It’s been a while since I’ve posted any creative writing (or written any, for that matter). At the end of last semester in my Short Story Writing class, we had to write a second short story. I can’t even begin to explain how bad my writer’s block was before I eventually turned this story in.
The idea for this story popped into my head as I took one final look around my room before going to sleep one night (a night very close to the deadline, I might add), when I spotted my disposable camera sitting on my dresser. The idea of a disposable camera wouldn’t leave my head after that, but I had trouble figuring out how to write a story based on it. I don’t like writing love stories all too much, because I feel like I can’t not be cheesy, so it couldn’t be a love story. I wasn’t in the mood for an action-packed adventure. I had already written plenty of stories with female protagonists (since those are easiest for me to write). I was honestly so stuck.
FINALLY I had some sort of epiphany. Far back in my lineage, there is a great-great-great-etc(?) grandpa who went missing without a trace. At one point, two of my great-uncles went on a trip and heard something similar to what the first man in the drugstore says, but the story stops there. Nobody knows what happened to this missing relative of mine. Did he die? Did he meet someone else and start another family? I’ve always wondered these questions (as have several of the relatives I’ve talked to), but never gotten any answers.
So I decided to make my own (fictional) answers.
I don’t know if my family members are going to like or dislike this story. We will see, I guess (and to those family members reading this, I know Uncle Maurice’s name is not spelled “Morris”).
Life is Not Disposable
“What are you doing here?” you ask. You glance around for a way to escape.
“I could ask you the same thing, sir,” I reply, attempting to keep my voice from wobbling as I stand my ground between you and the door. I’m not about to make the same mistake twice.
“Look, I don’t know who you are or what you want,” you say and throw your hands in the air.
“I just want to talk,” I assure you, then pause. “Grandpa.” I begin to tell you my story.
Before I was even an idea in my mom’s head, you up and disappeared without a trace. No warnings, no goodbyes, no letters after the fact. No one, not even your wife or your daughter, knew if you died or left to begin another life. No one knew until six months ago.
“Hey Morris,” Harold shouted from across the drugstore, “check out this nifty camera.”
I made my way over to where my younger brother stood and looked at the rectangular box he held in his hands. “That’s no camera! It’s made of cardboard,” I laughed.
“Honest! Look,” he said, turning the yellow-and-red box over and pointing to the words printed on the side. “PhotoPac Camera,” he read. “It has eight exposures.”
I narrowed my eyes skeptically and took the box from him. As fake as it seemed, it was indeed a camera.
“Better buy it while you can,” the store clerk advised from the check-out counter. “We just stocked those a few days ago, and we’re nearly out.”
I glanced at the advertisement beside the display, and sure enough, it was dated May 2, 1949—only a week prior.
“I’m going to buy it,” Harold decided.
I rolled my eyes. “We already have a nice camera at home. Why would you buy this one?”
“Morris, you said it yourself. Our nice camera is home in Alberta, because you left it sitting on the kitchen counter. I want to take some photos of Colorado to show Mom when we get back. Plus, we just mail it in to this address, and they send us our prints afterward. It’s portable and disposable, and only $1.29. What more could you want for a quick trip to the States?”
I shrugged. I didn’t really care if he bought the camera or not.
We went to check out and the clerk rung up our camera. Harold pulled out his wallet to pay for the cardboard camera and struck up a conversation with the clerk.
I suddenly felt eyes on the back of my neck; when I turned around, I spied an older man staring at me and Harold.
“Can I help you?” I asked, annoyed. The man’s shoulders jumped as he snapped out of his daze.
“Sorry,” he apologized. “You look just like my friend, John.”
“Odd,” I replied, turning back to Harold.
“You are the spitting image of him when he was your age. You’re what, in your early twenties?”
Chills cascaded down my spine without warning. I exchanged glances with Harold as he received a bag from the clerk with the camera inside.
“He’s around here somewhere,” the man continued, looking across the aisles. “I bet he would love to meet his doppelgänger.”
“It’s really interesting you would say that,” Harold piped up. “We had a grandpa that disappeared a while back.”
The man’s face flushed white and he didn’t say another word. He turned on his heel and made a beeline for the exit.
“Wait!” I yelled, but he walked out without looking back.
“Morris,” Harold whispered. He nudged my side with his elbow.
“I shook my head in confusion. “What?”
Harold slowly nodded toward the center aisle. There, another older man stood, his eyes locked on us. It was you, though I didn’t know it at the time. There was something familiar about you I couldn’t explain.
“Hey!” I shouted. A click sounded in my ear, and a loud crash followed as you dropped the canned foods you had been holding. You, too, ran for the door. I didn’t think you would make it very far—you must have been in your mid-60s or so, right?—but I couldn’t see where you had gone once I burst through the door myself. I let out a groan, which you were undoubtedly too far away to hear.
“Those eyes,” I muttered. I couldn’t shake them from my head.
“I think we just met our grandpa,” Harold said incredulously.
“But we lost him! We won’t know for sure,” I sighed.
Harold held up the cardboard camera and grinned. The photo count had moved to seven. “Mom can tell us for sure.”
We spent the rest of the trip with you on our minds. What was supposed to be a relaxing vacation between two brothers turned into a conspiracy theory-filled week complete with paranoia and little-to-no sleep. The seven photos we had left on that damn camera didn’t matter to us anymore, but Harold knew Mom would want to see the Centennial State through our eyes so we used it up anyway. Seeing you even put a damper on Harold’s mood, and if you would have been around growing up, you would know that was hard to do.
“Harold,” I said for the third time.
“What?” he replied as he lied on the motel bed. He tossed an apple in the air like a baseball.
“Want to drive down to downtown Denver and get dinner?” I asked.
“Nah,” he refused. He tossed the apple again. And again. And again.
I leaned on the desk. “We could catch a movie?”
“What do you want to do, then?” I sighed.
Harold gripped the apple in his fist. “I want to go back to the drugstore,” he muttered.
My fingers rubbed my temples as I shook my head. “We’ve already gone back there twice. He’s not going to show up.”
“You don’t know that.”
“We don’t even know if it’s him,” I pointed out.
He started tossing the apple again. “It’s him,” he insisted. “Those eyes were Mom’s.” He had noticed them too.
We mailed the cardboard camera to the company in Dallas as soon as we got home four days later. On the drive up, we had both promised not to say anything to Mom in case the pictures didn’t turn out. In case you’re wondering, the wait was pure agony; nearly attacking the mailman every afternoon is not something I’m necessarily proud of. Finally, two-weeks later, a thick envelope arrived with “Dallas, Texas” written in the left-hand corner.
“Harold!” I hollered through the house. “It came!”
The tell-tale squeak of his bedroom door preceded the pounding of footsteps through our house’s hallway. He stopped suddenly beside me at the kitchen counter, nearly slipping from sliding on the linoleum with his socks. “Open it,” he demanded.
I took a deep breath and ripped open the envelope seal. On top of the stack, you stared back at me, shock evident on your face through the eyes that had so clearly been passed on to Mom.
“Get Mom,” I mumbled quietly.
Before Harold could move anywhere, Mom walked through the backdoor into the house and laughed at the sight of us hovering over the counter. “What’s going on, you two?”
Harold spoke first. “We have something to show you.” He nudged me with his shoulder and I gulped. Of course he would make me show her.
Mom’s carefree expression changed to one of worry. “Okay,” she said skeptically. I noticed, as if for the first time, the deepening wrinkles around her eyes and lips. It almost made me put your photo away. Almost.
“Um,” I cleared my throat. “We bought a camera, so we could show you pictures from our trip and everything, and we started out using it much sooner than we expected, and…” I rambled.
“Get to the point, Morris,” Harold interrupted impatiently. I glanced at him and felt my palms starting to sweat.
“I, uh, well,” I stammered. “Is this Grandpa?” I blurted, shoving the photo into Mom’s hands.
Her face drained immediately and time suspended in mid-air. She lifted her free hand to her mouth and let out a sharp, heart-wrenching sob. “Dad,” she choked.
A sneaky tear ran down Harold’s face as he watched Mom cry. I was never good with tears, so I kept my eyes down until she spoke again.
“Where did you find him?” she managed, wiping her face with her hands.
“A drugstore in Boulder,” Harold explained. “A friend said his name was John, so we didn’t realize who he was until we saw him standing there.”
Mom scoffed. “You went and changed your name, did you Dad?”
“We tried to talk to him,” I added, “but he ran.”
“Of course he did,” she shrugged and laughed sarcastically. “Apparently, it’s the only thing he’s good at.” She wiped her eyes once more, straightened her posture, and placed the photo face-down on the counter. “What other photos do you have to show me?” she asked.
I glanced at Harold incredulously, then looked back at Mom. “You’re not the least bit interested in talking to him?”
“No,” she replied bluntly. “And you shouldn’t be either.”
Harold rocked back and forth on his heels but dropped the matter entirely. He was always such a mama’s boy.
I, on the other hand, couldn’t let you go that easily.
I didn’t have enough money to drive back to Colorado right away, but you can bet I worked nearly every day for six months to save up enough. Just to come find you. I didn’t even know if you were worth finding.
When we first saw you back in August, we were smart enough to ask the clerk if you came to his store often. Smart of you to change your name to something common, but the problem of moving to a smaller city is that everyone knows who you are. It wasn’t very hard to find you, once I set foot in your new town.
“And now, here we are,” I say. “The same drugstore as the first time I saw you in person. How fitting.”
You had sat down at some point during my speech. I guess your 60-something legs aren’t as strong as I thought, after all.
“Your turn,” I nod. “Why did you leave? Why did you just dispose of your life?”
“Morris, I loved your mother and grandmother, I just—” you stop suddenly as the drugstore bell chimes from the door behind me.
“Dad? Are you ready to go?” a female voice, much like my mother’s, carries over my shoulder. I turn to look at the relative I never knew existed. Her sleek, chestnut hair and fair skin contrast your thinning brown hair and tan arms.
I study her quizzical face as she asks you who I am.
She doesn’t look anything like you.