Aiming for a creative life

I Am Santo

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He only knew her name, but he’d built worlds and histories around Mary Elena. Maybe that wasn’t even her name, Michael sometimes wondered, mostly when the gin took hold and he gripped the old photo in his wrinkled hand too tight, threatening to finally ruin it, maybe free himself from her stare that had haunted him for thirty years. They’d sat together under the overhang of the bus stop – the dugout – by Cain’s Beach, she alone and with a knapsack, dressed in jean shorts and a camo bikini top, red highlights streaking her wild brown hair. Mary Elena, she’d said after asking him what his name was, and what kind of camera he had in his lap. He smiled and told her his name and about the camera he’d just bought, an instant machine that had been spitting out images of the shore all afternoon. She asked to see some and he produced his work, a bit embarassed. He had played hooky from his desk job and was on his way to Gretchen and their young son, Ian. He mentioned none of this, though, instead staring at her face, her wide smile, full lips, deep brown eyes and arched eyebrows. She was sun kissed on her shoulders, but must not have been out too long as she wasn’t burned. He was about to ask her where she was going when her bus arrived. Right then his heart plummeted, because Michael knew then he’d never ask her anything. She looked over her shoulder as the bus pulled to the curb and then handed the photos back to him, telling him they were lovely, or beautiful, or pretty; all words he would have used for her. Then she asked him to take her photo, quickly, as she had to go. Without hesitation, he brought the viewfinder to his eye and the camera captured her, churning out the shot slowly as she stood. He asked her to wait, one of the only things he actually said to her. But she had to go, so she smiled and told him to keep it. A moment later, the bus pulled away, the thick exhaust and scent of gasoline heavy in it’s wake. Michael stared at the photo just as he did tonight – just as he did almost every night – wondering where Mary Elena had gone, who she was with, who she loved. His heart hurt not knowing for sure and it hurt because she was not with him. (at Love at Last Sight)

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