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The Girl in the Photograph

by LMJT 

Posted: 15 June 2014
Word Count: 844
Summary: For the challenge I set this week of 'something to hold onto'. It's late in, but I assumed this wouldn't be an issue since it's a response to the challenge I set myself! :)

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Finally clearing the packed bookcase in their bedroom, Anna found the photograph tucked in the pages of a battered Andy McNab paperback that Peter had read on the beach last summer.

She slipped the photo out and held it between her thumb and forefinger.

At first glance she thought the picture was of their daughter, Olivia, but while the young woman in the
photograph had the same wavy chestnut hair and similar svelte figure, she held herself with a confidence that, even at 21, Olivia still didn’t have, with her shoulders back and her chin up.

The girl in the photograph wore a strappy white top that accentuated both her tanned skin and firm breasts. She was looking directly into the camera and a knowing smile lifted her full red lips.

The girl was Elodie, Olivia’s friend from university who’d spent a fortnight at their house in Sevenoaks over the summer.

She’d seemed far more mature than her years and Anna had found her company awkward. Unsettling.

‘It’s that look on her face,’ she had said to Peter as they cleared away the table after dinner on the first evening of Elodie’s stay. ‘While you’re talking to her, she’s looking right through you. Like she’s not listening to anything you’re saying.’

Peter had shaken his head. ‘She’s not been like that with me,’ he said. ‘She seems very attentive.’ He gently rubbed her shoulder and smiled. ‘I think you’re reading too much into it.’

And maybe she had.

But what was she to read into this now? This photograph of a 21 year old girl that her husband had been holding onto.

Her hand trembled as she slipped the photo back between the pages of the book and returned the book to its position on the shelf.

Despite mentally rehearsing what she would say to Peter for the whole afternoon, it wasn’t until they were in bed that night that Anna brought up the subject of the photograph.

‘I was clearing the bookshelf today,’ she said, surprised at how calm she sounded. ‘And I found a photograph in one of your old books.’ She paused. ‘It was of Elodie, Olivia’s friend. Why do you have a photograph of her, Peter?’

He put down his book and looked at her. ‘I know what it must look like,’ he said. ‘But it’s not what it seems.’

Anna felt her heart begin race. ‘Tell me.’

Peter sighed. ‘I should have just got rid of that picture. I don’t know why I kept it. While she was here, Elodie developed something of a crush on me. I don’t know if you noticed, but she spent so much time with me. Listening to my old vinyl. Asking for book recommendations. If I stayed up late working, she’d find some reason to come and talk to me. It got to the point that I had to be quite stern with her. I had to tell her that I had a lot to do and that, if she wanted to spend the night talking, she should go and wake Olivia.  

Anyway, she wrote to me at the office when she’d gone back to Bordeaux. That’s when she sent that picture. The one you found. She said she was depressed in France, that she couldn’t stop thinking about me. I didn’t know what to do. I’d never given her any sign of encouragement.’

‘Why didn’t you tell me any of this at the time?’ Anna asked. ‘If all this was happening, why didn’t you tell me?’

‘I don’t know. I should have. I know I should have. If I’m honest, I suppose I found the whole thing flattering. I’m fifty years of age, Anna. That a girl of Elodie’s age could find me attractive was implausible, but I felt like it gave me a new lease of life. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want that bubble to burst. And that’s incredibly selfish of me. I know that. And I’m sorry.’

They were silent for a moment before Anna asked, ‘So nothing happened.’

‘Nothing happened.’

‘But did you want it to?’

Peter rested his hand on hers. ‘I wouldn’t jeopardise what we have, Anna. Like I said, I was flattered, but I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t do that to you.’

He kissed her then and they made love for the first time in what felt like months.

Peter fell asleep soon after, his arm draped over Anna’s side, but she stayed awake.

She believed him. Of course she believed him. Elodie had been a troubled young woman. She’d known that from her own observations and from what Olivia had told her of her background.

She didn’t doubt his account of the story. No, that wasn’t what kept her from sleep.

What kept her awake was wondering if she’d have had the same self-discipline.

If a man in his twenties had found her attractive and pursued her as Elodie had Peter, would she have had the strength to turn him away?

She wasn’t sure. She just wasn’t sure at all. 

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Comments by other Members

euclid at 13:20 on 15 June 2014  Report this post
Nice one, Liam.

A few editorial suggestions:

Typo here:
Anna felt her heart begin [to] race.

Contemporary editorial opinion would suggest rewording this without the word "felt" in order to bring the reader closer to the character.

Anna's heart began to race. or
Anna heart was racing.

they made love for the first time in what felt like months.

Why say "what felt like"? Either it was months or weeks, but she would know.

Final suggestion: Why not have her ruminate on a real infedelity, a keepsake given to her by her own paramore?


Cornelia at 13:46 on 15 June 2014  Report this post
A good theme for a story that began well with the finding of the photo in a book, but the characters subsequent behaviour  lacked credibility.

I wonder if this was because of the dialogue, which seems very restrained  for such a potentially explosive siuation?   The stiffness of the husband's speech in  in particular gave an impression that his story was rehearsed.  

 I’m fifty years of age, Anna.

seemed a classic example of someone telling somebody els what they already know. Maybe if it had been expressed more forcefully, eg 'Come on, love - you can imagine how I felt, fifty years old and a young girl coming on to me. ' it would have worked.

‘Why didn’t you tell me any of this at the time?’ Anna asked. ‘If all this was happening, why didn’t you tell me?’

‘I don’t know. I should have. I know I should have.

Too right he should have. The wife's repetition gives some sense of urgency and accusation, but it needs to be followed through instead of resolved by  love-making, highly unlikely in the circumstances.

I agree with JJ that what's needed at the end is some kind of 'show not tell' . Maybe the wife could surreptitiously finger some locket she  has concealed in her beside drawer - that would explain her apparent complacence about her husband's lack of candour and provide more of a sense of closure.

Good topic, though.



BryanW at 15:04 on 15 June 2014  Report this post
Builds well - and a very interesting take on the usual middle-aged man's infidelity - which you had nicely led us to believe it was going to be.
I do agree with the other comments, though, that Anna's awareness of her own vulnerability to such a situation might be shown differently.
I wonder if when her husband naively starts their love making in order to demonstrate his faithfulness, she might have had a realisation that her husband was not really very exciting and it is then she has the vision of some fantasy young man which allows her to enjoy it. This might have more dramatically hit her with the awareness that there is something up with her relationship to him. It might also suggest that their future together is now doomed. 

blob at 09:31 on 16 June 2014  Report this post
I really like the first line - lots of information!  I first thought (because of the theme) that Peter might have died!
I agree with the previous comments.  

I don't belive this line for a minute!! ;)  ‘I wouldn’t jeopardise what we have, Anna. Like I said, I was flattered, but I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t do that to you.’  especially if they hadn't " made love for the first time in what felt like months" but maybe that's just the old cynic in me talking!

TassieDevil at 21:01 on 16 June 2014  Report this post
 Hi Liam,
As others have said this had a slightly detached feeling for me. Her reaction to his explanation was a bit too bland and the story would have felt more satisfying if there was a hint of her own past or feelings, possibly even towards Elodie herself?
I was certainly engaged by the situation as there was a strong sense of the mystery here. Certainly worth working on along the lines that others have already suggested.
Enjoyed the read.

LMJT at 21:19 on 20 June 2014  Report this post
Apologies for the late reply to you all. 

Thank you for your comments.

To be completely honest, I don't think my heart was completely in this piece and I think that shows!

If and when I rework, I'll take your feedback into consideration.


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