I was in a writing group last year and for several years prior. We’ve since parted ways but we did some fun writing prompts in some of our sessions. I found I really enjoy prompts and came up with some interesting little, what I call, ‘life snippets.’
One of the prompts was to use some random picture that one of us in the group found and we were to write about it. Anything. It was very liberating for me, since I didn’t have to think about multiple characters, how the picture fit into a greater story arc, etc. I enjoyed it so much that I want to bring it back.
This is where you, dear reader, come in.
Send me a picture – any picture – and I will try to bring it to life by writing about a person or situation or something about the image. And, I wish I didn’t have to say it, but please, please, please, no images of pornography, violence, gore, cruelty or anything else inappropriate. If you do, you will be promptly removed from my mailing list and blocked for all eternity. Further, depending on the severity of the image, I may also report you to the authorities for having distributed said imagery.
To start things off, I’ll post a picture from a past prompt with my accompanying story. It touched me when I wrote it, and I hope it touches you too.
So here’s the image:
Maggie in the Mushroom
I’ve worked with Maggie for most of my professional life, up until the day she died. And never once did I tell her I loved her. I think I knew my feelings for her the moment I saw her, but never allowed myself to believe in them until I figured it was too late to do anything about them.
We met at the old theater on 4th street. You know the one that had all those cheesy Vaudeville shows during the day? It was crappy work for an actress like Maggie, but it was work. The theater hired me to take some promo pictures to hang on the outside of the theater. I low-balled my rate so bad that I was cheaper than a poster, and I barely made enough to afford a cup of coffee. But, as I said, it’s work, which was better than no work.
Some would say she was plain-looking, with brown hair she balled up into a large bun atop her head. But to me, she was Aphrodite with these piercing, hazel eyes that looked right into my soul. She seemed shyer than other actresses, who were usually outgoing and flirty. At least to other men – not to me.
I was never a big guy. I’ve worn glasses ever since I could crawl, and I tried not to say much of anything; I hated attention. But I’ve been told I had an eye for photography, so that’s what I took up as a living. Behind the camera, I figured it was as good as any hiding place, so I loosened up a bit when talking to folks while taking their picture. I would always apologize for the glare from my bald head. That always got a laugh. Always.
It was either her eyes or her kindness that stole my heart. There are some people with whom you can instantly recognize their soul. Maggie was one of those people for me. I understood her. And, more incredibly, she understood me. We never actually talked much, but we just had this… connection. It’s like a puzzle finding its missing piece. When I took her picture for the first time for that cheesy theater, I can still remember that gentle smile and those intelligent eyes that sent my blood pressure up to the Empire State Building.
We had formed a friendship after that. I would see her occasionally for other photo shoots for that same theater and others. It was fun for a time – I would ask how she was doing. She would reply with this enthusiastic description of her part in the show. She never had big parts, but she didn’t care. You could tell she loved the theater. She loved it. I guess maybe that passion was something else about her that ensnared me. I loved her energy. Her excitement.
Time went on and my feelings became this excruciating dichotomy of ecstasy and pain. Each time I saw her, we exchanged pleasantries while I caged my raging beast of affection towards her. My insides screamed to ask her on a date or lunch or coffee or SOMETHING. But I couldn’t. Too afraid? Maybe. But unsure of my future in what was now called “The Great Depression,” I was more afraid of my inability to provide for a family. I couldn’t bring myself to hurt my one true love with a life of poverty.
I look back and I wish I could have stepped outside my narcissism for one second to notice Maggie had stopped talking about her parts. I was so self-centered with my own faults and feelings I didn’t realize her passion had left town without her. There was no more spark for the theater left in her. Her gentle smile was barely detectable.
I saw her less and less as times worsened for artists like us. Vaudeville slowly faded into a footnote in American history. I had to take a part time job digging ditches just so I could afford film. My thoughts of Maggie kept me going, though. My longing propelled my arms to stab into the ground and throw that next load of dirt, so I could gather enough supplies to see her at her next acting job.
Then I got the call.
A gig with a theater with a new show – something fantastic and different and incredible. They wanted me for some promo pictures. After all these years, I never raised my prices, so of course they’ll call the guy who will take the job for next to nothing.
When I arrived, I saw her. And my heart leapt as it always did for the whole time I’ve known her. You would think I would be used to it by now, but I still felt that jolt of nerves – the kind of jolt that makes the sky a little bluer and the sun a little brighter.
And they weren’t kidding about the show being fantastic. There was this little guy dressed like an elf or leprechaun or something and two giant mushrooms. Well, they weren’t real mushrooms, they were people-sized mushroom costumes with a woman in each one. The first contained an actress I’ve seen before – she was what you would call voluptuous, though the mushroom hid any shape of the woman. In the other was Maggie, who displayed a white carnation in her hair.
While setting up my equipment, I nodded and winked to her, and she acknowledged me with a slight nod of her head. I made sure to get it right in the first shot (I was on my last frame of film), but I wished I could have taken another. The reason is that, for all eternity, I unwittingly captured the moment Maggie died. Not literally, of course. But you could see it in her eyes. Stuffed in a giant mushroom, having to allow a tiny man take center stage in front of her, and all she could do was stare back into my camera with her dead eyes.
I wanted to go to her. To hug her and kiss her and tell her it was going to be okay. But her eyes told the whole story. She was beyond saving and my heart shattered like glass.
I eventually heeded the call of my country to join the army and fight some nasty, sauerkraut-eating enemy. I lost a few friends when we landed at Normandy. I joined up soon thereafter. I saw some action in France. Lost some more friends liberating Paris.
Some days for me, my unit, my country, hell, the whole world got dark at times. But the sun rose at the beginning of every new day and I realized that I was stronger than I thought I was and if I could get through this, I could get through anything. I eventually came home exactly one hundred and forty-three days after VE-Day.
And the conversation on the trip over was about what we were going to do first. Reynolds, a short kid from Brooklyn, was going to see his girl. A lot of guys said that. Jackie, one of the best snipers who ever picked up a rifle, said he was going to get fall-on-your-butt-piss-drunk. But me? I just wanted a decent cup of coffee. And that’s what I went to do.
The first diner I saw when I got off that boat, I barged right in, dressed in my uniform, carrying a bag full of most of my life possessions, sat at the diner’s counter, and ordered a cup of joe. I used to take sugar in it, but after being over there, I preferred it black.
And wouldn’t you know who came walking out from the kitchen? Maggie. Her hair was still put up in a bun, but now she had one of the waitress tiaras stuffed in her hair. I froze in mid-sip.
You know, I’ve been shot at. I’ve had mortar shells explode so close to me that I couldn’t hear anything for several hours. I’ve even had to run for my life as a German tank tried to mow me down in some French back alley. But, after seeing her, that familiar jolt still gave my heart a case of the flip-flops, just like that kid who dug ditches to afford a camera plate.
I think we talked more that day than the sum of all our conversations we had when I was still a photographer. And it was amazing. Maggie wasn’t acting any more and seemed quite happy about it. She never settled down with a guy in all those years I was over there. Her sister’s husband was still fighting in the Pacific so Maggie lived with her to help keep food on the table.
When her boss started giving her the stink-eye after talking with me awhile, I figured I should go so she wouldn’t get in trouble. Those same feelings of not being good enough, or rich enough or smart enough came flooding back. But those fears were so small to me now, I just ignored them.
Lifting myself off the counter’s stool, I said, “Hey, Maggie.”
“Yeah?” She said.
“Wanna get some coffee after your shift?”
That subtle, gentle smile returned, and my insides melted. “What took you so long?” she said.