Black and White

My sister snaps the picture.

She’s not a professional photographer, I muse.  And she’s using my iPhone.  What this occasion called for was a pro, you know, a fashion photographer, or someone who does weddings, or anyone who makes a living taking pictures.

And it’s a phone camera, for God’s sake.  What I need is something outrageously expensive, with half a dozen different lenses to catch me and him from different angles and distances.

I’ve planned this poorly, this moment of the marriage of true minds.

That face.  I guess you could call my expression a smile, even though it’s more like a grin.  The vacuous gaze of a fool. It’s the dazed look of someone who can’t quite believe where he.  Communing with the past.  Time traveling, really.  Me and him.  I wish I’d shaved.  For such a stunningly monumentous, personally fulfilling moment I wish my hair were combed.

“I’ll be waiting outside,” my sister says.

This is good.  I want to be alone.  I’m amazed we’re the only two people here.  You’d think the place would be swarming with fans, pilgrims, worshippers at the shrine.

I close my eyes, listen to the silence, wish I’d planned all of this better.  But I am here. Here I am. Gotta live with it. There’s a lot to be said for just being here after all.  Since my college days I’ve promised myself I’d come here.  There were times I thought it would never happen, that I’d never make it, never travel this far. But I have arrived. I can die happy now. For the most part.

“Excuse me.”

I open my eyes.  It’s a thirty-something woman with short blond hair and piercing blue eyes.  She’s carrying two cameras, one slung around her neck, the other strapped over her shoulder.  She also has a tripod.

“Yes?” I say, instantly in love. What a great story this would make.  The working title is Lanning in Love.  I can see it being made into a movie.  I, the Hapa Asian-Caucasian tourist all the way from Hawai‘i, she the woman of mystery who comes from one of the Northerner countries where income is high and guaranteed, where happiness tends to reign in poll of the citizens, but where alcoholism is almost an accepted lifestyle, and suicide rates are high per capita.

This perhaps Norwegian — to match my Caucasian half — suddenly appears, here, in this sacred place, this shire of creative inspiration,  this shrine to fine literature and occasional happy endings.

“I hate to bother your meditation,” she says, “but I was wondering if you’d mind me setting up to take photos of myself sitting by the grave.”

Aha, with the appearance of this angel, I think, my prayers have been perhaps answered. In more ways than one if I am blessed.

“You look like a serious photographer,” I say.

She smiles.  “Well, yes, I’m a freelance travel photographer.  I’m here working on an article.  But what I really want is to get a picture of myself with my hero.”

I know she is not talking about me.  “Sure,” I say, getting up off the floor.  “Can I help you?”

“Oh, no, that won’t be necessary,” she says, “but thank you.” I can’t quite place her accent. Maybe Finnish?

I take a seat in the pew behind her, watch her set up.

“You’re definitely way beyond the selfie-stick tourist,” I say.  “Those look like amazing cameras.”

“Yeah, no, no selfie sticks for me.  These cameras are my bread and butter.  They’re my babies.  I don’t think I could survive without them.”

I nod, not that she can see me doing so with her back to me.  Finally, everything is set, it seems.  She goes and sits as near the grave as she can, scooching up against the golden cordon rope.  With her head against the gold, it looks like a halo. Her chin’s up toward the camera.  All of a sudden she breaks into this huge smile that lights up the chapel.  I’m in love all over again.  A flash goes off.

She remains seated, gives that big smile again, a flash goes off.

“Come, come,” she says, waving me over.  “Come sit beside me.”

A flash goes off again.  That one’s going to be a candid.

I jump up and rush over.  While my back is still to the camera the flash goes off.  That will be a perfect shot of my butt.

I sit down beside her, and as she puts her arm around my shoulder before the flash.

“Say poetry,” she says, as the flash goes off again.  This one is a keeper.  I think it’ll be a good photo as well.

“Okay,” she says, hugging me with that arm around my shoulder.  “We’re immortal now too.”

I laugh.  Not that I can do much about the shaving or the hair, but, “Say, if I give you my email address, could you send me a copy of that last photo?”

“Absolutely,” she says, removing her camera from the tripod, laying it on the pew, then breaking the tripod down.

I carry business cards in my wallet.  They state my name, my author’s website and email address, and my phone number.

“Here,” I say, handing it to her.

She looks at it.  “Lanning is your first name?”

“Yes, Lee is my last.”

“So you’re a writer?  LanningLee.com, huh?”

“Well, I try.”

“Hey,” she says, “you’ve surely come to the right place for inspiration.  There’s none better in the world.  I will check out your writing.”

She fishes in her fanny pack.  “Here’s my card with my website.  You can see the photos I take, there are links to articles I’ve written.”

“Well,” I say, “I will definitely check you out, too. Your work, I mean.”

“Would you mind,” she says, “if I post the picture of the two of us by the grave?  I promise only the last one.  Not the one of your butt.”

We both laugh.

“You definitely have my permission to do that.”

Changing the subject I say, “Hey, my sister is wandering around somewhere outside.  I will need to go find her now.  Will you have a drink with us.  Do you have time?”

“Absolutely,” she says.  “Let me just pack up here and I’ll come out and meet you.”

I head out, scan the church grounds for me sister.  She’s sitting on a bench knitting.

“Karen,” I say, “coming up to her.  I met a woman inside, a professional photographer.  She took a photo of me and her sitting by the grave.  She’s going to give me a copy.  It’ll be great to have a picture taken by a pro to immortalize this moment.”

“Well I did the best I could with your phone,” says my sister.

“Oh no no no, I know, no offense meant.  It’s just so cool to have a professional photographer show up right when I was dreaming about having one take my picture by the grave. A dream come true, really.”

I sit down beside my sister.  “She said she’ll be right out.”

My sister goes back to her knitting.  I look at the photo she took of me.  It’s actually pretty good.  Phone cameras get better each time they put out a new one.  But my hair looks awful, and that stubble.  Plus the expression on my face makes me look like a moron. Ah well. A better one is on the way.

“So where is she?” my sister says.

“Well, she’s got a lot of equipment to pack up.”

My sister resumes knitting.  I look at some of the other photos I’ve taken around the church grounds.

“Can you go check on her?” my sister suggests.

I get up, walk back to the church.  When I go inside, there are a few folks milling around, but I don’t see the photographer.  Moving around the perimeter, I notice that there are no other doors to the outside.  I inspect every nook and cranny.  The woman is gone.

Back outside, I scan the grounds, wander my way back to me sister.  “Did you see her by any chance?”

“No, I haven’t seen anyone, man or woman, with camera equipment.”

“Crap, Karen, I think she must have bagged on me.”

“Did you say something to scare her or something?”

“No, no way.  We hit it off great.  She definitely wanted to have a drink with us. She wasn’t lying.”

“Well, sorry, bro, but I’m hungry and I’m thirsty, so let’s find a pub.”

We walk around, my sister for sure doing a better job of seeking out a nice place than I.  All I’m doing is surveying the crowds for my photographer.

“Here,” says my sister.  “Look at this.”

I read the sign.  “The Garrick Inn, founded in 1718, the oldest and coolest pub in town.”

“If Shakespeare were alive today,” my sister says, “I bet he’d be drinking here.”

We go inside, order up two pints and sit.

“Wow,” says my sister, “this is a great place.”

“Yeah,” I say in half-hearted agreement.  Reaching into my shirt pocket, I feel for the photographer’s card.  I feel nothing.  I look into my pocket, see nothing.  Standing up, I reach into my pants pockets, pull out my wallet, my passport, my phone.  Nothing.

“What is it?” my sister asks.

“I can’t believe it,” I say, putting everything back and sitting.  “I lost that damn card she gave me.”

“Ah well, bro,” she says, “chin up. There’s always next time.”

“No,” I say, “there isn’t always next time.  Not for me.  I’m running out of next times.”

“Bruv, you must think positively,” says my sister.  “You never know when you’ll find someone.”

I pull out my phone, check my email.  Nothing from the photographer.

“Well,” I say, “hopefully she’ll send me that picture.  At least then I’ll have her email address.”

That night we see a play performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company.  It’s the bloodiest version of Julius Caesar I’ve ever witnessed.  Normally I like that kind of thing, but I am totally bummed out by the earlier happenings.  They have to wash down the stage at intermission.  I take a photo.

My sister says, “You know I feel like you can’t really consider your English Literature degree complete until you’ve made a pilgrimage to Stratford-upon-Avon, gone to Holy Trinity Church, and visited Shakespeare’s grave.”

“Yeah right.”

“And today you did it, bro.  You did it.”

I look at the photo on my phone for the umpteenth time, totally bummed out.  I look like a slob. I’m sharing the frame with William Shakespeare, well, with his grave.  Me and the Bard.  Or as English majors say, the Bard and I.

I check my email.  Nothing yet.

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