52 Stories from 52 Photos: ‘#34'

W e ran along the shore hand in hand, kicking up soft sand and warm water in the shallows. We were always running — for trains, for appointments, always smiling. But this was all more picturesque. As the sun set ahead of us it looked like a new planet, some welcoming and inviting world just out of our reach. Tiring, we strolled up the silky beach to our straw hut for the fortnight, making sure to thank the towel boys in their native tongue. Collapsing wet and exhausted onto satin bed sheets she pulled them over our heads and climbed on top of me, kissing my eyelids gently. 
“Let’s go get a drink,” I said stroking her cheek, “You make me want to celebrate every night.”
She withdrew slightly and covered her face giggling, “I don’t think we should…”
I pulled myself up against the head rest and looked at her quizzically as she rolled off me and reached for the bedside table. She returned holding a little white stick with blue on one end and held it in front of my face.
“You’re gonna be a Daddy…we’re gonna make a family!” she squealed and I fell into her arms as joyful tears met the nape of her neck.

The next year the baby came and in a way it felt as though we had joined some ancient galactic purpose but mainly it just felt like our two destinies had become fulfilled. Parenthood was everything I had imagined along with a myriad ways more. It wasn’t easy, as everyone had been keen to instil in us throughout the pregnancy. But actually; the hard bits weren’t hardships and I know that we both cherished every sleepless night and nappy change the same as we did all the good parts. She was the perfect mother, blossoming in front of my eyes. The baby looked at her like a princess or some angel and I followed suite. I felt very much down to the marrow of my bones that we were doing what we were always supposed to do together. Life sped up in those years and I watched the days slip through my fingertips however much I struggled to hold on.

Suddenly the summer was drawing to a close heralding the September he would start at primary school. The three of us were sitting on a thick tartan blanket on the top of a hill overlooking the city and — past that — the sea. He was running back and forth in the tall grass chasing a dragonfly and laughing with total abandon. I looked over at my wife, his mother as she sipped cooly from a plastic champagne flute. 
“Are you nervous about tomorrow?” I asked.
“No! Are you?”
“Nah, I was just seeing if you were…” I trailed off as she laughed at me.
“Well you shouldn’t be,” she said sliding over to rest her head on my shoulder. “He’s going to be absolutely fine. He’s been dying to go for months.”
She was right, of course. We stayed out until the sun started to lower and gathered up our leftovers and our little son and put them all in the car and drove home. He fell asleep on the way and I carried him in my arms into the house, up the stairs and into his tiny bed. We both gently kissed his warm forehead goodnight and tip-toed out the room. Alone in the kitchen we hugged long and hard and I knew everything was going to be fine.

I woke that morning with a dry mouth and impossibly stiff jaw. I lay still with my eyes squeezed shut, trying to adjust to the bright light pouring in through the window. I must have slept in and I worried I was coming down with something. Slowly and with some effort I brought my hands to my face to rub my eyes and was stunned to feel how dry and loose my skin felt. I must have been ill and I rolled over to her side like I always did when I woke without her. In a flash my heart rushed to the front of my chest as I felt myself falling to the floor face-first like in a dream that jolts you awake. I hit the floor as pain shot through my hips and wrists. I looked up and realised with a jump that I was no longer in our bedroom but a cold, bleak room with terrible artwork on the walls. The door burst open and a young woman ran to my side calling my name. I called out and she eased a long sharp needle into my side and I fell asleep again.

When I woke again I could see it was dusk through the small window. With a gasp I saw in the armchair next to my bed sat my own self looking back at me. His hair was styled differently and the clothes he wore were unfamiliar but it was me, clear as day.
“Who…how..?” I tried but stopped when I heard how feeble and unfamiliar my voice was.
“Dad, it’s me. Your son.”
He rose and placed a large, strong hand gently on my shoulder. The door knocked and he went to answer. After a brief pause he came back to my side.
“She’s here to see you, Dad. I’m going to leave you two to it.” 
He left the room and was replaced in the doorway with a beautifully elegant older woman.
“It’s me” she said, but I’d known it as soon as she smiled my way. She sat on the bed next to me and cradled my head like she always used to, her hand on mine. 
“I was light years away” I whispered.
Together we poured over photo album after photo album while it all came back to me again. She told me this only happens once or twice a year.
“If I had the option I would do it all again, just the same.” she breathed in my ear. Kissing her on the cheek I told her,
L’amour véritable né rouille jamais, ma belle. I’ll always remember you.”