I woke up this morning and found out that it is #NationalCameraDay. Who knew? Well, I've been meaning to do a new blog post for a while now, and I remembered that I had once written a short story about a magical polaroid camera that reveals more than it should at a high school reunion. I hope you enjoy it.
A short story by
D. G. Driver
“You think that’ll work?” Bill asked, tipping a beer to his lips. I noticed Blaire, his wife, gesture that this would be his last beer.
Next to Bill on the picnic tabletop, Christy looked dubiously at the Polaroid camera in my hands. “I didn’t these existed anymore.”
I shrugged. “I found it in a box while searching for my yearbooks at my mom’s house last night. It might not work.”
“They’ll probably come out black,” Eddie chimed in. He and his newest wife, Hallie, cuddled on a blanket separate from the rest of us.
“We’ll see,” I said, quickly snapping a picture of Eddie and Hallie. If I was going to get a ruined picture it might as well be of them.
Once the picture slid out of the camera, I joined the rest of my old buddies at the picnic table. Jennifer, the buddy I once considered best, grabbed the picture from me and shook it. “You’re supposed to do this.”
I laughed. She always had her peculiar habits. It was kind of nice to see that after twenty-three years that part of her hadn’t changed.
“It sure is great to have everyone together, isn’t it?” I said.
No one jumped up and shouted, “Yes! And we should stay together like this, bonded in friendship for the rest of our lives and never let life tear us apart again!!!” like I hoped. Instead everyone did a sort of sighing, nodding head thing as though to say, “Yeah, it’s sweet, but can we wrap this up soon?”
The reunion wasn’t my idea. Some teenage girl planned it. Our high school drama teacher was retiring, so the current students hosted this big event, reuniting everyone who ever once graced the stage in an embarrassing moment of Thespianism.
As the event strolled through the afternoon, we alumni slowly split off into chunks by graduating years. My group consisted of the ’96 graduates and their current spouses. I hadn’t seen most of them since graduation except on Facebook and hardly recognized them as the people I used to love more than life.
“It came out!” Jennifer shouted, holding up the photograph.
I studied the picture closely. Strange. I swore I had taken a picture of Eddie and his wife, but Hallie wasn’t in the shot. And another thing. I thought Eddie had been sitting, but in this picture, he was standing with his hand over his heart in that romantic Gene Kelly gesture that used to drive me, and every other girl in the school, wild.
Couldn’t be, I thought. I’m just over-do for new contacts. I picked up the camera and aimed the lens at Christy.
Christy groaned, “Don’t. I look soooo bad.”
Right. Like leggy Christy, who taught yoga and won swing dance competitions had anything to worry about. She was the only one of us still performing. She and I were the only single adults at the table, yet I’m certain her singleness was by choice and not default like mine. I joined the others in groaning right back at her.
I took a few steps back in order to get a good group shot. I was still centering the picture, when Bill asked Jennifer about her kids.
“I hear your boy’s an ace at T-Ball.”
Jennifer blushed with a parental modesty nobody ever buys. “His dad thinks he’ll be on the Dodgers one of these days.”
She elbowed her husband in the ribs. Ronnie nodded, mouth full of hamburger.
“How about you, Bill?” Jennifer asked. “Any kids yet?”
“Nah,” he said. “Blaire and I decided not to have kids.” He rubbed his wife’s neck as he spoke.
I snapped a picture of Eddie and Jennifer, thinking how funny it was to hear them talking about their spouses and family life. It was like they had forgotten that they once couldn’t keep their hands off each other. I wondered if Ronnie or Blaire knew about that as I handed the picture to Jennifer to “air out”.
“Don’t you think Mr. Grant looks old?” Christy said. She pointed at him where he sat, two tables away.
I swung the camera around to get a distant shot of our old teacher. “He’s looked better,” I admitted.
“Not much,” Eddie chimed in. “Remember? He was so fat that when he sat slouched in the theater seats his stomach used to touch his chin.”
We all laughed at the memory of that image as I snapped the picture.
“Oh my God!” Jennifer screamed. She dropped the picture she had been “drying” as though it had bitten her.
I picked it up and dusted it off. To my amazement, the picture was not of Jennifer and Bill. At least not as they were today, forty-year-olds with bellies and hips.
The picture revealed a much younger version of them in an intense embrace.
“Oh my God is right,” I said.
“What? What is it?” Everyone wanted to know.
“Don’t you dare show them,” Jennifer warned.
But it was too late. Christy had already snatched it out of my hands and was sharing it with Bill. “This is so weird,” she said, as though we hadn’t all figured that out.
Luckily for Jennifer, Ronnie was still only interested in his meal. Bill’s wife, however, got a good enough glimpse to warrant him a harsh look and a quick exit from the scene.
“Blaire!” he called after her.
I let them deal with their soap opera moment. I needed to know how the other picture I took came out.
The image struggling to brighten looked to me to be Mr. Grant slouching in a beach chair in the park. Only, we were all in the picture too, sitting in the grass with our backpacks and scripts. This time, I dropped the picture.
Eddie joined us at the table at last, curious to see what was going on. Bill couldn’t find it in him to leave this phenomenon to chase after his wife, so he leaned in too.
“Take another one,” Christy said. “Take one of me.”
As she flung her hair back over her shoulder, I clicked the button. We waited wordlessly for the picture to develop.
Nothing unusual. It came out as a picture of Christy flipping her hair over her shoulder.
“Well, that’s not fair,” she whined.
Of course not. I knew she just wanted to see if it would show us a picture of her once glorious star-of-the-senior-musical self.
Jennifer, studying the pictures, said, “Here’s what I think. When you took these two pictures we were talking about memories.”
“But we weren’t talking about these memories,” Bill said.
“Take another one of all of us,” Christy ordered. “While she does that, we all have to talk about something. Okay? Let’s talk about a play we all did or something.”
Every face went blank for a moment as they calculated which play to talk about. Between us, we had performed in over twenty of them. I aimed the camera and waited for someone to start.
“Remember the auditions for Guys and Dolls?” Jennifer asked, pushing it for a believable delivery. “We all had to do that dance to Luck Be a Lady and it was so hard.”
Christy jumped up. “I choreographed that number.”
Bill cringed. “I remember looking like an idiot.”
“But you got the part,” Christy reminded him.
“Well, yeah,” he admitted. “But Nathan Detroit doesn’t really dance, you know.”
I let them go on a bit longer about the auditions and the show before I took the picture. I wanted to capture them when they truly had forgotten to keep posing for the camera.
A deep debate about the pros and cons of seniority casting occupied them. By the time I approached them with the developed picture they seemed surprised that I had it already. I dropped the picture on the table and the conversation came to a halt.
No one spoke.
How could they? Who would have imagined that the picture would not be about the show? Who would have dreamed that the picture would not include any of us? Who would have thought that the picture would reveal Susie Talbert, the girl who should have played Sarah Brown that year.
We all just stared, silently moved by the fact we had forgotten all about this girl who had once been our friend.
The silence caught Ronnie’s attention. “What’s going on?” he said. “Is it another picture of my wife smooching some kid?”
“Uh, no,” I said quietly. I didn’t know what to say. Apparently, no one else did, either.
Ronnie picked up the picture. “She’s pretty. Who is she?”
We all looked at each other, hoping someone else would answer. Eddie finally spoke up.
“That’s Susie. She was killed in a car accident about a week before the school musical.” He paused, and I could sense the need in him to explain things. I felt it welling up inside myself too. I had denied what happened for so long.
After a deep breath, Eddie continued. “It had been prom. We had planned to all go together instead of separately with our dates. Only, Susie’s boyfriend was the school president, and he hung out with a different crowd than us, so she decided to go with him and hang with his friends that night.”
I interrupted to say, “She figured she’d be spending the whole next week and weekend with us because of the play.”
“Anyway,” Eddie said, “some of us were kind of pissed off that she chose this guy and his jerk friends over us. She was like a real turncoat, you know. Four weeks from the end of school, and she’s hanging with the people who always trashed us.”
Eddie was getting worked up about it, so I took over. “We ignored her at the dance. Didn’t give her an ounce of attention. We actually booed and hissed when she won prom queen. I don’t know why we were like that. I can’t remember why…” That’s when I had to stop.
Ronnie raised a hand and said, “I don’t need to hear any more. I think I got it.”
“No, you don’t,” Jennifer said to him. “I need you to know this about me. About my friends and me.” Ronnie let her talk. “Susie was so depressed that night ‘cause we were so mean to her. I mean, we were her best friends. So, she went to some party after the prom with her boyfriend and got wasted. She’d never done that before.” Jennifer bit her lip in an attempt to control the shaking of her voice. “They were driving home from the party, drunk, and they crashed into a stoplight. Her boyfriend broke both his legs. Susie was killed.”
Christy, who had jumped all over the leading role in the musical as soon as the news came out about Susie’s death, started bawling. Of course, none of the rest of us were exactly dry-eyed.
Nobody had anything left to say. We sat there in a funk for about five minutes or so. Eddie’s wife came over to comfort him in her snuggly way. Only Ronnie moved as though unaffected. He got up to dump his paper plate and napkin in the trash. When he came back to the table he took the camera from me.
“Do you mind?” he asked after the camera was already in his hands.
“I guess not.”
A hint of a smile crossed his otherwise blank face. “Thanks.” He took about three steps backwards and lifted the camera to his eye. “Hey, everyone,” he said.
“Oh, not now, honey,” Jennifer said. “No one wants a picture of this.”
The words didn’t daunt him one bit. “Think about this Susie girl,” he said. “Think about what you should have done. What you would have done if you could do it again.”
Before any of us could protest, he snapped a picture.
We waited anxiously while Ronnie fanned the shot just like his wife had before. Finally he walked over to us and held the picture up for us to see.
There we all were, sitting at a picnic table in our modern-day clothes with our modern-day wrinkles and weight. Only one thing was different. Susie was there with us. She had her arms wrapped around Jennifer and my shoulders and was squeezing hard. A great grin stretched across her young face.
As we enjoyed the sight of our angelic friend, I could feel my friendship with Jennifer return and my awe for Christy’s talent swell up inside me. The way I used to always appreciate Eddie’s frankness and Bill’s sweet demeanor came right back to me. Everything fit right back in place—twenty-three years of distance suddenly erased.
Ronnie flipped the camera over in his hands to inspect it. “This is a great thing,” he said to me, bringing me out of my reverie. “Mind if I borrow it for my reunion?”
“It’s yours,” I whispered. I knew I didn’t need it anymore.
I hope you liked that. If you did, you'll probably enjoy my other ghost stories Lost on the Water and Passing Notes. And hey, my newest novel All the Love You Write (a contemporary teen romance challenged by a couple meddling ghosts) comes out in about a month. I'll be having a cover reveal really soon! Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to keep up with all the book release news.
D. G. Driver
Author D. G. Driver's
Write and Rewrite Blog
“There are no bad stories, just ones that haven’t found their right words yet.”
A blog mostly about the process of revision with occasional guest posts, book reviews, and posts related to my books.