F L A S H F I C T I O N
b y g a r r e t t r o w l a n ~ l o s a n g e l e s , c a l i f o r n i a
I FOUND a snapshot in a shoebox, a photo pulled from a detritus of old memories. I saw myself as I was, years ago. I had my arm around Bobby, who didn’t like to be called Roberta back then, though last year, when I had gone to the clinic for a routine screening, that had changed. “Bobby,” I said, as she entered the examination room and snapped on the glove. Years ago we’d been lovers; we’d even discussed marriage.
“I’m not that person any more,” she replied, no doubt meaning the confused coed I eventually dumped in favor of my future ex-wife. “I’m Dr. Roberta Daley.” I assumed the position. Her finger probed and retreated, considerably less pleasing than it had once done. “Everything seems fine.”
“Well then, perhaps we can have dinner,” I said, once I got my breath. “Discuss old times.”
“I wouldn’t even if I weren’t married.” As she left the room she added, “You had your chance.”
Now I found her in this old picture. I wore a Rod Stewart T-shirt. Bobby’s shag haircut and bell-bottoms and Birkenstocks stamped the seventies all over her. The background location was an L.A. landmark: the Pantry restaurant in downtown Los Angeles.
Seduced by that memory, I left my apartment, what was left for me after my wife’s lawyers were finished, and drove downtown. At twilight, I stood in the Pantry’s parking lot.
“Can you take our picture?”
The young man handed me the camera. He returned to his girlfriend and they embraced with the restaurant sign in the background. It wasn’t until I looked through the viewfinder that I saw that he wore a Rod Stewart T-shirt. Beyond, I saw a VW Karman Ghia, a Mustang Hatchback, and other cars you don’t see on the street anymore. One carried a bumper sticker for Jimmy Carter.
“We’re ready,” the young man said.
I shifted the viewfinder. The horizon lacked a couple of skyscrapers I had since known, and it had the washed-out blue of old photographs. It was a 1976 sky, full of possibility and pain and stupidity and optimism. A few round clouds resembled dots on dice, as if God rolled our fate upon blue felt. Under this sky I had had my chance to marry Roberta, change my future.
The wind rose and the clouds shifted. I recognized the sky: It was the same one I’d seen in the photo I’d found and which had driven me here. An immutable determinism ensued. The cars got newer and the building down the street became a parking lot and new skyscrapers spiked the clouds. The couple in the viewfinder changed; I didn’t know them anymore.
“Mister, are you going to take the picture?”
I snapped the photo, and fixed the world into place.
“Done,” I said, and lowered the camera.
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