Here’s you on Lake Windermere, backlit in my slide viewer. You’re at the oars of a rowboat, shirtless and grinning, postcardy Cumbrian hills behind. There isn’t a photo of what happened next, when we tried to do it on the water, but were too scared the boat would capsize. Or of the next day’s fail, this time on the slopes of Wansfell Pike, me pulling grass-stalks from my backside, you convulsed with laughter and hayfever sneezes.
In the Seventies everyone had home slide-shows, then for years they didn’t. There were prints from negatives, instant Polaroids, digital prints, straight-to-social-media images. Then the pendulum swung again, flares came back, vinyl came back, people remembered their neatly labelled slide-boxes. I found the thirty-year-old viewer, wiped rust from the contacts, inserted new batteries. It lit up right away.
Here’s the Golden Lion Inn. Cobbled courtyard and cheap soap, dust bunnies under the bed, nylon sheets that snagged our toenails. People still talked about dirty weekends then. I wore a fake-gold ring. It was our first time away together, we thought everyone was watching us.
Here’s you with your suitcases at the airport. You’re leaving for a year’s student exchange in California, your hand lifted to wave goodbye. Your face is probably scared-excited, but it’s blurry because I was crying so hard I couldn’t keep the camera steady. International phone calls were expensive, so we wrote each other letters on blue aerogramme paper. Graphic, tear-splotched letters; I imagined yours smelt of oranges and sunshine, mine of English fog.
Here’s you on Facebook. Your silver wedding, your son’s graduation, early retirement in the same seaside town where you grew up. Where, I now remember, your parents didn’t let us sleep together. More open-air copulation. We got better with practice, vertical in the gap between two beach huts, or lying under the pier with mingling scents of seaweed and drunks’ piss.
One slide isn’t here. After California, in a small bright space of laughter and copious sex just before the end—the end of student life, of us—I had an idea for a photoshoot. You got naked and did a headstand. I balanced your glasses on the underside of your penis. It looked like a nose, your balls like big squishy eyes. We worried about getting that one developed, thought the staff in Boots might report us for obscenity. But the slide came back uncensored and unremarked. We cried laughing, only had to slip it in the viewer to set ourselves off again. It even worked when we weren’t speaking after a screaming fight, the first of many. I crept up behind you, held the screen in front of your glowering face, saw your shoulders quiver.
Patience Mackarness lives and writes in Brittany, France. Her stories have been published by Flash Frontier, Fiction Kitchen Berlin, Potato Soup Journal, Lost Balloon, Lunch Ticket, and elsewhere. https://patiencemackarness.wordpress.com/
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Loved the flow of humour underpinning this rite of passage trip down memory lane. I can say (with a shudder) that I’m glad camera phones and social media post-dated my teens. 😉