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Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Valley Ripple at 101 (posts)…

(Note: because of Groundhog’s Day, this post, meant to celebrate The Ripple’s one hundredth, was preempted.)

Fog blanket

She looks so comfortable with him. Safe and secure against his shoulder, forehead pressing his cheek like it was her second home. He is wearing a maroon T-shirt with the name of a well-known clothing company printed on the front, a brand popular with young adults his age. The young man is barrel-chested: the shirt fits tightly, the cloth across his chest strained by his thick torso, the sleeve stretches across the biceps. He has a linebacker’s build. A football jersey with numbers rather than a shirt touting a clothing company’s name would seem the more appropriate apparel. Perspiration darkens his left underarm. A leather baseball cap is mounted stylishly backwards on his head, the visor barely visible behind his left ear. Dark hair thins to sideburns which thin further to a shadow of black beard that yokes his cheek and chin. This new growth seems a bit unsure of itself as if it were surprised by its own appearance. Around his sturdy neck are two necklaces. They are a man’s adornment; nothing a teammate would scoff at. One is a puka shell necklace, the kind tourists collect in Hawaii. A smaller necklace of knotted hemp twine, perhaps homemade, overlays the strand of shells.

He smiles out at the camera from the photograph, a broad smile, slightly lopsided because the girl’s forehead presses his cheek. The grin is infectious, enhanced by strong, straight teeth. The camera flash sparkles in his brown eyes. He is proud to pose with the girl, proud to show her off to the camera, lucky to have her high forehead pressed against his cheek.

His companion is a slender girl, not beautiful, but pretty. She would tell you her nose is just a bit too large, her chin a bit too broad. A smile pushes it broader. It protrudes slightly now as she poses for the photo. But by no means is she hard to look at: her smile vivacious, her face, the dark hair which trails down her right shoulder to feather out on her chest,  glow with health. Where it shows beneath the hair, her neck is long and graceful, delicately feminine next to her partner’s. If one looks closely, just above her neckline a thin strand of silver chain peeks from beneath the fall of her hair. The high forehead presents just that much more face to admire; the winsome smile and its white, even teeth. The smile sends the fleshy lobes of her cheeks riding her cheekbones, dimpling the corners of her mouth. Like him, she has brown eyes that reflect the camera’s flash. That smile and those eyes soften the nose.

The girl poses in an elbow-length cotton blouse. Her right arm is in the foreground, crooked at the elbow and except for two items on her wrist, bare. On her forearm, closest her elbow because it is for dress, is a plain bracelet. At first glance the bracelet looks to be made of hemp twine like her partner’s necklace, but closer examination shows a string of small, flat beads, shell fragments, maybe, or small, dark stones. (The sort of souvenir a tourist might find in Hawaii?) A second band circles the dainty wrist. This wristlet is not ornament—a practical appliance, rather: an elastic hair band, the kind a long-haired girl snaps on her wrist for handy removal to twist her hair into a quick ponytail when she tires of brushing the strands from her face. But now the band awaits its next assignment, ceding purpose to art. The long fingers of her right hand curl around an aluminum beverage can, her thumb hidden in the grasp. Just what beverage she enjoys must be left to the imagination: her fingers hide the lettering on the side. (Just barely visible in the photo’s lower right is the top of a similar can, perhaps set there by her partner while he posed for the picture.) Most visible, the nails of fore and little finger are trimmed a tasteful length and show more of careful hygiene than vanity. Other than the gloss of clear nail polish on her nails, her hand, its fingers, are bare.

He looks like a “Jason,” she a “Jennifer.” The intimacy of their pose, Jennifer tucked into the web of Jason’s shoulder…it’s not the embrace of brother and sister. A kind of magnetism beyond their smiles radiates from the photo. They are a pleasing couple to look at; young people in love always gladden the spirit.

The studio appears to be a kitchen. As the couple poses in the foreground, a microwave oven, an adjacent decanter of some sort—for cooking oil possibly—dark cabinets, an architectural frill to separate wall from ceiling—all shadows in the background. A dark, paneled door breaks the plane of the wall behind them. The door is closed.

Once a girl named Alice discovered a narrow passageway behind a looking glass. She entered and behind the mirror discovered a world full of odd things and strange people. What if instead of a passageway, Alice found a photograph discarded along a roadside, a photo in which two young strangers posed, their images frozen in time: July 6, 2006. And say she squeezed between the image and the Fuji print paper to share the strangers’ moment? What might the precocious and inquiring mind of young Alice make of such a world, a world in which a young couple embrace? And what might her story be?

Five years pass. Shadows deepen. A door opens. Darkness sweeps the room bare. Life intrudes, directs, always has the upper hand, sometimes plays the tyrant. A photograph captures but a mote of time. Life and its whims dictate what comes after. Jennifer and Jason—what has life done for them, to them, since they embraced for the camera? When you’re young and in love, you look life in the face and grin it down. But who has the last laugh? And if it’s yours, is it a laugh of pure joy? Or one tinged with sarcasm?  Bitterness, maybe?

A shutter snap and a half decade later. Where is the young couple now? Does that protective arm still welcome her? Does her forehead still press his cheek? The smell of her hair, the warmth of her body make his heart tingle as it used to, beat a bit faster? Flutter when he sees her? College…so much can happen…so many new experiences, relationships to assault or sunder what was captured by the lens in one split second. Those slender fingers…is there a ring? Half a decade…for better or for worse? A child with a tiny, but distinct nose? If you could break down those five years into photographic moments, would the same couple still share the stage? Or would different faces smile out at the camera? The forehead against a different cheek? The arm encircle a different girl? So much life in half a decade. So much for Alice to tell….

If you could locate Jennifer, call her forth this moment, show her the photograph, would she smile now? And Jason…would he still feel proud of that girl he clasped the moment the camera’s lens caught him smiling there so happy in her company?

If you were shown an image of yourself taken five years back, what would your story be? Happiness and prosperity in the interim? Or has life strong armed your hopes, steered them off course, dashed them against the shoals of broken dreams? What stony paths have you trod since you posed those long five years ago, happy, smiling into the camera, so glad to be alive?

From a discarded photograph found during a walk…just a little fiction from the Valley.

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  1. This is a neat post dad. Did you keep the picture? :)

  2. Yes, the photo is archived with the other Ripple stuff. Re: your comment on the Entrapment post, might it just be a "small world" where the photo is concerned, as well?