Article

Photo Fiction: Losing Luisa

Angel didn’t want to give up, but the Philadelphia chill cut through deep to his bones and challenged his will to live.

Thirteen months ago, when he started out on the journey, emotions such as love, concern, and sympathy had been tossed aside. Never again did he want to feel the agony of loss, the knife-in-his-gut rawness that ruled his life after Luisa disappeared.

And here it was, winter again.

But unlike last December, Angel wasn’t alone. Despite his best attempts, he had not been able to close his heart to Pancho. As he thought about the day of their meeting, he felt a warmth and lightness inside that fueled his blood.

They were both at the Square, using their talents for handouts and sharing the same bench for rest. The audience heard a Dylan song accented by the howls of a German shepherd that were remarkably on pitch. Dollar bills lined the guitar case, while bits of burgers, sandwiches, and desserts littered the path.

Angel did not want to love Pancho and, at first, this was not a hard task. Pancho was feisty, always ready to fight, and had been on the streets, Angel guessed, for more than one winter season. There was a look in his eyes that made it clear he had been on the receiving end of cruelty and neglect.

That look, so understood by Angel, broke his heart. It was the same look he had when he set out all those months ago. I don’t want to lose again. He stared into the eyes of another potential loss and refused to allow it to happen.

So, he walked away. But Pancho followed.

Angel acted violently, and Pancho retreated but soon came back to his side.

He avoided the bench at the Square for several days, but Pancho was there when he returned.

Angel thought of Luisa. He thought of the people who had been evil at his expense. He thought of his loved ones, taken and separated in a rush of greed. The hatred he felt had turned him into the living dead.

But that look in Pancho’s eyes was hard to ignore. Here was someone who needed him. Perhaps it was time.

That heartbreak, from which flowed compassion, love, and life, was the beginning of a friendship that brought them both to this unrelenting winter day.

Angel shivered. Someone tossed a wrinkled, fast-food bag into the hat. They had not eaten enough over the past week, and their shelter was limited to the bushes. The bitter cold was keeping people inside; no one wanted to stand around and watch a pair of losers play for cash.

Angel struggled to focus and look at his friend. Another loss, just like Luisa. But this time, Angel thought, I’m here. I’m not off someplace being used for sport and games and money and blood, while a friend withers away. I’m right here at his side.

With his remaining strength, Angel lifted himself and moved closer to Pancho. He felt the gentle arms of his friend drag him up and into his lap. The leash was cold against Angel’s neck, but it was a reminder that brought him comfort. He hoped his thinning coat would give some amount of warmth to Pancho.

Angel nuzzled his head under the neck of his companion. His eyes were heavy and refused to open. He rested, cradled in the arms of his faithful friend.

He heard Pancho whispering, telling him to go to sleep, that he’d wake up in heaven.

Heaven. Maybe he’d find Luisa there.

“Hey, Angel, it’s time to go up there.” Angel felt his friend’s breath against his face. He was desperate to show a sign of affection and raised his front paw limply.

“Yeah, maybe there’s dogs in heaven. Pretty, nice. Lots of food. Places to run. Warm places to run. I’ll see you there. Go on,  now. Go on to sleep, Angel boy.”

And he did.


 

LOSING LUISA: I rediscovered this story a few days ago and remembered how much I enjoyed writing it (2012). I was hoping to write the story in such a way that the reader wouldn’t catch on to Angel being the dog until the last few paragraphs. If you realized this earlier in the story, let me know where I gave it away. I had never written a story from an animal’s point of view where I was trying to hide that fact. It was a good exercise for me.

Image information for this amazing photo: “A homeless man sleeps in the arms of his dog on Queen St. W. in Toronto, on a freezing day in November, 2006.” This photo was taken by Veronica Henri, multimedia journalist for the Toronto Sun, and was runner-up in the Feature category at Sun Media’s 2007 Dunlop Awards.


 

Article

Photo Fiction Inspiration: Cora’s Receipt

Cora grocery receipt 1944

Image from knickoftime.com

This image of an old grocery store receipt has inspired several story ideas in my mind. I saw the image while using Pinterest for my story research, and several elements caught my attention:

  • The date
  • Her name
  • The fourth item purchased
  • The hole from the receipt spike
  • The match of the year to the receipt number

The author of the pinned article shared the story of how she found a stack of receipts in an antique register. All of the receipts were Cora’s, and it was clear that Cora ran up a tab each week at the grocery store.

The tablet purchase intrigues me the most. Yes, it could be simple: Cora needed to replenish the household writing paper. But here is where my imagination takes off:

  • Story 1: The tablet becomes another holder of Cora’s “secrets.” She hides her box of tablets — there are 13 —  under an abandoned car she found on the property of a school for the blind. Cora befriended a girl who attends the school, and shares what she hears during her nightly walks through the neighborhood, though she says they are “made up.” However, tonight Cora is meeting up with the blind girl to share a story that Cora must tell her is true.
  • Story 2: Cora has a crush on Charles, one of the Stroker sons, and writes love letters to him that she never sends. She secretly hopes that one day he will ask her why she buys tablets so often, though she’s not sure what she will say. Meanwhile, Charles only talks about his dedication to God and how, unlike his brothers, he plans to never marry. When Cora walks into the store on Halloween, Charles tells her that he is leaving soon to join the Merchant Marines (he saw the Bogart movie) and help with the war effort. Charles is 16 years old.
  • Story 3: Cora is a teacher, and has planned a Halloween Party for the only white family in her school. The family is planning to leave due to the negative racial activity they’ve encountered, and Cora hopes to talk them out of the move. The tablet is a gift Clara plans to give to a budding writer in the family, the first of them all to be educated past the sixth grade.

It’s amazing what the mind can do with a small amount of information. Maybe I’ll write a collection of stories from the image, and not limit myself to one. There’s a thought!


 

 

Article

Things I Love: Old Photographs of People I Don’t Know

Josie, Bertha, and Sophie. Cannery workers, 1912. Image from the Library of Congress, loc.gov.

Josie, Bertha, and Sophie. Cannery workers, 1912. Image from the Library of Congress, loc.gov.

 

Old photographs are magical. They stir my imagination.

Like this photo of the three girls. They were workers at a South Carolina cannery in 1912. Shuckers of oysters. Each girl tells a story with her facial expression. What were they thinking at that moment?

And this photo:

cap-weary-young-girl-cotton

Image from blackhistoryalbum.com

 

Arkansas, 1935. She shares her defeat with us. What did she think about the person behind the camera taking away with him a glimpse of her life?

Here’s another:

boy-in-bombed-bookstore

Image from theatlantic.com

 

London, 1940. A boy reading in a bombed bookshop. My first thoughts when I saw this photo: What book is he reading? Is his family alive? What’s in the package?

And this one:

large-family

Image from library.duke.edu

 

Kentucky, 1964. Twelve children, poverty, and the mother is … smiling? What gave her the strength and joy to handle it?

The questions that come to mind when I see photos like these often give me story ideas. I have a photo fiction board on Pinterest where I collect images that I’m saving or that I’ve used as writing prompts.

The girl in the cotton field photo is now the main character of a story I’m working on. My goal is to write her sadness away. Read my post to see what I have planned for the girl I named Netta.

Not all photographs I choose to add to the collection are old. One of my favorites is an award-winning color photo from 2006, a homeless man keeping his dog warm on a winter day in Toronto. With it I wrote one of my first photo fiction stories.

There is no shortage of photos for me to enjoy in this way. I visit the Library of Congress and Smithsonian Institution sites for their collections of photos from times gone by. Pinterest has boards full of old photographs. Whole websites are devoted to sharing the past through images.

Why do these photos appeal to me? It may be that I love studying American history. It may be that I long for the lost (and never taken) photos of my own family. It may be that special something about old photos: Cameras were once a novelty and a photo session was a special occasion. The lens caught raw, real life and its people.

Whatever the reason for it, I love looking deeply into old photographs and wondering about the people I see.

Do old photos grab you as they do me?


 

Article

I Want to Write That Sadness Away

cap-weary-young-girl-cotton

My Pinterest boards include one for writing prompts, where I pinned this photo of a “weary young girl picking cotton, 1935, Arkansas.” I was pulled in by her face, her dress, the weather, the field.

The sadness.

The woman in the back is her mother.

And now, as I look at the photo again, I can’t stop thinking about the hat.

I want to write about her hat.

I imagine that her hat has a story. A good one. One that is going to teach me a unique thing or two about survival and love, courage and sacrifice, goodness and God.

A girl and her way out.

Oh, the story most likely has a sad beginning, but I also see determination in that face.

She will take us to joy.

My father was born in Arkansas. He was five years old when this photo was taken.

I’m going to step into that dress, put on that hat, take her sad look, and erase it with a story.

Because that’s what we storytellers do.

I wonder what she’ll let me name her. ∞

Article

Photo Fiction: Postcard to Chateau-Thierry

post-card

My dearest Frederick:

Your inquiry about Mother — there was not much to do after the hemorrhage. She fought well and passed gracefully.

Plan to take care of yourself. You are needed. Father expects to be back in August. I am not so sure.

I know you will put them all before yourself. Shall that be my last thought?

The blossoms — I see them when I climb to the big oak, with your pickets there shepherding Lester Atkins’ stock. The grass swaying, yellow and green, wave after wave, and I hear your jolly laugh and your voice telling me “Soon.”

You are in my lungs, like fire, like sea salt. You are loose gems. You are a mirror and a cup.

Excuse my script — there is more that I say, so read deeply.

Yours,

Margaret

17 June 1918

Philippians 4:13


This June marks 100 years since the beginning of the first World War and I’m reading about it. I created this vintage postcard from a photo of flowers in my backyard. Then I imagined a young woman using it to send a message to her sweetheart soldier who is fighting in France.