story #2 in my “23 stories for a fried chicken sandwich” project.
in the series of three photos she keeps in her mind, she and him are at a wedding. her best friend R’s wedding. she was the maid of honor, he was a guest, and they are slow dancing.
she only saw the photos one time in the proof book at the wedding photographer’s office, but they are burned into her memory as if by a soldering iron. they’re even yellow and curled around the edges from all the years she’s been remembering them.
but on the day that she saw the photos the first time, they were crisp and smooth and hidden deep inside a fat black album, which was open to the most lovely oval-matted photo of the bride and groom. she and R squealed when they saw this photo. it was truly perfect. “isn’t it exquiseet?” said the not-French photographer’s assistant. they couldn’t argue, despite the woman’s dramatic pronunciation. the photo was “exquiseet.”
she and R must pick the best shots of the wedding and the reception. the ones that will be forever kept inside the bridal wedding book. that was the mission of this appointment. “i’ll leave you two to peruuuse.”
so they did. they perused, flipping through pages of hundreds of photographs. they laughed and reminisced about the day. she was right there with R until they came across the series. the series of three photos held on by little paper corners and lined up on a single black page. three in a row of her and him dancing.
that’s the moment when she stopped paying attention to the others.
in the first one, they are face to face. he is dressed in khakis and a green button-up with a tie. her dress is emerald green with a cascade of ruffles trailing off the back. her shoulders and back are exposed by the cut of the gown. she is looking up into his eyes, her lips turned into a soft smile. but as she looked harder at the photo, she could tell, in fact, that she wasn’t looking directly at him but focusing on the peripheral view. the photographer. she knew he was taking a photo of them. she was stricken with the dilemma of whether to look happy or look wistful. in failing to decide, she succeeds in the latter without even trying.
in the second shot, she is looking down and away. he is pulling her in close, hands tight around her back, pressed into the fabric of her dress. his eyes are closed in a savory blink and he is smiling, but his jaw is tight.
the third shot is taken up close. the photographer has moved in and she and him are forced to turn and look. to smile. she looks like her normal put-together self. her makeup and hair perfectly put for the wedding. but you can see the exhaustion in his eyes. the soft lines around them. the paleness. the years of ache.
they turn and smile and *flash* it is done.
now there they were in that book for her to see and remember. she remembers because she felt transparent when she saw them. like everything between them was being spelled out on the page. the glorious and the awful. the history and the foreshadowing. the love and the loss.
she lifts a hand to flip past the page and R says, “wait, i love these of you two. we should include one or two.”
“no,” she says, maybe too strongly. “not the slow dancing ones.”