The Photo

photoJess stared at the tattered, faded black and white photograph and sighed. So long ago now, seventy years or more, and yet it still felt like only yesterday when they posed for the camera. They all looked so happy, but it was a facade – a lie.

She knew why the image felt so fresh. It wasn’t because she had a good memory, or that the time spent away from her bombed out home in London had been so good – far from it. Even before the war started, the street of terraced houses had been a hell on earth, riddled with damp and overrun with rats. When she’d been told she was being evacuated, it seemed like a dream. She was going to a farm. There’d be cows, chickens, horses and lots of grass and flowers – heaven!

The memory sat in her mind like a canker, weighing her conscience down, never fading, only becoming stronger as she grew older and nearer to the grave. If only things had turned out as she’d imagined, but the farm had been just another form of hell on earth.

With an aged spotted, trembling hand, she placed the snapshot on the coffee table and stared down at it. It appeared to grow larger, the grainy black and white image expanding, until it filled the whole of her vision; she closed her eyes.

A warm summer breeze brushed her face and the oh-so-familiar scents of animals, hay and fresh milk filled her nostrils. Birdsong sounded in her ears and she gasped. So evocative, so real!

Then the aches and pains of her aged body faded and she felt her shoulders straighten. Hair brushed her cheek and she glanced sideways as it swung forward. She reached up and felt the smooth glossiness, free from its usual frizzy perm. Then she glanced down at her arm and her eyes widened with astonishment. It wasn’t so much the youthfulness of her limb that astounded, although that was more than enough, it was the fact it was grey!

But not the grey of death. When she took in her surroundings, she recognised it at once. She was standing in the farmyard, but there was one major difference – everything was in black and white, just like the old photograph. The sun shone, the breeze blew, but it was all monochrome. How could that be? Then a voice broke into her confusion, replacing it with dread.

‘Hey Jess!’

She turned and there was Tom, the farmer’s son, in his shabby old jacket and thick knitted jumper. His knees, dirty and covered in grazes, stood out, bony and knobbly from beneath his long grey shorts, cut down from an old pair of his dad’s trousers. This explained both the belt and braces he wore to keep them up.

‘So you came back,’ he said, as with hands in pockets he sauntered towards her. The lopsided grin scared her, but the coldness of his eyes chilled her to the core.

‘You came back to keep your promise,’ he said.

Jess shook her head. ‘I didn’t mean it,’ she whispered and was startled by the sound of her own voice, young and girlish, no longer tremulous with age.

Tom turned his cold gaze on her and now unsmiling said, ‘You promised.’ He gripped her wrist and despite her efforts to pull free, held on, his fingers digging into her flesh. ‘You promised to help me. If you don’t, the old bugger’ll kill me.’

She knew what he meant. Tom’s dad was a hard man and not shy of using his belt on his son and any of the evacuees, if it came to that.

‘If you help me,’ Tom said, his voice earnest, ‘We can be free of ‘im. The farm’ll come to me, when I grow up, an’ we can get married.’

‘No, no, you don’t know what’ll happen. I do. I didn’t mean it, but it all goes wrong!’ she cried, but then found a box matches in her free hand and Tom was running towards the barn, pulling her along behind him.

It all seemed to speed up then. Before she knew it, Tom had shut and barred the barn doors. Like an automaton, she took a match from the box and struck it. It flared into yellow light, bright against the monochrome background. She threw the Lucifer onto the bales of hay stacked beside the doors and stepped back. Tom whooped and yelled, skipping and hopping like a maniac, as the flames took hold. 

‘Let me out!’ a deep voice, filled with rage bellowed. Blows hammered against the barn doors, as the man inside tried to break free.

The flames spread with incredible speed, the only colour in a black and grey world. Jess watched transfixed, only too aware of what would happen next. She tried to move, tried to call Tom away, but couldn’t. All she could do was look up, when she heard the drone of an engine in the sky. It was all happening again, but this time the outcome would be different. She wouldn’t run, she wouldn’t survive and she was glad.

The German plane circled high above the farm, obviously off course after a raid on the city. She saw the bomb doors open to release their deadly load and watched the dark dots plummet towards the farm. This time she knew she’d pay for her crime. She wouldn’t be able to flee, leaving Tom to die alongside his father. Her wrongdoing would be hidden beneath the bomb damage, but this time three bodies would be found, not just two.

A few seconds before the bombs struck, Jess glanced over her shoulder. Hanging in the air behind her, was a colour photograph of herself, as she had become. As she watched, the picture began to fade and the old lady’s face vanished.

Forever young, she thought, just before the world exploded around her.



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One Response to “The Photo”

  1. … she placed the snapshot on the coffee table and stared down at it. It appeared to grow larger, the grainy black and white image expanding, until it filled the whole of her vision; she closed her eyes …
    I like how the memory claims her.

    Got a bit confused as to what happened after Tom shut the barn door.


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