This is a short story I wrote for my Fiction class last semester. It’s a time limit story. I hope you like it.
Laura could feel the soupy summer air weighing her hair down, deflating it just as she felt herself deflating. It was the last party of the summer and she was watching the Polaroid she’d just taken develop. In the thirty seconds it took for the picture to become truly clear Laura had learned to see the world in a whole new way. It happened every time she took a picture. Watching the figures and faces take shape, the lighter parts were clear first then the dark. Each time the glare from the sunshine or the indoor lighting played into the chemical reaction a different way.
Her favorite pictures to watch were the ones with faces. They developed the opposite of people, starting as ghosts and then becoming more vibrant. People tended to live in the opposite direction, from vibrancy to ghostiness.
The picture over her nightstand was the prize of her possessions. Watching it develop had been almost frightening, everyone had been caught off guard by the flash and their faces were frozen in agonized grimaces. Everyone except Beaner. Laura had never been able to catch him unaware. She would tease him begrudgingly about his vanity and the sixth sense he seemed to have about cameras being around. He responded that she never went anywhere without a camera, so he wasn’t surprised, and anyway, he looked perfect all the time naturally and that’s why she loved him. He followed that up with an offer to model when she decided to become a serious photographer.
Her room was filled with pictures from that summer, the one just before ninth grade. Everyone else seemed so confident that high school was nothing to worry about. Even Sara, Laura’s best friend, had developed a sense of self with her new haircut. Laura’s closet was covered with the minute-by-minute snapshots of Sara’s transformation. Somewhere between the seventh and eighth pictures a subtle change took place. Laura could never pinpoint it exactly, though she often studied the pictures.
Where the walls met the ceiling, Laura had lined pictures from that summer’s concerts and trips to the beach. Sociology fascinated her, so accompanying the pictures were lists of the clothing style changes exhibited by her friends, any apparent music affiliations, and how often hairstyles changed. Everyone knew about the pictures, but only Sara knew about the lists. Sara was also the only person that knew that Laura really did love Beaner.
Wedged around the edges of her mirror were pictures of Laura and Sara posing together. One of them had at least one arm awkwardly cut out of the side of the picture. They’d spent one whole afternoon that summer perfecting their “high school smiles” after Sara’s notion that high school meant they could re-invent themselves. Laura wasn’t sure where this idea came from. They were going to go back to school with all the same people they’d been with since kindergarten. Not to mention they spent most of the summer with the same people, too.
Yet, Sara had insisted they practice and had taken the camera from Laura at one point claiming that only good models could make great photographers. Laura hadn’t bothered responding to that illogical remark, but her discomfort at having the lens turned on her was etched all over the pictures. The afternoon had passed without her re-creating herself for high school, but Sara had declared the fifty-seventh picture to be the look she should go for that year and decided her left side was her “best side”. Laura had rolled her eyes when Sara reminded her not everyone could look perfect in every picture like Beaner.
Laura’s bookshelf held pictures from earlier years in middle school as well as the albums her mother had put together for Laura’s baby years. She sometimes found her mom curled up in a chair with one of the albums, crying. Laura remembered as a little girl asking her mother why the pictures made her cry. What seemed so obvious to Laura as she’d grown older had been baffling to her then.
The albums in Laura’s room were the only ones in the house with pictures of her dad. In the years since the divorce her mom had banished him to that small space, but it seemed that sometimes she really couldn’t help herself from looking through the ghostly, fading memories. She spent the most time on one page, the one with a picture from Laura’s second birthday. It seemed innocuous at first, but Laura knew it was the only picture that had her mom, dad, and godmother in it. Her mom had burned all the other ones after her dad left.
The story of Laura’s dad and godmother’s affair was revealed slowly in the pictures from her second birthday until her sixth. Laura remembered thinking then that adultery meant that you held Nina’s hand behind your back while you held Mommy’s hand in the picture. The picture of her seventh birthday had been the first one that taught her to see the world a different way.
When she was ten Laura had lined the pictures up sort of like a flipbook. The picture of her second birthday looked carefully planned. She sat in the middle, all of her focus on the giant pink and green iced cake in front of her. Her mom and dad sort of hunkered down behind her with grins on their faces almost as big as the cake. Nina could be seen standing beside her mother, not exactly hunched over but just as excited. They all had matching birthday party hats and a sense of ease permeated the picture. The picture from her third birthday party didn’t look much different.
The first change appeared in a candid shot from her fourth birthday. Unlike the posed cake picture, Nina no longer rested her hand on Laura’s mother’s shoulder, but stood next to her father. Laura had been hoisted to her parents’ shoulders and was holding a Barbie Sun Rider Jeep triumphantly over her head. Her mother was looking up at Laura’s glowing face, but her dad’s attention was directed at Nina.
Her fifth birthday party had been at a park. The most strikingly vivid picture from that party was of Nina, Laura, and her dad walking across the field. She was holding both their hands and they had been swinging her. Her mother had taken the picture from behind the trio, and you could just make out the crinkles of smiles as Laura’s dad and Nina looked at each other.
Laura had two posed pictures from her sixth birthday as dissimilar as a wedding from a funeral. In one Laura attempted a feeble smile as Nina and her dad mimicked the pose from her second birthday. The background was filled with the bright colors of the streamers, balloons, and several of her friends. The other picture was Laura’s favorite. She and her mom faced each other over a cupcake with one candle in it. The background was dark, but Laura’s smile had never been bigger. Laura and her mom had blown the candle out together and made a wish for a year filled with exciting adventures.
Here she was again, learning something new about the world. Laura counted the seconds as she held the developing Polaroid in her hand. She knew she shouldn’t want to watch this one. Seeing it in real life had been painful enough, and here she was feeling her heart break for the second time in thirty seconds.
Sara’s blonde hair appeared first, followed by her light blue tank top and the vague outline of her arms and hands. The outline of Beaner’s back-porch filled in behind her at the same time Sara’s jeans revealed she was sitting in someone’s lap. Beaner’s perfect face filled in more slowly than Sara’s because he was much more tan after spending hours on the boat with his older brother. But their lips developed at the same time, as if taunting Laura, “We’re kissing. And thanks to your picture, it’ll last forever.”
Laura knew that pictures didn’t keep people together, let alone actually last forever, but she had a hard time convincing herself this was true about Sara and Beaner. Laura felt the soupy summer air clinging to her skin. The thirty seconds had passed. This time watching the figures and faces take shape revealed betrayal and cruelty.
The final stage of the chemical reaction brought the simple colors of the picture to their brightest and Laura felt that by comparison she had turned into a ghost. As she looked down at her clothes and her own hands, it was like she was watching her color bleed into the picture. It seemed with the loss of her best friend to the arms of her first love Laura would be reinventing herself in high school after all.