious age difference, walking with her made him feel young again. At least a little bit.
He found there wasn’t anything he could say to her comment. Watching the mixed crowds through the lens, he saw the same things she saw and more. He saw that while the ratio of colored skin still outnumbered that of pale flesh, the ages were more diverse. The festivals in his days usually did not have the sort of variety he was seeing that day, that was undeniable. The question still hovered at the edge of his mind, though: Have we gone far enough?
Jim looked down into her face, admiring the strength of her features and the shape of her youthful body. When had been the last time he’d walked in the park with a pretty girl? Hell, when was the last time he had gone anywhere with a pretty girl, much less one that seemed so lighthearted?! Humor was good. Humor indicated intelligence, and Glen valued that quality more than shapely legs and expressive dark eyes. The fact that she might very well have all of that made his longing just a little more acute.
Her taking back the camera startled him out of his reverie. Jim gave it up willingly to then shift uncomfortably to figure out what sort of pose he should strike if any. “My name’s Jim, by the way. James, actually, but I never liked sounding so formal.”
Phoebe smiled as he fidgeted. "It's a pleasure to meet you, James." Perhaps it was the somber mood she had first seen him in, or the dapper almost old fashioned suit, but she just couldn't see him as a Jim. He was definitely a James in her mind. "I'm Phoebe."
She caught his hand to settle the fidgets. "You are a very handsome and photogenic man, James. Just relax." A lock of his silver hair had fallen across his forehead and she stepped close reaching up to run her fingers through his hair in the hands on way some artists had. It felt so soft that unconsciously the movement slowed and her breathe caught.
The scent of him reached her as she took a gasping breath and dropped her hand. She knew that scent. Intimately. She'd had little fantasies before but this was more than that. It was knowledge. She swayed toward him and then away before her feet could engage and back her up one much needed step. Then two.
"Just relax." She repeated the words, but they were more for her own benefit now. Lifting the camera, she hid behind it as she pulled herself together. "Ok, now smile. I mean it." She smiled, forcing her lips to act and waiting for James to follow suit.
“Are your sure this will not steal my soul, Miss Phoebe?” James chuckled lightheartedly as he smoothed his mustache and readied himself for his portraiture. “You already have my heart, after all. Much more of this, and I fear I shall wither away to nothing but a collection of parts in your purse!” He knew the photographer was looking on, frowning at the notion of capturing the image of a white man and a Negress side by side and acting like starstruck lovers as they stood there arm in arm. James was hardly a Luddite, but he always had preferred painters to photographers. Looking down on Phoebe tenderly, he snugged their arms a little closer together so that the photo would, without question, reveal their affection towards one another.
Jim blinked several times, suddenly missing Phoebe’s warmth besides him. There was momentary confusion as he attempted to figure out how she had gotten in front of him, and when she had become the person behind the camera. The memory had flashed in his head and was gone again. He might as well tried to have catch a butterfly in a hurricane!
That butterfly’s wings, however, had brushed his cheek in its passing.
The wonder of it made him smile for her. Perhaps he was going mad? Or maybe there had been some unintended side effect of the medications, one the doctor hadn’t warned him about. Jim realized he didn’t care. A trick of the mind or something that he had forgotten from long ago, he couldn’t recall any time within recent memory when he had felt alive.
After she snapped the photo, he glanced down shyly and bit his lower lip. “I hope you’ll forgive me if I’m a bit bold here. Little out of practice. But… how about lunch? Wherever you like. Just… a thank you. For being nice to an old guy who’s been feeling down. You like historical events, photography? How about the Pearl Street Bar & Grill? They’ve got all those pics from the turn of the century, and all the decor is from that time. What do you say? Grab a bus, grab a bite to eat, talk a bit. My treat, and no funny business.”
"Then where would I keep my fan?" She looked up at him. Loving him as she had loved no other man. Knowing it could never last. Not even here in Buffalo. But, she had this moment. If photographs could steal a soul, perhaps they could preserve a love. At least the memory of one.
She looked up at him as he tucked her close to his side. Safe. Loved.
The bulb flashed.
Her camera snapped and whirled softly as flash reset and the file was saved. She looked down at the image on the screen and for a moment wanted to weep. But his voice called her thoughts back into the moment and his stammering words brought the smile back to her face.
A dark brow lifted. "I don't know. I mean, when a man who has confessed all ready to clownish behavior promises no funny business, can he be trusted?" She slipped the camera strap over her head and carefully drew her hair free of it. "If you mean you have no intention of laughing at my bad jokes, I might have to take a rain check."
She stepped closer to him to give two men carrying a bench across the grounds room to pass. "Will you promise to laugh?" She could feel his nearness and caught that so familiar scent of him again. "If you promise, then I would love to ride a bus and have a coffee with you."
He may not have been a clown, but Jim knew for a certainty that he was grinning like a fool from the moment she accepted his offer. He didn’t really know why. After all, it was just a lunch with a very nice young lady who had taken the time to talk to a stranger and stay with him while a moment’s dizziness passed. It wasn’t as though there was much chance that he would ever see her again afterwards. Somehow, though, that reasoning made him taking Phoebe out to lunch all the more important. Again, if anyone had asked Jim his logic behind that, he would have been helpless to explain it. He just didn’t want the moment to end. Not when Phoebe was so close and looking so beautiful in the noontime sun.
It’s been… too long. Too long, by far,” some voice whispered in the back of his head.
Still smiling, Jim bowed his head in mock defeat. “I swear, I left my squeaky rubber nose, my whoopy cushion, and my squirting lapel flower all back at the hotel. No promises on the hand buzzer and rubber chicken, though. As for your jokes? I promise that as soon as you start telling them, I’ll start laughing.”
They began to move towards the corner bus stop across the park’s bridge, Phoebe on his arm as she had before. It was the strangest walk he’d ever taken in his life. Nothing more was really said between them, and even if there was it would have been difficult to say it; every time they looked at each other, all that came out was shy smiles and disbelieving giggles. Even on the bus, the two of them drew stares from the occasional passenger. Once in a while, they would both open their mouths as though to say something at the same time, only to have their words dissolve away into chuckles. Jim wondered at it all as he looked down into her face. It was almost as if they said nothing because… there was simply nothing to say. Nothing that made any sense at that point, not to a woman he had just met!
As they drew closer to the center of the city, Jim looked out the window to watch the city passing by. It was bizarre how Buffalo looked the same and was also so very strange to him now. He had noticed differences before, true. Now it seemed so much more alien to him. He could so easily picture how it all must have looked long ago with cobble-stone streets and the Victorian houses all brightly colored. The I-198 highway was like a great ugly scar through the middle of it all.
“Are you… from Buffalo, Phoebe?” he suddenly managed to get out. Jim turned back to her, that same shy smile playing at his lips. A hand ran through his greying hair nervously.
Phoebe had never enjoyed awkward silences so much. Every time they made eye contact, the laughter just bubbled to the surface. She paid no mind to the eyes that glanced their way and only kept her hand tucked in the protected crook of his arm in that old fashioned way that seemed so comfortable.
As they alighted from the bus and walked the short distant to the old brick brewery building, her camera rose again to capture the edifice. She didn't linger long, however, and turned to answer his question. His shyness had her eyes dancing. "Yes, born and raised, but its been ages since I came here."
She grinned and caught his hand to draw him inside. "Ad I know already you are. So, what kept you away for so long?" She didn't wait for his guidance but spotted a tall table near the bar that was just being wiped down and headed for it. The waitress smiled in the busy friendly manner of a true professional, and then stopped mid-greeting.
"Welcome to Pearl Street Grill. We have a lovel...y lager on tap to...day. I'm sorry." The woman shook herself. "You just look so familiar. The pair of you."
Phoebe hopped onto a stool before returning her camera to the case that had been slung expertly under one arm. "Maybe we just have those kinds of faces."
Jim blinked at the odd encounter, the surprise showing clearly on his face. “Dunno about that,” he chuckled uncertainly. “Some days I don’t even recognize myself in the mirror!”
Their orders placed, his being whatever beer they might have that was too dark to see through, he turned his attention back to Phoebe. Jim didn’t know much about looking familiar, but there was something about this attractive young woman he felt should know already. It was almost as though this was something he had wanted to do but never had the chance to before. Regardless of where that feeling came from, he was determined to make the most of whatever time he could with her that day. In fact, he wasn’t really sure he wanted the day to end! It was the best he had felt in a very, very long time.
“What kept me away?” he repeated. Jim thought about it for a moment and then shrugged. “One thing after another, I guess. I graduated high school, went to college. Cornell, actually. Got my first job in New York City working Wall Street and then… I just kept going. Lost touch with some folks, others lost touch with me. Parents died. After a while there just wasn’t anything to come back to. And even when I thought about coming back to look folks up, things would get too busy at work for me to find the time. People always needed me to do this, to do that, solve their problems, make them money, invest for their kids…”
“Then one morning while I was at work?” He tapped his chest, right over his heart. “Felt like someone punched me from the inside out. Next thing I know there’s a bunch of doctors hovering over me in an ER. So I retired and came back to the only place I ever lived for more than three years at a time. Not sure what I’ll do now that I’m here, mind you, but it’s not like I’ve got any other place that I want to be anyway.”
Another slow, idiotic smile crosse his face as he blushed a bit. “Least the company’s improved of late.”
He brushed away maudlin dwelling and tapped the camera case. The waitress was coming back with their drinks as he asked, “So tell me about this? What got you started in on photography? You show your pics in a gallery anywhere, or do portrait sittings for people?”
Phoebe let the moment pass with the flippancy that marked her age, when time seemed more a thing to look forward to with anticipation than backward in regret. She ordered a Fat Tire, and sat leaning on one elbow, chin in hand listening to James tell his tale. Her eyes moved over his face with interest as the emotions moved over his features.
A soft smile of contentment drew her full lips back showing just a glimpse of her teeth. At his question, she sat up and reached out to touch the beloved camera. "I want to." She said it softly with a hint of longing. "Show my work, I mean. But, I don't know." She shrugged and tucked her hair behind one ear. "I've been taking pictures all my life, even before I had a camera. I bought my first camera when I was ten. A Kodak Pony."
She grinned sheepishly as the waitress returned still eyeing them as she struggled to figure out where she'd seen them before. After she left them, Phoebe smiled. "I work at a photo studio doing glamour shots and such but..." She took a sip from the bottle, tilting it back to drink with innocent sensuality. Setting it down again, she glanced at her companion and made a rueful face. "I really hate it." A half guilty laugh bubbled up.
"I know it pays the bills, but there's no soul in it. Dillon says to be practical and that photography as an art is just a hobby. Like knitting or fantasy football." She smiled, but it didn't reach her golden hazel eyes. The mention of her boyfriend cast a sudden unintended pall over her mood though she didn't realize it, and her quick verbal defense of her self important young lover might reveal hidden unhappiness to older wiser eyes. "He's just really practical. Down to earth Dillon." The words should have sounded affectionate, but instead they sounded dulled from too many mental repetitions.
Listening with obvious interest, Jim barely touched his beer. The whole of his focus was on Phoebe. How she looked, what she said, how she said it, how she drank her beer… that was all that was important. He could have a beer any old time. It wasn’t every day he enjoyed an afternoon like this; in fact, it had been days beyond counting since he last had enjoyed an afternoon anything like this one! He loved the play of light across her caramel skin, especially when she smiled.
“Well, you’ve got to pay the bills, yeah,” Jim admitted ruefully. “Can’t tell you how many times I had to deal with clients that I really didn’t want to.”
His voice and face were both full of disbelief as he continued onwards, though. “But, seriously? Just a hobby? Hasn’t this guy ever heard of Ansel Adams? Or William Carrick? Or Jane-Fulton whats-her-face? What about that war guy, Heslop or something?” Jim shook his head disparagingly as he reached for his beer and took a sip. “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know much about the industry. But I’ve spent enough time in art galleries and museums at all sorts of high class shindigs enough to know that photography is as real an art form as painting or sculpture or any of the rest of it. And… that if your’e good at it, you can make a living off of it. Just like anything else.”
Relaxed by both the atmosphere and Phoebe’s presence, Jim felt compelled to be candid with her in his opinions. “Forgive me for saying this, Phoebe, I know it’s not my place to do so, but… If this Dillon guy is so down on photography, he might not be the best of guys to work for. Check around, see if anyone else is hiring. Ask customers if they wouldn’t mind sitting just for one extra pic, one you set up yourself. Some’ll say no, some’ll say yes. Just have fun with it!”
An idea struck him, and with furrowed brow Jim glanced down at his suit coat pocket and dug a hand into it. “In fact,” he mumbled as he drew something out. “Ah, there it is. Wrong pocket.”
A flier was tossed onto the table between them. It was folded and crinkled and dogeared, but the paper itself looked fresh. Jim smoothed it out on the table’s surface to reveal that it was a brochure from the Buffalo Historical Society; a calendar of events was listed on the one side, and it was to this that the older man jabbed a finger. A number of fall and winter events were scheduled, everything from an exhibit on local funeral homes to holiday celebrations for Halloween and Christmas. In the middle of it all, the tip of his finger tapped on a specific listing.
“Look, I was over at the Historical Society yesterday, looking for stuff to keep me occupied. This is one of those fliers museums are always giving out. You know, looking for volunteers, patrons, here’s our mission goal, blah-blah-blah. Now it says here that end of October they’re hosting a showing of local talent whose work focuses on life in Western New York.” Jim jabbed it again. “Twenty-five bucks to register, and it’s a juried show… whatever that means.”
He raised his eyes to look at her purposefully. “Why not apply, Phoebe? Show this Dillon guy that you’re serious, that you’re just not another warm body working in his studio?”
Phoebe's face lit up as he spoke of some her favorite photographers. His argument defending her passion bringing her chin into her hand and her eyes fixed on his serious face. His words encouraged her and kindled that spark of a dream in her heart.
At the mention of Dillon, she straightened, meaning first to interject and simply explain that he was her boyfriend, then her cheeks colored. She should defend Dillon. He wasn't her boss. He supported her. In his own way. He just wanted her to be practical. That's all. As these thought, these unspoken defenses whirled in her head, James' words blew the spark to life.
"Dillon...Dillon is a good man. He just wants what's best for me." Her fingers crept across the table to the flyer. She could do that. She knew she could. A half dozen of her pieces came to mind that already fit the guidelines. "I don't know. I haven't entered my work in a show since...since my first year at school. It took up a lot of my time." She remembered how Dillon had sighed and grumbled over her efforts. How the show took away from their time together.
Did she really want to put up with that again? She nibbled on her full lower lip as she scanned over the words. Just as she lifted her gaze to meet James' encouraging face, her phone rang. She jumped guiltily. Knowing by the ringtone it was Dillon, she fumbled as she drew it from her pocket and answered.
Everythign in her demeanor changed. The passionate artist faded and was replaced by something simplistic and if she could have seen it, foolish and rehearsed. "Hey baby, where you at?" While her face was bright with that expression young people mistook for love, her shoulders drooped. "Oh, yeah of course, baby. I know. Yeah, no it's okay." Her eyes scanned the floor. "Just with a friend. Having a beer." She shifted away from James. "I took some pictures today. Good ones. But if you aren't even gonna be home. Yeah, yeah I know." She sighed and shifted as if caught in some trap she couldn't see as she parrotted words from the other side of the call. "You just want me safe. I shouldn't make you worry when you have so much on your plate. Of course I love you, Dillon. Ok, I'll just go home. Before it gets dark. I promise. Bye, baby. Have a good..." Her words faded out as she realized Dillon hung up. "Night."
She stared at the screen as it darkened and for a moment didn't turn back. Her relationship with Dillon often exasperated her, but tonight was the first time it chafed her. All the mental reminders that he was just looking out for her, worrying about her safety would not come to mind fast enough to cover her frustration. Straightening her shoulders, she turned back and forced a smile.
"It's getting really late and Dillon...he's my boyfriend. Not my boss. Anyway, he isn't gonna be home but he doesn't like worrying about me so...I should head home."
Jim wasn’t quite sure what had happened. He knew he had met and gone to have a drink with a young woman to whom the term ‘lively’ was simply not adequate in term of description. Phoebe’s smile, her eyes, her laugh… all of it filled him with the things he felt he had been missing these long years as he drowned in a world of finance and stocks and securities. It was quite easy for Jim to fall into those lovely eyes and just talk. There was something about Phoebe that simply made him want to share, to open his heart and show her all that was inside as though she was the oldest of confidants. And perhaps it was the imaginings of a daft old man whose heart was on the way out, but Jim felt as though the same might apply for her. The fact that she was beautiful as anyone he could imagine certainly didn’t hinder his imaginings! For the first time in a while, perhaps the first time ever, Jim felt he was actually making a personal connection with another human being.
And then it was gone. The phone call had brought a wall down between them.
No. No, it was more than that. It wasn’t the same Phoebe anymore, that was it! The Phoebe he had met and been talking with was exuberant! Charming! Blossoming and full of life in the early fall of the Western New York, and lulling him to a relaxation the doctors had been yelling at him to assume for the past twenty years. This Phoebe before him now was a dull and ashen thing. The trumpeting joy of her voice was muted now with a heaviness.
The announcement that Dillon was a boyfriend and not a boss… It struck Jim as wrong. It was wrong! It had to be! There was no way she was tied to some guy who didn’t treat her interests seriously and demanded that she go home just so he knew where she was. Phoebe was a grown woman, not a child!
His heart doing flip-flops as she began to get ready to go, Jim started to panic. It was only years of boardroom experience that prevented it from showing through as he desperately thought on what he should do next. He could hardly restrain her! As much as he didn’t want their time together to end, spending the rest of the night in the Erie County Holding Center was not in his plans, either. So it was with lips pressed firmly together that he reached across and snagged her camera case wordlessly.
Jim, without any explanation, pulled it from the bag and frowned as he stared at it. A flick of the switch and it came to life within his hands, and then after a moment more of juggling with it, he snapped another picture of Phoebe as she no doubt was wondering what the hell he was doing with her pride and joy. A picture snapped, and then two. And then he handed it back to her.
“Look,” Jim finally said as he pulled out his wallet from the inside pocket of his jacket. “It’s not my place to say anything, but… When you get home? Take a look at the picture I just took. The one after you took that phone call. Then, go back through the roll and… I dunno, compare it to the pictures I took of you earlier at the park. From before you took that call.”
From his wallet, he pulled a crisp business card with his contact information: James Brian Dillinger, Financial Advisor. His email and cell number were listed at the bottom. Jim slipped it into her camera bag. “Think about it. And if you want in on that showing, I’ll float the bill and help wherever I can.”
He gave a lopsided smile as an idea came to mind. “If you apply to enter? Whether you get in or not? I’ll hire you. I’ve got an idea for a book, a pictorial history book like they used to do back in the early days.” Jim wasn’t quite sure where all of this was coming from, but the more that surfaced in his head, the better that he liked the idea. “Again, just… something to think about.”