Nate knew what he saw. He saw many things. Images were his window into people’s lives, and he was very meticulous to detail; he saw everything clearly. He knew that not everyone was so black and white because he could read people by using sight, but there was a problem, like always there is a problem, and that was he could not handle people in person.
His lungs would expand, then releasing slowly, and he would close his eyes. Even when his eyes were closed he would see images very vividly.
The oak tree to the right of the park is baron, and covering the bottom are leaves, and you can tell that it’s cold, because the sky speaks for the temperature. The couple are wearing clothes for the weather. His black peacoat is buttoned to the top, and his scarf (a monochromatic plaid design that was complementing to the jacket) is wrapped loosely on his neck. She is wearing a brown jacket that is three quarters of the way down, and her brown boots have fur along the edges. The bench they are standing near is green. The green in the picture stands out.
The bad thing about working at a photo lab in a pharmacy is that when there isn’t any business you have to help out the front end of the store. Stocking shelfs and refacing merchandise is not relevant to developing film; trivial to say the least. Fortunately the store I work at keeps a somewhat steady workload. When I’m actually working, that is, to say, when I am in my lab as opposed to the aisles. I enjoy the fact that my job consists of preparing memories. I get to capture the second part of the moment; I develop the memories that people wanted to keep. I am the middle man. I am the guy that gets to release those moments. This job gives me release.
“How do I print the pictures out from my digital camera?” She asked, seeming to be in a rush. “They’re from so long ago, I forgot ya know?”
“I do that all the time,” I laugh. “What kind of memory card does your camera take?” I ask.
“Memory stick?” She asks.
“Here, let me see your camera,” I hold her camera, a Kodak Easyshare, and turn it around. I open the battery compartment. “Usually most cameras will hold a memory card by the battery,” I eject the SD card. “Here you go, this is your memory; what holds the photos.”
“Oh, that thing,” she says,”Thanks, but one more question. How do I work this thing.” She points at the monitor atop the counter. The digital era is still growing and sometimes people are intimidated. I never have a problem with the digital printers. Although they are for self service it is still my job to assist and help the customer. I enjoy it and it doesn’t bother me. I like to explain.
“Here, let me help you out,” I say. “It’s pretty simple, but you know how computers are sometimes.” I laugh again. She smiles. “This is a touch screen monitor so it’s basically a step by step.”
“Thanks, really.” She smiles.
“No problem, ” I say, “I guess you just have to work for that paycheck sometimes.” I say playfully.
She starts to laugh softly and her eyes brighten up and she touches my arm. She is beautiful, yet there is a sadness to it, and she looks as if she is faking her authenticity. She is amiable and playful, yet she seems slightly detached. Many people hide themselves, as I do myself, but she was intriguing to me, and she seemed as if her will was strong, but I knew deep down that she was vulnerable. I saw that when I looked into her eyes, but I was aware of it after I developed her pictures. Her pictures told more than a thousand words.
She told me she was in a rush, so she left, and she asked me if I could put her pictures and memory card aside, and I said yes.
She walked out of the store and I put her memory card aside. I wanted to develop the photos on my time. I wanted to know more about this woman.
I left work. I go home. I insert the SD card. I lean back.
I get my initial fix.
Her bikini is black and she is in a pose; legs bent, arms extended, and head facing the sun. The sky is tinged with gray, and a storm looks like it is either coming in or that just had left. The ocean is mimicking the sky and looks as if it has stopped moving. The water is still, and the sky is swarming with white, as the clouds try to ruin the calming color above. The color of blue.
The next day…
I brought her back with me. I was in charge of her memories.
I’m sitting on my couch with my laptop next to me. My mind is racing, but I am trying to convince myself to find level ground. I need to find relaxation to find sleep. I think about her pictures. I see images of her on the beach, and in New York, and in her apartment, and watching television; hugging a child, holding an elderly woman, and sitting at a kitchen table with a subtle smile. I remember the smile the most.
During the week I work mornings. I don’t mind it because I like to have a routine. Besides having responsibility and a routine I had found a job I enjoyed. I found a passion in what I was doing, not to say that I’m a photographer personally, but I found that I had an eye. In a sense it was my job to use sight, to perfect the defects, to make everything seem serene, to make the image beautiful, to make the memory reality.
When I returned from my lunch break I walked over to my computer in the photo lab. I’m the only technician on staff today, and when I get to the computer, and pull out the keyboard, I find a letter.
She didn’t come in today to pick up her photos and memory card. I waited for nine hours but it’s time to go home and I need rest, I wan’t wait, but honestly I can’t wait. I come to the point where I literally have to “sleep on it” and learn that “patience is a virtue.”
The next day…
“Yeah, all night. I don’t know, but I’m thinking it’s this,” I pause. “This shitty Chinese restaurant around the corner from me.”
“Maybe you can try to come in late?” My manager asks in a suggestive tone.
A week has past and I am convincing myself to forget the woman of my dreams, the woman in my photos, the woman that made a connection with me. I saw her eyes. She revealed herself to me that night, but I was playing into her game. I still am I feel, but I don’t know how to confirm it. It’s been one week. I haven’t heard from her in one week. I wasn’t worried about her with another guy. I was worried about her losing interest in me.
Just to make sure I wasn’t delusional I asked a few co-workers if they knew of this woman.
“That’s her name?” I ask.
“Yep, she’s lived in this area for years. We always see her. Nice lady and all.” Jake said, while sliding a set of negatives through a slicer and blowing into an envelope to expand it and store the photos.
“How old is she?” I asked sounding perplexed. Him saying “she’s lived in this area for years” struck a chord with me. He scratched his head and his eyes rolled to top of his eyelids. He stayed deep in thought before he said she was born in the area. I wasn’t sure if he was uncertain or hiding something from me. Half hour after wasting company time I went back to work with splicing the negatives and checking the photos for imperfections. I think about what I have to do and laugh. My job is an oxymoron at best. The two words that brought this humility are negative and imperfection. I ponder the notion of resentment. I might be bitter.
Her photos on on the counter.
Two more days and I’m going to shred the photos.
She has her hand in front of the camera lens. She doesn’t want a picture taken. I know it’s a playful gesture, but wonder what is going through her head at the time. Her eyes. It’s all in her eyes.
There isn’t a policy at my work concerning facial hair, but today my manager pulled me aside to talk about my newfound beard.
“We need to talk,” he says.
“About your lack of hygiene.”
“Excuse me? I ask, and I stare across at him. I don’t break eye contact.
“The beard. It has to go. It is not professional” His response was seamless. He didn’t flinch at all.
“If my performance hasn’t changed why is it a problem?” I ask with a misplaced sense of confidence.
“Like I said, it’s not professional. And another thing, if you think you have been at a high performance lately you are sadly mistaken. I understand that everyone had a life outside of work.” He pauses, straightens his glasses, and continues. “Life happens, believe me I get it, but if there is a serious problem you need to tell me. If you need time off I might be able to work that out with you, but you need to be honest with me.”
“Are we done here?” I ask.
“This is what I mean,” he takes a breath and puts his head in his hands. “You know what?” He lifts his head up. “Take today off. You’ll still be payed so don’t worry about that. Just take the day off. Collect your thoughts.”
“So we’re done?” I ask. I wanted to push his buttons; break his balls for trying to console me with work place jargon.
I walk out of the building and to my car. I get inside and pop the trunk. I get out my camera and I hop in the driver’s seat. I am off for the day and I am getting paid. I decide to take advantage of this situation and put my hobby to use.
I rest the camera on the passenger seat. Next to the camera is an envelope.
My store does not offer the option for delivery, but I am a hard worker and employee. I start my engine and type in Denise’s address into my GPS.
During the years prior to digital processing, and memory cards, and lithium batteries, there was a need for film processing; people dropped off their disposable cameras and waited for their prints. It’s different now. Printers can be bought. Sometimes a company might package the camera with a printer. Slowly my job is becoming obsolete. People prefer their privacy.
My job still offers digital prints, and some people don’t have the time to wait, so I print them, and they come back to get them. Anytime someone leaves their property with me, and by property I mean memory cards, I ask them to fill out one of our “One Hour” envelopes that are used for film processing. I do this to protect myself. I have had customers in the past that have accused me of losing or damaging their property, and since customer service is a bullshit business, and the fact that employees in retail are treated like shit, the “customer is always right.”
Name; telephone number; e-mail (if desired); items dropped off; address, which some found to be odd, but if a customer didn’t come back to pick up their belongings it would be mailed to them. Not the prints, but the camera or memory card itself.
Even though I knew she was in a rush I had her fill out an envelope.
The family is standing in front of a modest looking home. A Victorian style house with white siding and blue shutters on the windows. The grass is neatly trimmed and the landscaping looks fresh. The door to the home is a deep red and blends nicely with the rest of the home. The mother and father are holding each other around the shoulders and their children stand before them. There are three children; the daughter is standing in between her two brothers. The boys are both wearing khaki shorts and polo t-shirts. The daughter is wearing a fitting lavender colored dress. I focus on the color of her dress. She smelled of lavender when we met each other.
My GPS is still searching for the easiest route to her home.
My cell phone rings and it is my work. I let the call go to voicemail and place the phone between my legs. My windows are rolled down and the breeze fills my car with fresh air. I take a breath and glance at the GPS, and I become annoyed that it is taking so long, so I press the accelerator, and I start speeding down the highway. I look at my gauges and realize I need gas. I continue another mile or so before I find a gas station and pull in. I get out, open the door to the tank, swipe my debit card, remove the nozzle, and start pumping. I’m thirsty so I walk across three pump stations into the store. I walk inside and look around, spot the drinks in the back, grab a water, walk back to the counter while fishing through my pockets for cash, and place the water down.
“Will that be all?” The clerk asks.
“And a pack of Marlboro,” I reply. I don’t smoke cigarettes.
“Which kind?” He responds.
I walk back past the three pump stations to my car. I detach the nozzle and place it back in the holster and hop back in my car. When I start my car I look at the gauges. Three quarters of a tank. I pull out a cigarette and strike a match. I inhale and cough. I take another drag. I look at the GPS. It found the address and marked the route. I inhale once more and press on the accelerator. My exhaust and my lungs release at the same time. I pull out of the station, and I make my way toward her home. Twenty-three miles. About thirty minutes until arrival.
It is a simple drive to her home. About fifteen minutes on route 38 (which was five minutes from the gas station) and after the exit there are two main roads. I’m on route 38 and on my third cigarette when my phone rings again. My work is calling again. Voicemail.
I get off the exit and start travelling down the first of the two roads. I’m about ten minutes away. I light a cigarette.
After I get on the second road I only have half a mile to go. I pass by a few neighborhoods and a middle school on my left. I stare at the school, thinking maybe she went there, and almost miss my turn. I make a left, it is parallel to the school and leads into a quaint looking strew of homes. I pass by some rancher homes at first (thinking they must put the smaller homes in the beginning of the development) and eventually make my way into a different portion of the area, where the houses look slightly more expensive (I was correct) and in the distance I see the Victorian from the pictures. I get closer and closer, my heart rate increasing, my hands get sweaty, and I cough (from the cigarettes) before I slow down and pull up in front of the home. I wonder how long ago the photo was taken. The house looks different.
The lawn to the house is covered with random yellow spots, the siding looks dirty, and the red door looks faded. This was not what I had seen in the picture. But, and this is what did it, the worst part is the sign on the front lawn. There is a sales sign on the lawn, and right underneath the sign is the word: Sold.
I feel defeated. I light a cigarette. I grab my phone, and it nearly slips from my grasp because of how moist my palms are. I dial my voicemail and check my messages from work. It’s my boss.
“Hi, Nate. I know I told you to leave, but if you could call back I’d appreciate it. I have a customer here that says she spoke with you a week or so ago about getting pictures developed.” Pause. “She asked for you personally,” he puts the phone down and asks her name, “Her name is Denise. If you could call back that would be fantastic.” I close my phone.
I glance back over at the house and stare back down at my phone. This has to be a coincidence in the least. I put the car in drive and make my way home. I have no intention of calling my work, because I know it would be unlikely for Denise to still be there.
I get home, unlock the door, walk inside, and turn on my computer. I insert her memory card and look over her photos once more.
“Who is this woman,” I think.