The brilliant madman REH is once again hosting his diabolical creation – Picture Fiction Challenge. REH randomly chooses photos from Flickr (see the end of this post) and we write a piece of fiction inspired by those photos. I struggled last month and never did finish my story but I learned a lot and found some new blogs that I now can’t live without.
Go to REH’s place to read his story and to find the links to all the other participants.
“Are we almost there? I can see the water and the beach, we must be almost there”.
“The ocean is very big Bobby and the beach is very long, when you can see the ferris wheel then we’re almost there”. I see Bobby’s look of fake suffering through the rear view mirror. Beside him his sister Megann ignores her brother in favor of adjusting the widgets on her brand new camera.
“Bobby stop kicking the back of my seat” – I can barely keep the exhausted tone out of my voice. “And please leave the candies alone”.
“You’d be in a better mood if you drank your coffee” Bobby tells me. Although I don’t like the sarcasm in his voice he does have a point. “I’ll drink it as soon as it cools Bobby, so please stop kicking the seat, you’ll make it spill”.
For $12 you’d think Starbucks would give you better cups, gold plated perhaps. Again I catch Megann’s glance in the mirror, she looks concerned for me, I assume she’s thinking Bobby is getting on my nerves and I feel guilty. Megann worries too much. She doesn’t say much, rarely smiles, always bent over her photos or staring at life through the viewfinder. Whenever I imagine grown-up Megann, I see her surrounded by black & white photos, her face obscured by a camera. I can see more about what camera model she’s using than what her adult face looks like. I have often thought her camera was a way of keeping a distance from me, her photography a way of living the life she sees in her head; a life better than the one I’ve given her.
“I still can’t see the ferris wheel, are you sure we’re going the right way”. Bobby’s whine startles me and I grab for my coffee with one hand as my grip on the steering wheel tightens with the other. “Wait just a second” I tell him, using my patient voice. “As soon as we go around the curve you’ll be able to see the ferris wheel”.
We drive along in an uncomfortable silence; Megann peering through the viewfinder and Bobby kicking my seat and twisting the flimsy tie on the candy bag.
Finally - there it is – the ferris wheel of my salvation.
“There it is” shouts Bobby; just like his father I think, a firm grasp of the obvious. Megann shifts in her seat and stiffens; I am positive she reads my mind and judges me harshly.
I begin to question the weight of the importance I have put on this day. Could one day together; at the beach, on the boardwalk, really help? I chose the St. Patrick’s Day festival to keep Bobby occupied. He is the polar opposite of his sister, always needing to be occupied, always wanting conversation. Since their father left I have turned myself inside out to be what they both need, all the while feeling that I don’t know what they need.
“There will definitely be a petting zoo, right?” – “And the tigers! The tigers will be there!?” – Bobby is now singing out his questions with his head pressed against the car window.
Tigers at a petting zoo! What a fabulous idea. And again I am guilty of snarky thoughts directed at the loves of my life. My attention shifts to the signs directing us to parking. We pass the ferris wheel and I steel myself for Bobby’s panic. “Why are we passing everything!” he wails. I assure him we will walk right back to the center of it all as soon as I park the car. He calms himself by resuming his drum beat on my seat back and he twists and twists the little bag of candies. We finally find a spot and before I can even put the car in park Bobby is out and running along the beach. Megann is taking pictures of this as I gulp my coffee down, wishing it had liquor in it.
“Do tigers like the beach?” Bobby wonders aloud as we make our way towards the ferris wheel. “I bet they do, especially if they can play in the ocean” he continues. I think I should tell him that the tigers will be caged, they’re not frolicking in the surf and he won’t be able to pet them. As I struggle to form a sentence that won’t make Bobby cry I see that his little bag of candies has sprung a leak. He is leaving a trail as he runs along the sand toward the center of his dreams. “Birds will choke on those candies” Megann warns. First time she’s spoken all afternoon, it’s so nice to hear her voice even if it’s disapproving. “I suppose you’re right” I tell her, “I guess we better pick them up”. She seems delighted by this and I feel a sudden burst of confidence. Perhaps I can do something right.
“Bobby – Bobby” calls Megann, “come back here and give me your candy bag”. She runs ahead to stop him as I look for something to collect the candies in, finally – a family project. Megann and Bobby return and the three of us survey Bobbie’s candy trail. “The tigers will be gone if we don’t hurry up” – the look of sheer desperation on his face is almost comical. “Well we have to pick up all the candies you dropped” Megann tells him sternly, “the birds will choke on them”. “I thought candy was good for everyone” – another comical look from Bobby, this time he is genuinely perplexed and shares his sister’s concern for the birds. I sense the day lifting and don’t want to lose the moment. I gulp down the rest of my coffee, must not spill on the beach – coffee is bad for the sand, and proudly present my Starbucks cup. “Perfect” Megann exclaims, looking happy and engaged, her camera is actually down and her face is radiant. The three of us begin to collect all the candies, piling and pouring them into the cup. I suggest Megann take some photos of our little mission and she smiles yet again.
We continue our candy collection as we retrace Bobby’s steps. We can hear the music of the ferris wheel, the smell of hot dogs and popcorn is strong and Bobby swears he can hear the tigers roar. “We really have to hurry up now” he tells us as we stop to confirm that all the candy is accounted for. My cracked, crappy Starbucks cup overflows with green St. Patty’s day candies. “Come on Bobby, I’ll take you” – Megann grabs his hand, gives me a smile and off they go. I balance my candy cup and follow behind slowly. I lose sight of them as the sand turns to Boardwalk and I quicken my steps, careful not to spill any bird killing green pellets.
Bobby is in the middle of the petting zoo, rubbing rabbits and chasing little goats – goatees he calls them - while Megann snaps away. I take in the entire festival scene and wonder why Bobby isn’t at the tiger exhibit. It’s a small festival, small and tacky but the children all seem happy. What any of this has to do with St. Patrick’s Day escapes me – you can tie green balloons to anything, you can have bagpipes blare away all day, it’s still just a petting zoo, a ferris wheel (tiny and creaky up close) and a bunch of concession stands. Megann joins me and asks if I’ve seen the tigers yet. I tell her I haven’t and she suggests we go together; her face is scrunched up, back to her worried look.
The tiger cage is off in a corner, away from all the activity. It’s bigger than I thought and hoped it would be but it’s still a cage, on a boardwalk, by the beach – in no stretch of anyone’s imagination, even Bobby’s, can this be considered a good place for tigers. “Bobby took one look at them and ran away” Megann whispers. “He thinks the cage is too small and he says they looked hungry, he wants to give them his candy”. “They won’t choke on them”, I half laugh – “but it’s probably not good for them, none of this is good for them”. “Did you take any shots of them?” I ask. Megann tells me she hasn’t and she doesn’t want to, she only takes photos that make her happy. As we approach the tiger cage a man with a collection cup stops us. He’s wearing a ridiculous “Kiss Me I’m Irish” t-shirt and a huge leprechaun hat. I assume the bagpipers need funds. Megann reads his cup and pulls up her camera to take a photo of it. There is a picture of the tigers on the collection cup along with a little passage explaining that they have stopped here at the festival to collect more money for their journey. “They’re going to a sanctuary” Megann smiles through her camera, “this isn’t their whole life”. I fumble with my cup o’ candies as I dig out every single dollar I have in my purse and my pockets. As I stuff them into the collection cup Megann continues to shoot – frame after frame, she is thrilled by what she sees. Tiger rescuing, animal loving Irish t-shirt guy tips his silly hat to us in gratitude for all the cash and I approach the cage to wish the tigers a happy journey. Bobby runs up to join me, putting his sweet little hand in mine. I toss the sandy green candy cup into the trash and hug him. Megann continues to take picture after picture.
It is getting windy and the sun is setting as we make our way back to the car. Bobby runs ahead kicking up sand, Megann trails behind. When we reach the car Bobby jumps right in and almost immediately falls asleep across the back seat. Megann agrees that we should watch the sunset as we settle into the front seat. Just as the sun is about to disappear she holds up her camera to me. “I took hundreds of shots today, here’s my favorite”. There on the screen I see myself, looking happy as the wind blows my hair in all directions, beside me Bobby looks calm – his little hand resting in my pocket.
And in the background of it all there are the tigers – “I think they’re smiling” Megann tells me and I agree. “Tomorrow is going to be a better day for them” I assure her and myself. She puts the camera down and snuggles against me as we drive off. A sleepy voice from the back asks – “Are we almost home?”