Here to present to you the beginnings of my novel, hesitantly titled: Photographs
Thunder rolled across the sky and heavy drops of rain pelted the sidewalk. The drops gathered together into growing puddles that were illuminated only by the street lamps and occasional car headlights. The stores on this block were all closed; no warm inviting light poured from the large windows. From under my protective awning I watched the storm, occasionally trying to get a better look at my surroundings. Lightning flashed off the sides of the buildings giving me the temporary comfort of daylight.
Assuming my ride was never going to show up, I gave in to my empty stomach and fished a couple of bills out of my coat pocket. Pulling up my hood and gripping the money tightly, I made my way toward the nearest late-night cafe.
I splashed my way along the sidewalk, giving in to the rivulets of rain running down my ponytail and to the back of my neck. As my feet found puddles, ripples formed that broke the reflection of myself surrounded by the dark shops. I watched my feet as I walked, only looking up when necessary. Just as I stepped in a relatively deep puddle, a thought occurred to me. I opened my fist and looked at the pair of lonely dollar bills in the palm of my hand. If I spent those tonight, just what would I use to buy food over the next couple of days? A raindrop slid down my forehead to the tip of my nose, then plopped onto the toe of my boot. I moaned and shoved the money back into my pocket. An empty stomach for one night wasn't going to kill me. I turned around and began the long walk home.
"Claudette!" The yell came from the kitchen. Claudette pretended that she hadn't heard and buried her head under the covers.
"Claudette!" Came the yell again, closer this time. Footsteps came toward the bedroom. Someone knocked on the door. Claudette groaned. "You need to get up. I'm going to work. I left you some food on the counter." Claudette shot up in bed, letting the covers fall from her head. She raced to the door, pulled it open and stared at her mother.
"You made breakfast?"
"Actually, Mrs. Bird brought us some muffins. Said she made too many for just herself." Claudette considered her mother for a moment, taking her in. Her red eyes that cried most nights, and rarely slept. The smell of chocolate that was always hanging around from the little candy shop where she worked. The always impeccably neat bun in her blonde hair. Claudette's mother worked long hours and made very little money, but she had put a roof over their head. Claudette loved her more than anything. Her mother, Lily, tried to stay light and cheery in front of her daughter, but Claudette was getting older now, and she was able to spot the hidden secret behind her mother's smile. Lily had always wanted to live in Paris, a dream that had her staring into the distance most nights, dreaming of street lights and walks on cobblestone streets. Her Paris dream had also become the inspiration for Claudette's name, as she thought it sounded particularly French. She smiled that same cheerful smile; the smile she thought hid her red eyes.
"Now, be good, don't go wondering around outside today. I'll be home as early as I can." Lily hugged Claudette and headed out the door.
Claudette stretched and headed for the kitchen. Mrs. Bird always baked the best treats. Surely there was some sort of magic involved. The way they tasted made you warm on cold winter nights, such as the warm, gooey cinnamon buns, or gave you chills on the hottest summer days, like the light lemon bars sprinkled with just the right amount of powdered sugar. The muffins today were strawberry flavored, topped with oatmeal. The scent of them from the kitchen counter pulled Claudette closer. She ate two and they filled Claudette's empty stomach so thourougly she felt as though she could have just enjoyed an endless buffet. The light, sweet taste made her think of spring blossoms and gentle breezes on warm nights.
"Magic," she whispered to herself. She got dressed, headed down the stairs, and knocked on Mrs. Bird's door.
"What did you think?" Mrs. Bird asked as Claudette entered. It never ceased to amaze Claudette that just a few doors away from her dreary, shabby, second-hand apartment, was this amazing assortment of treasures, antiques, old black and white photos, books everywhere you could see, and everything in it's rightful place. Claudette loved coming here, and Mrs. Bird loved the company. Now that it was summer she could spend all the time she wanted here while her mother worked. Lily didn't like that Claudette had to be alone so much, but she trusted Mrs. Bird, and was happy that Claudette and Mrs. Bird had become so close.
"They tasted like spring," answered Claudette. "And I'm so full!"
Mrs. Bird nodded. "I thought that might do the trick." She winked at Claudette. "Here," she said, handing Claudette an old photo. "I think this one was calling out to us today."
Claudette took the photo and studied it. A young boy with slick black hair pulled into a low ponytail stared up at her with piercing eyes. "Who is it?"
"Don't know." Mrs. Bird shrugged and turned to the dishes in her sink. "All I know is he couldn't sit still and kept falling off the shelf trying to get my attention. Nearly broke his frame."
One of Mrs. Bird's many hobbies was browsing antique shops. She once told Claudette that she wasn't looking for anything, really, but more that the items were looking for her. Not knowing what she meant, Claudette had just nodded. Mrs. Bird's apartment was like an odd museum. Stray items like ceramic cats, books that used to be part of a set, and of course photos with no owners were everywhere. All of these items, on their own, were out of place, but in Mrs. Bird's apartment everything seemed to belong.
"Why don't you see if you can figure out what he wants." Mrs. Bird said this so non-chalantly that Claudette couldn't help but laugh.
"Me? I don't know how to talk to pictures!"
"Oh, but they're not just pictures. That boy has a story to tell. He just needs someone to listen. You keep the photo. He'll talk when he's ready." Claudette looked at the photo again. The boy continued to watch her with those eyes that looked almost too real to be in a photograph. He was lying down in what looked like a field, arms behind his head, wearing a white t-shirt and denim jeans. Claudette wasn't so sure that she wanted to know how the photos talked, but she shrugged it off and set the photo on the table in front of her.
For the rest of the morning, Mrs. Bird and Claudette chatted and baked. Before long it was late afternoon. Claudette usually went back to her apartment about this time, so she hugged Mrs. Bird, thanked her for the muffins and the cookies that had baked, and headed for the door. Just as she reached for the knob, a clatter came from the floor near the kitchen table. Mrs. Bird made a clucking noise with her tongue, scooped up the photo of the boy, and mumbled something about silly tantrums. She told the photo to behave itself and handed it to Claudette. "Be careful now," she said to Claudette. "This one has a temper."
Back in her apartment, Claudette set the cookies she had baked with Mrs. Bird on the table and set the photo of the boy on her night stand. Then, on second thought, she placed him face down, trying to get away from his gaze. Realizing what she had done, she giggled to herself and left the room. She spent the rest of the day snacking on the cookies, watching tv, and reading until her mother came home from work. By that evening she had forgotten about the photo. By bed time, however, she was reminded of it when she saw that the frame had been placed upright on her nightstand.