Every Wednesday at five when he finished at the lab, Luigi got into his car and drove to the camera store, where Doug taught him to take pictures. His first photos were simple, almost embarrassing: cars in the parking lot, lined up in rows like fish slapped onto a table at the market, and Doug's face, his thin mustache and full eyebrows dividing the frame horizontally into thirds. That first evening Luigi took two rolls of film, and when he returned the next week, they were waiting for him. The developed photos were sticky and smelled like unripe fruit.
"You'll get tired of taking pictures of this ugly mug pretty quick," Doug prompted him as Luigi leafed through the pile and saw photos of Doug smiling, frowning, pointing a finger near his forehead in a mock salute. He'd been in the army during the war, he'd told Luigi casually, but the farthest he'd gotten was Tennessee. "Foreign enough for my taste," he'd reported. Like most Americans, Luigi noted, Doug believed that where he was, and the way he was, were the best place and way to be. Luigi had tasted a little of that security himself one night about a month after he'd moved into the Shaleford house. He sat at his kitchen table and ate a plate of pasta that he had cooked, and he felt something. It was an unfamiliar feeling, one he groped to put a finger on. And then he identified it: contentment.
"No, it's fine," Luigi said.
"Well, why not take some pictures of Diane here?" Doug suggested, pointing to his daughter. The first day of Luigi's photo lessons, she'd been wearing a different outfit, a simple white shirt and dark skirt, but today the polka dot dress was making another appearance. She blushed at her father's suggestion, and Luigi could see the reddish color traveling down from her neck and disappearing into the V of her dress like spilled wine spreading over a white tablecloth.
"Dad," Diane said warningly.
"You're a prettier subject than I am," Doug insisted. "Come on around from behind that counter."
Diane stayed where she was.
"She's just a little shy," Doug told Luigi. He tapped twice on the counter and pointed to the door of the store, and Diane slowly closed her book and stood.
Outside it was still light, which was a good thing, because Luigi could hardly afford the camera, let alone the flash he would have needed to take pictures after dark. In the two weeks since he'd bought it, he'd eaten macaroni with an onion browned in butter for dinner every night, and he'd brought his lunch to work -- salami sandwiches on soft supermarket bread that were damp and squashed by lunch time, the white chunks of fat like pliable lumps of tissue. He and Doug had agreed that he'd pay in five installments, one every two weeks.
Now only two cars, Luigi's and Doug's, were parked on the metered strip outside the camera store. The surrounding stores -- a pharmacy, a beauty parlor, the brick post office, and a men's clothing store staid and obsolete enough to sell lederhosen with a straight face -- had all turned out their lights. A diner called Bill's Boxcar sat at the end of the block, an apron of parking lot spread in front of it. The clinking of cups on saucers jumped through its open windows and into the night like sparks. A neon sign in the shape of a hot dog nestled in a bun buzzed in the window, although Luigi was pretty sure they served hamburgers and excellent milkshakes, but no hot dogs.
Diane stood primly in front of her father's black Oldsmobile, which was parked directly in front of the store. Luigi noticed that the meter had run out of money and the arrow now rested in the red zone. Doug was a man who could charm the police, Luigi was sure. Only later did he learn that as a store owner, Doug was entitled to park without paying-no bribing or cajoling necessary. Diane pulled her back straight, a serious expression on her face. She looked like someone who had her picture taken frequently but had never learned to like the attention. Luigi took a step back from her, and then a step forward. He centered her. "You want to fill the frame," Doug had explained to him several times the week before. "Most people get their pictures back, and what they were looking at is just a tiny dot in the distance." Luigi moved in closer, so that the crown of Diane's head brushed the top of the viewfinder rectangle, and her toes rested gently on the bottom. He inhaled and held his breath, as Doug had taught him, bracing his arms against his chest to keep the image stable. Diane blinked and her bad eye straightened, looking forward against its will. And then, at the last second, just as Luigi clicked the button, she grasped the flared skirt of her dress in both hands and pulled it into a wide fan against the hot black metal.
* * * * * * * * * *
After they'd eaten fruit and Olivia had declined three offers of coffee, Claudia gathered the tablecloth and took it to the terrace. Through the half-open French doors, Olivia could see her unfurling it to scatter the crumbs into the garden below. Claudia came in and folded it into a thick square, sponged off the table, then disappeared into the back of the apartment. She returned with a large wooden box and lifted the lid to reveal an interior lined in burgundy velvet and hundreds of photographs.
The first one Olivia focused on was her eighth grade class picture, teeth sparkling with braces, hair pulled back tight and shiny with a large plastic barrette. She picked it up, then dropped it. Underneath was a photograph of her mother that she'd never seen. Her mother held a book open on her lap, and her face pointed into the distance, away from the photographer. Her hair was gathered in a bun at the top of her neck that looked ready to come undone. In another her mother stood in front of a black car with the skirt of her dress held up to form a semi-circle. She stared into the camera. Olivia thought her mother looked like a straight shooter, the sort of woman who didn't make compromises.
There were dozens of shots of the house in Shaleford, in both black and white and color. It was a jolt to see the familiar front door with its metal knocker. There were various versions, the fence more or less painted, different cars in the driveway. And there were dozens of her: Olivia, just a blur on a new bicycle, circa 1967; sitting on the couch with Smudgy, smiling warily at the cat, who clearly wanted to escape her hold; at the kitchen table in a pair of shorts, newly long legs spread before her and crossed at the ankles. Every year she posed in front of a sky-blue backdrop and sometimes a wagon wheel, as her breasts grew and her face shed baby fat. Flipping through the photos was like watching a sped-up movie of her life that ended, suddenly and bluntly, with the beginning of her father's illness. It was as if someone had granted her access to her father's mind, during the times when it still functioned. Here, in black and white and in color, was how her father had seen her. Olivia's eyes filled with tears.
"I told you," Claudia said.
Olivia picked up a clump of photographs, then let them dribble between her fingers like sand. They made shushing noises as they fell into the wooden box and brushed against the other photos. The last photograph that remained in her hand showed the house in Shaleford, a straight-on shot no different than the one the real estate agent had run in the newspaper ad. And then Olivia realized that soon her father's house would be sold, and she had no images of it. Claudia had turned away from her and was attacking a water stain on the stovetop with a sponge. Olivia started to slip the photograph into her pocket, but then she guiltily changed her mind and dropped it back into the box. What sort of person would steal from a cousin? Especially one this kind?
Olivia dug in again. There was not a single picture of her father, unless you counted the occasionally blurry piece of thumb in the upper right-hand corner. She turned a few photographs over and checked their backs for written notes. He hadn't bothered to date any of them, nor had he provided captions. Olivia shook the box in her hands the way she might have shuffled the letter tiles before a game of Scrabble. Although the faces in the photographs were invariably smiling, or at least content, tossed together that way, Olivia found them unbearably sad. Jumbled and out of order, they were reminiscent of her father's mind at the end. She reached for the lid and covered the box.