The men drink shot after shot of cheap whiskey and never seem drunk. They stand
by the grill charring burgers, they close the pool for the season, they shovel dirty snow 
into packed piles that melt in the spring.

The men lean over basement bars, their shoulders tight, and watch sports-football, 
baseball or NASCAR. They will settle for heavyweight boxing or golf if they have to. 
The women stay upstairs with the children. When they finish dinner, they call the men 
upstairs, who lumber up and grab plates with their thick hands, take heaps of mashed 
potatoes and green beans, several drumsticks, and then retreat again to the basement.

The women complain, clean up, smoke cigarettes out the open back door, letting in the cold. 
They perch their elbows on the kitchen table and sip black coffee. They pull out their 
knitting and flutter their fingers over needles, making things for other people. They gossip 
about the neighbors, talk about themselves as if they were twenty years younger and 
forty pounds lighter. They count to 200 before getting angry.

The men and the women go to church on Sundays. They make their children sit between 
them. They bend knees, murmur prayers, think of summer beach towns and their fear of dying. 
The men take the bad children outside to yell at them, but linger there, scuffing their dress 
shoes on the concrete sidewalk, happy to miss the Homily.

Some of the men drink too much, and they pass out on couches, floors, their snores like the 
cargo trains that used to run through the town when they were children. They pass out 
with cigarettes in their fingers, burn holes in the upholstery. They pass out and forget.

Some of the women leave the men for this. Most of them don't. The women take jobs 
in bakeries, beauty salons, offices, as cashiers or receptionists. They eat toast with 
the cold hard slabs of butter they pull from the fridge. They pick their children 
up from school. They sit on the bleachers and watch the Little League games, 
eating peanuts out of plastic bags, yelling at the coaches.

Some of the women meet other men at the bakeries, the beauty salons, the offices. 
They go with them to motel rooms, bouncing off the cheap mattresses. They come home 
late, forget to go grocery shopping. They forget. Some of the men leave the women for 
this. Most of them don't. The men and the women get old. They retire and regret it. 
Their skin becomes dark, spotted, and they don't recognize themselves in the mirror. 
When they look back at their lives, it is like a snapshot, a faded photo thick with
greens and purples. It is a picture, blurry on the edges, of all the men and
women they remember, all of them looking every which way but at the camera.

Tara Laskowski is a senior editor at SmokeLong Quarterly. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University and recently completed a manuscript of her first novel, set in her hometown in Pennsylvania. She was the 2009 Kathy Fish Fellow at SmokeLong. Her fiction and nonfiction have been published in several places, most recently Necessary Fiction, Monkeybicycle, decomP, Barrelhouse and The Rambler.

This story came from a photo prompt, and I usually am not inspired by photo prompts. However, I liked the haunted look of the photo provided, and it struck me how some of the people were not looking directly at the camera (which ended up being the end of my story). The odd colors of the photograph made it seem old, like a memory, and this is where I started from. This flash is a bit different from what I usually write because it's
a very distant narrator and it spans nearly a lifetime. I usually write very close to my characters, but this photograph to me spoke of old times, looking back with a larger perspective with someone who knows more than the people in the photo, or at least has had the advantage of time passing to see it in a different light.



Copyright 2009