I sit down by my mother on her TV-watching couch – the only furniture we kept when I moved her into the efficiency unit at Cedar Rest. Dr. Phil is hectoring some poor schlub who cheated with his wife’s sister. I grab the remote and mute him.

      Mom gives me a look.

      I hand her the photo album I found buried under forty years of her National Geographics. “Dayton – 1965” is stenciled across the cover.

      She frowns. “Why were you in my basement?”

      My mother and I have spent a lifetime not talking about the stuff that matters. I’d been cleaning out her house so I can sell it to pay for Cedar Rest. She doesn’t want to hear that. And she probably doesn’t want to talk to about that last family vacation, either.

      For generations my father’s family worked at the Goodyear plant in Dayton. His two older brothers followed the plan, but not my father. He didn’t like people telling him what to do. He took over a drive-in theatre up in Lansing, where he met Mom. Six months after I arrived the drive-in folded. We moved to Amarillo and he bought a muffler shop just before Midas opened down the block. His last shot – a full-service carwash in Bakersfield – had a couple good years until the self-service places started showing up everywhere.

      My mother glances at the first page and shakes her head. “Your father’s grand 4th of July expedition.”

        After the carwash closed he had to take a job at Sears. Normal hours, paid vacation and a twenty percent discount on equipment. He hated it. With his discount he bought a movie camera and with the vacation he drove us across the country to visit his brothers back in Ohio. I was twelve years old that summer – the year before my father killed himself.

      His snapshots traced our route. Mom and I squeezed into a booth at the Waffle House in Barstow. Me standing at attention by the entrance to Roman Nose State Park in Oklahoma. An inexplicable line of customers queued up to enter a Bob Evans sausage emporium in Indiana. And then pages and pages of Dayton’s 4th of July Parade. I didn’t remember any of it.

      “No pictures of Dad?” I ask.

      Mom shrugs. “His camera.” She snortles at the last photo, which fills the back page. It’s the whole clan – Dad’s brothers, Nick and Tony, and their wives and kids, with Mom hidden in the back as though she didn’t belong. I’m front and center with the Super 8, filming my father as he takes our picture.

      How could I have forgotten that? The Sears camera he let me play with because he couldn’t bring himself to use it. I filmed everything. “What happened to our home movies, Mom?”

      She sucks in her cheeks like she used to do when she threaded a needle. “I threw them away during one of my angry decades. Sorry.”

      I shrug back at her.

      “Who’s that girl?” I point to a pensive blonde about my age.

      Mom smiles. “That’s Mary Bryan. She was a friend of one of your cousins.”

      “The Mary Bryan?” I ask. Every birthday while I was growing up my mother made a fabulous double fudge chocolate cake she called Mary Bryan Cake.

      “She gave me the recipe.”

      In my mind I hear the clicky-clack of the film as it spools through the projector and I watch as my mother and father sit together eating Mary Bryan cake. My mother schmooshes her piece into my father’s mouth like she’s a new bride and all the aunts and uncles and cousins cheer as my father picks up my mother and kisses her with chocolate-frosting smeared lips.

Len Joy lives in Evanston, Illinois. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, 3AM Magazine, Annalemma, Right Hand Pointing, NightsAndWeekends, GlassFire Magazine, Slow Trains, 21Stars Review, Boston Literary Magazine and The Daily Palette (Iowa Review). A collection of his short fiction was published by Bannock Street Books (2009).

This story is the revised version of the flash I entered into the Flash Factory 200 contest. I changed it to present tense, which I don't normally use. It just sounded better to me - I thought it made the ending image more vivid. 



Copyright 2009