The picnic photo

Posted: 2011 in Post 2.2
Tags: , , , ,

Thursday, March 22, 8:34 p.m.

“I’ve got just one photo of the two of them together,” Jack says.

He brushes the remaining photos aside impatiently. A dark one, shot through with alarming slashes of red and white, flashes out from the bottom of the stack. He snaps his eyes shut and slams his hand over it.

“Not yet,” he says.

He pulls another photo out, opens his eyes, and relaxes.

“Here. One week before it happened. That’s my Lucy. With my wife.”

I take the proffered photo.

Lucy, the crayon portraitist, is a chubby, cheerful three-year-old caught in mid-laugh, her baby teeth shining. She’s dressed in red cable knit tights and a plaid dress. Her dishwater blond hair is in two messy ponytails. She’s standing outdoors in early spring. It looks windy.

Jack’s wife, ten years older and fifteen pounds heavier than in the wedding photo, is kneeling beside Lucy. One arm encircles the little girl, the other points at the camera. She’s pushing thirty and looks it. Her face is careworn. But she’s still very beautiful.

“This was a week before she died?” I say.

Jack nods.

“We went on a picnic. We did that every weekend. Except when I had to work.”

“Where were they?” I squint at the oddly shaped gray smokestacks that tower over the blue pond behind Lucy and Jack’s wife. Black blobs dot the water. “Are those ducks?”

“Yeah. We used to drive up to the Indian reservation to feed the ducks. There was this animal farm…well, later I found out it was the front end of a slaughterhouse. But there were cows and horses and there was this duck pond. It was open to the public. Lucy loved feeding the ducks.”

I look at the photo. Cold, early spring sunshine gleams on their faces. Their cheeks are the same shade of pink. Behind them, those fat industrial steam columns seem familiar to me. On the ground between Jack’s wife’s feet is a bag of white sandwich bread that’s clearly destined for the ducks.

Duck and duckling

Is this the Last Known Photo of her? The one the TV news displayed as they detailed the fate of the latest victim of the Westgate Serial Killer? Why do all Last Known Photos have this same hazy aura of finality? I wonder if mine will. I wonder if it’s already been taken, waiting patiently in the digital camera I use for work, which freelances in off­-hours as my family snapshot taker?

“When it was warm,” Jack says, “We….my wife and Lucy and me…would sit on a ripped old quilt by the duck pond. Talking nonsense and tossing stale bread at the ducks. They knew us. They begged like puppies.”

Sitting across from me tonight, he’s so diminished. He isn’t the husband behind the camera anymore. He’s so drunk. I wish I knew how to help him. Long ago, in another life (career), I learned to shut up and listen when people were telling me horrible things. But I’m out of practice.

“When it rained or was cold, we huddled up in the car. My wife brought these great thermoses of soup and we tuned the radio to this oldies station. We didn’t actually like the music, but it reminded us of what our parents played when we were kids. The Beatles. The Rolling Stones. Janis Joplin. It was our version of church.”

He kills the last of the Scotch on the rocks. He’s so far from sober that I feel exploitative.

“It was going to be a car picnic, the day he killed her,” he says.

 

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