Write It Sideways

Excerpt Critique: “Taking Pictures for Deborah”

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Taking Pictures for Deborah


Muffled cheers boil up as another wild turquoise wave curls and hammers some two dozen surfers. Joe snaps photos from his stony perch jutting high above the Orange County beach he passes each day on his way to see Deborah at the nursing home. A storm in the Pacific is the source of today’s breakers and Joe’s luck behind the lens of his digital 35mm camera.

If not for the surfers being knocked around like thumb-flicked marbles, Joe would be somewhere else. Anywhere that the retired teacher can lose an hour, a morning, a day framing light and shadow. Without bells, lesson plans or students to button his days, Joe wears time like a loose tee shirt, slipping in and out of its arms with little thought, except for the thick belt cinched around his waist – his wife, Deborah. His laughing Debbi, who puckered up and stretched into green air two years ago to plant a kiss on the Blarney Stone while he stood behind the lens taking photos of their dream vacation. His muttering Deb, who now lies curled in knotted sheets in the Alzheimer’s wing of the best facility he could find within an hour of their comfortable L.A. suburb.

Below, surfers’ heads pop like corks as they jockey for spots aboard the next big wave. Joe frames a close-up of one balding fellow with a long scar across his muscled calf and then plays with the angle of the rising sun. He spends part of each day with Deb, but it no longer matters if he’s there for breakfast or lunch or dinner. Her days, like his, have lost their composition. A year ago, with prompting, she could still frame their past, their daughters, their desire. This past Christmas she greeted him with a beatific smile as he entered the door: “Oh, it’s my Bobby, my handsome Bobby!” Robert Joseph. The stillborn son they buried on New Year’s Eve almost twenty years ago. These days she looks through him like a lens.

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