Part of the idea of the exercise, I think, is to preserve the writer's early impressions, and so the stories don't go through any editing after she gets them. Reading this story again now, there are some things that I want to change... Oh well. We (said friend and I) have made this into a weekly writing exercise where we send pictures to each other and get stories back, so I'll have more (hopefully better) Talking Photos stories to share. Here goes #1.
The man beside Lorraine is snoring gently, and it’s pissing the hell out of her. She has never been able to sleep during flights, however long. This is a short flight: 55 minutes. She would be sufficiently occupied with this two-year-old issue of Why Not, borrowed from her sister-in-law, except for the man’s snoring. Her current novel is set in Brazil, which she hopes to be able to visit soon, and so when she’d seen this article on Brazilian culture while idly flipping through the magazine at her brother’s house she’d asked his wife Jennifer if she could keep it. “Sure,” Jennifer said. “And if you win some huge prize one day for your Brazilian novel, you could mention me in your acceptance speech.” Jennifer laughed at her own half-joke and Lorraine had resisted the urge to point out that setting the novel in Brazil would make it just as Brazilian as Lorraine, a Canadian, would be if she visited Brazil. Lorraine tries to concentrate on the words.
“Any trash, please?”
She looks up, at the steward walking down the aisle with his open trash bag. She considers the bits and pieces of waste matter as they fall into the white depths of the bag and thinks maybe she does have ADHD. The plane has many dead passengers – or at least they look dead in their sleep – and so the steward is making fast progress toward her. When he’s a few feet away Lorraine becomes sure she knows this man. His name tag says Keith. Common enough name; she doesn’t know any Keiths, though. But she does know this man. Not ‘know’ like she knows his voice or how he likes his coffee; just a vague kind of know. Like she’s seen the face before, in passing maybe.
She marks the page of the Brazil article with her fingers and flips back the magazine’s pages furiously. There! That’s him smiling out from the page, a woman beside him, a little boy cradled between them. The feature is called ‘Everyday Heroes’. She skims. ‘Keith’ is Samuel Pepperwood, 31, of Arlington, NJ. A fireman. Driving home one evening he’d had a “strange urge” to stop by at the Colemans’, five houses down from his. He’d taken down an armed man and saved the Colemans – all four of them.
“Any trash, please?”
Lorraine looks at his face, turns to the page with his picture.
“Is this you?” she says quietly, raising the magazine while keeping her eyes on his.
She sees his lips part in a soundless gasp, and his pupils dilate. His cheeks turn a light pink. Then he blinks and she could have imagined it all. His is the face of a steward again; polite, with that ever present almost-smile.
“Do you have any trash, ma’am?” his voice is steady.
“No. But this is you?”
“Excuse me,” he says, and with a slight bow he moves on to the next row of seats.
Lorraine stares at his picture, turns to look at his back. Samuel-Keith. Keith-Samuel. Brazil can wait. She has a story to find.
P.S.: Just for fun, what do you think Keith-Samuel Pepperwood's story is? I have no idea.