by Brian M Wood © 2003

"Before you go, I wanna take your pictures," the old man, affectionately known as grandpa, said.

Billy groaned and looked up at his mom.

Her smile was thin and strained. It had been a long weekend and that smile said that she understood Billy's feelings perfectly. But what was the harm in one more picture?

Jan didn't complain. She wasn't old enough. Her only frustrations were not getting fed on time and when she had to wait longer than usual to have her diaper changed

Francine patted her son's shoulder. "Where you want us?"

Grandpa saluted the sun from his eyes and looked over near the garden, which was ten feet to the right of where they were standing. "How about over here?" He walked over to a spot under the Oak tree. Behind it was a wood and wire fencing that corralled the backyard from the house to the garage.

Francine nodded and pulled Jan's hand. And when she seemed more concerned with the ballet of bee's dipping from flower to flower, Jan was picked up and all it took for Billy to follow was a look.

Grandpa lined them up. Francine near the house, Billy near the garage. He wanted the little one on the ground, but she refused to unclutch her mother for some reason. Grandpa kept coaxing the little girl, until Francine glanced at her watch.

"Dad, we've a plane to catch. So could we please-"

He let go of Jan, nodding.

"So take your picture, please. And quickly. She's heavy."

Grandpa nodded, smiling more from the sun being in his eyes than from levity. Life was tough without mom being here. No one knew that more than he did. Hell, the three of them had planted the Oak tree when Franny hadn't been much more than a seedling herself. Now look at her, he thought as he raised the lid on the box camera hanging near stomach level and looked into it. She was as mighty as the Oak behind her and was about to drop her squirming seedling to-

Grandpa looked up from the sight lens. He blinked. Billy on the right, Franny to his left, little Jan in her arms looking and pointing to the tree behind them. The Oak and fence behind.


He nodded and looked back into the viewer. Everything was normal again. "Okay. On three. One, two-"

There was another ripple, but it happened the same time as he said, "cheese" and depressed the button. Billy rolled his eyes.

Franny again tried to let Jan down, but she wouldn't hear of it, looking past her mother's shoulder, Franny saying, "Yes. That's a pretty tree. I planted it when I was about your age." Then Franny looked at her dad. "How many times am I going to tell her that one?"

"Until her actually listening to you doesn't matter anymore."

"Dad. Billy's just a kid-"

"Who you think you talking to?" He laughed. "Another sign of age is that things like that don't hurt the second time around. Or hurt as much, anyway."

They walked from the shade of the tree.

"So what're you gonna do?"


She nodded.

"Let you get going before you get any more pissy with me."

She didn't say anything, but now Jan was working hard to get out of her mother's grip. "Not now, you're not, little girl. You wouldn't get down earlier, now you're stuck here until I getcha in the car."

She leaned in and buckled Jan in. Billy was already buckled and waiting in the front seat. Grandpa walked up to him and laid a hand on his shoulder through the car window and squeezed it. Billy briefly smiled and then looked away.

"I'll send you a copy of the pictures when I get them developed," grandpa said to Franny.

"Oh, I know you will."

He stepped back and waved as the car pulled away.

When the car turned the corner, he turned back to the tree. And thought about what he'd seen there.

He looked down at the camera, then thought about calling Calvin. He'd call Blatchly later.

Especially if the picture comes out.


He wished he would have had a Polaroid camera. But then, it might not have made any difference. A camera was a camera and film was film. Well, in the civilian world anyways, Blatchly always says. The military has its fingers in things that the normal person can only dream about, Blatchly always says.

Well, Blatch. What would you say about this picture? The day it had been taken, it had been sunny. Last week. In the shade. No way for the sun to play havoc on it.

Grandpa Larry sat down on the couch and looked into the picture again. The photo guy had told him it must have been the film. A bad part of the film or something. Larry sighed. Yeah. Probably. But he knew that his daughter wasn't going to get this picture. She might have something to say about Jan's arm from elbow to hand disappearing into a shimmering pool of air. Farther to the right, closer to Billy, another lapse was seen curtaining the air aside.

And behind the curtain?

Nothing but blackness can be seen. Which was why the photo-tech offered up the "bad film" excuse.

But he knew it wasn't the film. Just as Jan did. But who'd believe the rants of a near-two-year-old? Or the word of an old man half a step from death? Who'd believe that anything other than age was invading his eyesight and his backyard?

That day, Larry had seen what was behind that curtain. A fleeting glimpse, yes, but enough for him to nightly take to bed with him the hope of how America was supposed to be. He would always have his memory of that.

And if the invasion of age totally eradicated that?

Well, he'd always have the photo, wouldn't he?

x x x

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