Night and Lamplight

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Smile

They sat on the steps of the old capitol building and smiled at the camera. His right arm was reaching over her left leg, and both of her arms were wrapped tightly around his right arm. The flash clicked and a picture fed through the bulky, brown camera.

“Mama, who’s this?” she asked her mother, running her bare feet into the kitchen. They made a smacking sound against the floor. She ran the way she danced, and in her hands waved a tiny black polaroid.

Mama briskly wiped her wet hands on her skirt and turned to her daughter to examine what she had been waving. Upon the child’s eager handoff, Mama squinted at the polaroid and the child contained her buzzing anticipation by lifting herself up and down on the balls of her feet repeatedly. When Mama’s eyes focused in on the two smiling faces of the picture, she smiled too and her hand found its way thoughtlessly to her heart. It was warm and so was her face. Her lips came together in a smile that spread across her face – the kind that people try with little success to hide.

“The old capitol,” she said, quietly remembering. Her hand moved, again thoughtlessly, from her chest to her mouth. She cradled the bottom of her face in the crook of her hand, smiling from her eyes now that her mouth was being pressed against her fingers.

She examined the man’s face in the picture again, tracing her eyes over the shape of his body over and over and over. Her eyes sometimes wandered over to the woman, but only because their bodies were so entwined in the photo. Her eyes pulled back to him every time.

“What do you want in it?”

 “As much of the building as you can get.”

“So not a close up of your faces?”

They looked at each other, and together shook their heads.

“Not too close or too far, if that’s okay.”

“Whatever you do will be perfect – thanks again for doing this!”

“Ready?”

He grabbed her leg. She held his arm and held herself closer to him. They both smiled for the camera. They smiled for each other. They smiled for their future.

Flash.

The child looked up at her expectantly. It was clear that the faces in the picture had been recognized. “Mama?” she asked, as a reminder of her patience.

Mama kneeled to her little girl and wrapped an arm around her small, child waist. She pulled her baby girl close to her so they could examine the picture together. The girl giggled because it tickled, and drummed her fingers on her Mama’s knee.

“This is a very special friend of mine from many years ago, before I met Daddy, before you were born. We met in the first college Mama went to, and then when I transferred, he went to visit me by surprise at my new school. That’s where we were in this picture.”

The little girl looked at the picture with her chin tucked into her neck and didn’t ask many questions. She seemed satisfied to know who he was. Mama, however, felt incomplete. The whole truth had not been told, and it seemed to be a lie to omit such a huge part of who he was to her. What’s more, she felt she was lying to him – somehow – in a way that maybe didn’t matter but did to her – wherever he was in the world – by not adding the most important part of the story.

“I loved him, honey,” she said. “Still do today.”

The little girl turned to examine her mother’s face. “You love him? Like you say ‘love you’ to Daddy?” she seemed ready to declare that something was not alright with this picture.

Mama shook her head. “No, honey, not like Daddy. It’s a different love, but it’s still love.” She kissed her daughter’s forehead and rubbed the side of her waist. The girl giggled again, and she was glad to see her daughter’s smile return. “Don’t worry, baby, there is a lot of room for love in people’s hearts, and I have love for both of them…in different ways…and for you, and Baloo, and Goldie, and everyone else.” She pecked her daughter’s shoulder with a kiss – then one, two, three more in a quick order. The girl laughed again, throwing her head back and trying to escape the kisses.

When they settled, they were still smiling but calm again. “Where is he now?” she asked her Mama.

A sharp pang in her mother’s stomach. Where was he. What was he doing. How was he. It hurt a lot, more than any of the words humans have to describe things that are painful.

“I don’t know baby…”she murmured, looking with a furrowed expression at the dark face in the picture. Her own reflection glimmered back at her in the shine of the photograph.

“I’m going to go find Baloo,” her daughter said out of nowhere, demonstrating that she was, indeed a child, and her attention for the topic had expired. She pulled away from her mother’s grasp and dance-ran out of the kitchen to find the family dog.

Alone in the kitchen now, Mama held the photo in both hands, close to her face. She was still kneeling on the floor. She didn’t have the energy in her heart to stand up just yet. Where was he. How was he. Her heart tightened. Soon she could not see his face anymore because she was staring at his image through a shimmering wall of tears. Everything that they had. Everything that they had been. The love she felt was different – that was sure – but it was eternal, and part of her felt she would be unsettled until they were together again. But of course that was stupid and would never happen. Stop it, stop it, stop it. She felt guilty, and then guilty for feeling guilty. She loved her husband dearly, with all of her heart. They were happy – they were the perfect she had always dreamed of. Yes, she was sure – all of her heart. Or…well how does that work then…? She shook her head quickly to clear the madness from her thoughts and pushed herself up to stand by the sink again. She shoved the revived vintage picture in her skirt pocket and promised herself to feel better, although suddenly every thought found its way back to him.

“Thank you!”

“No problem!”

They exchanged the camera and the photo again. It developed in a few minutes.

 “Aww!”

She grabbed the photo from his hands and looked at it. She threw her head back and laughed.

“Why are you laughing? It’s cute!”

“I love it. It’s perfect.”

“So why are you laughing?”

“Because look at you! You’re so cool with your legs draped casually over the steps like that. What a cutie, what a cool guy.”

He looked at the picture again and smiled sheepishly.

“And then look at me, holding as tightly to you as I can, scrunched up in the physical form of ‘mmm I just love him so much!’” She scrunched her nose in a smile and mocked herself with a high-pitched voice.

Then they both laughed and they were holding each other again. It was true, he did look a lot cooler than her.

“I love it. I love you.”

They held each other under the night light of the old capitol.

They smiled for the picture. They smiled for each other. They smiled for their future.

Popcorn Ceiling

They lie with their heads to the ceiling. The white light of a TV flashed on their faces, made their teeth look white and their skin look shiny.

“Three – two girls one boy,” he said.

She let him.

“I want to have girls. They’re better. But we can have one boy, for you,” he hummed. Did he know how deeply she was listening? No, of course not.

She liked his voice. An R sounded open in the middle of a word. Sometimes an emphasis found its home all the way in the back of a word with too many syllables – like three. She often wanted to change her name to make it sound like the way he said it. But how would she do that?

The ceiling was popcorn, white and puffy.

“What will you name your daughter?” he asked her. She let him think she didn’t hear, so she could let the seconds pass. He asked her again, “What will her name be?”

She thought. The light of the TV flashed on her face as she tried to recall a list she had memorized by heart since the eighth grade. There were two columns…there were names that were highlighted, others crossed out…but what were they again? In the four seconds that it took her to recall, she felt as if a part of her were missing. Then when the names came back to her, she felt like herself again.

Still though, she hesitated – not for long, but she wondered urgently what would happen if she spoke a name aloud. She had never done that before. Never shared that with anyone. In a way, this child was already born, she already loved it, it was already hers.

If she spoke a name to him now, would the child be his, somehow, too? Years from now, would he be long gone, and would the girl be his, even though it was made with another man? Her mind, which was prone to wringing itself up in guilt, apologized profusely to her imagined future husband and promised it meant nothing, although it could easily have meant everything. And a range of emotions charged through her as she ate up the second since his question had been posed.

She settled. It was fine. It was harmless. It was sweet. It was as sweet as the honey in his voice. There, there. Remember that honey, don’t you love that honey?

“Rosie,” she said. Only a few seconds had passed. She smiled because it felt awkward to say the name for the first time. It didn’t feel right. Strange, after all of those years of memorization, the name became a spoken stranger.

“Rosie…” he hummed again. He smiled too and readjusted his head. The puffy ceiling shifted with him. “Naaah…” he seemed to say, although she wasn’t sure if he really said it or if she heard him say it in his locked up head.

“Or…” she said again after a while, this time with more feeling, “I like the name Espa,” she said. And this time she smiled because when she said it, it felt like a tickle in her throat. She said it clumsily, but it felt like laughter. This one was a friend.

“Espa?” he echoed the name again. He was quiet, but this time he wasn’t disagreeing in his mind. She heard a lock snap open. There were so many of those, and one had just opened. Light shifted, black, white, blue, again and again. “Isn’t there a girl named Espa?” he asked, after a while.

She smiled and nodded. It was unrelated. She just liked the name.

“You know her? She’s really nice…I like her,” she was humming too, now. Did her voice sound like honey? It was an auspicious coincidence that she liked the girl, since she had been struck in love with the name ever since she heard it.

It was even more auspicious that he liked that name too.

He began to play with it, and the name danced around in the air like the light of the TV. “Espa, get out of here!” He smiled, pretending to frown. It was funny – his face and their imagination – so they played and they laughed. Again, she wanted to write her name the way he said it. But how would she do that?

The white TV light flickered like a heartbeat on his face. He liked that name. They lie with their heads to the ceiling.