It happened between photographs sixteen and seventeen. Now, the number on the top of the disposable camera reads: twenty five. Michael holds it up to his face and looks through the eyepiece, framing Snowdonia. The camera is weightless in his hands, hardly there at all. He has the thought it’s a toy, made of cardboard and plastic, nothing more. How does film work anyway — does anyone know? Yesterday, he told Andrea how photography is like magnetism, a mystery to almost everyone, and she laughed. He lowers the camera, tries to imagine her laughing; but because of the angle of her head, the stiffness in her shoulders, the adamant positioning of her hands on her knees, it’s impossible.
‘Wait until we reach the top,’ Andrea says, resting against a huge rock below, breathless. ‘Save it for when we reach the top.’
Again, he checks the number inside the plastic window on top of the camera. He recalls boarding the train three days earlier and taking the first photograph. Andrea took two miniature bottles of wine and two plastic wine glasses from her bag. She held the two bottles to her mouth, pretending to drink. He saw through the eyepiece, her cheeks flushed, her teeth glistening through newly applied lipstick, her eyes creased with smiles. There was the hollow plastic click when he took the photograph, followed by the scratching sound as he turned the wheel, ready for photograph two.
He holds the camera to his face and looks through the eyepiece.
‘I said, wait until we reach the top.’
‘Didn’t take one,’ he says, looking up at the path ahead.
She mumbles something about him looking through the eyepiece for no reason.
In a week’s time, Michael will look through the photographs. Photograph sixteen: Andrea on the opposite side of the dining table, black dress, eyes closed tight, head thrown back, mouth open wide revealing pink gums and white teeth. Then he will shuffle this photograph to the back of the pile. Then photograph seventeen: Andrea’s profile as she looks to her left, her face slightly downturned, her brow furrowed, her gaze looking, not at, but through the floor. When he sees this photograph, he’ll remember again what he’d said.
He’s the first to reach the summit and touch the cairn at the top of a set of stone steps. There’s the sensation of winning, of beating Andrea. He shakes his head, listens to his breathing, concentrates on taking in the view because this is what is important. To the west, the view is covered in cloud. But to the east, the sun is still high enough to fire shards of light through grey, revealing shades of green and bronze and silver. There is too much to take in. But this is the point. When he turns on the spot, he sees the horizon in every direction. There was a time he would have been eager to vocalise his thinking for Andrea, to make mental notes about how it made him feel, so he could tell her.
Andrea climbs the steps behind him. Without looking at the view, she stands next to the cairn, leaning against it with her feet crossed at the ankles. ‘Can you?’ she asks, flicking hair away from her shoulders. He takes the camera from his pocket and holds it to his face. He considers the composition, with Andrea on the left, the cairn in the middle, Wales on the right. He waits for the clouds to move, for the light to increase. And there it is, the final photograph. He pretends to press the button.
‘You take it?’ she asks, climbing down the steps.
He turns away, pretending to see to the camera.
‘Let’s go. It’s freezing up here.’ She makes hard work of the steps and walks into the visitors’ centre to catch the train for the descent.
Turning back to the view, he scans the horizon, looking for the right shot. In a week’s time, after he’s recalled what he’d said between photographs sixteen and seventeen, he will reach the last photograph. Looking at this photograph, he will recall how he’d waited for the light to change, how he’d tested countless views through the viewfinder, and how his finger trembled when he pressed the button.
He reaches the bottom of the steps and sees Andrea looking through the window of the visitors’ centre. She’d watched him take the last photograph. He looks down at the camera, turning it in his hands, then back to Andrea. Photography has something to do with a chemical reaction, something to do with photons hitting film. Maybe memories worked in the same way.
It happened between photographs sixteen and seventeen. He was looking at the menu, and said, ‘I’m not sure, Abby.’ He waited, the air cooler, the restaurant receding about him. Andrea had always been, ‘Andy.’
‘Abby?’ she said, closing her menu, placing it on the table beneath a slow-moving hand.
He waited, his eyes scanning the menu without reading a word. ‘Andy,’ he said. ‘I’m not sure what I want.’
‘You called me, Abby.’ She glanced at the couples on the tables either side of them.
Andrea has the same hurt expression now as she had in the restaurant. He imagines her expression as photons etching themselves onto his memory like a photograph.
On the other side of the glass, and in its reflection, he sees both Andrea and himself raise a hand to say goodbye. They’d given it a go at least. He takes one final look at the view from the top of Snowdon, before setting off down the mountain alone.
Adam was recently placed third in the Cambridge Short Story Prize 2017 and was shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award 2018. He’s had stories appear in various publications such as Fictive Dream, Spelk, STORGY, Reflex, Retreat West, Fiction Pool, Ellipsis Zine, Syntax & Salt, Occulum, and many others. Website: adamlock.net. Twitter: @dazedcharacter.