Picture This

The first time it happened, I freaked out so bad I almost puked.

My Grandma gave me my very first digital camera when I was, what? … eleven? I think so. My eleventh birthday. You’d think I’d remember it better. I remember everything else like it happened yesterday. Anyway, it wasn’t the greatest camera in the world, but it addicted me beyond hope of recovery to photography.

Grandma’s was the first picture I ever took. She beamed her loving warm smile from the shade of the wide, railed porch, with the sharp, clear sunshine providing nice reflective light. The shadows, soft but crisp, accented and didn’t obscure anything. A nice day for outdoor photography, I learned later. But that day I didn’t know squat. She put her hands in her lap for me and turned her head to stare right into the camera, then gave me the smile I’ll remember her by for the rest of my life.

I didn’t use the flash. Now, I know didn’t really need to, except maybe for reduction of red eye, but that’s what photo editing software’s for, right? So why bother? I didn’t know that then, though, so it’s a moot point anyway. I snapped the picture, and when I viewed it on the tiny LCD screen, my brows dropped over my eyes.

“What’s wrong, sweetie?” She must’ve seen my confusion. I wasn’t sure what to say. I looked up at her.

“I musta done somethin’ wrong, Grandma,” I said. “The picture’s all … dark behind you. Lemme try again.”

“All right, love. Go ‘head.” She smiled for me again, and again I centered her beaming face in the viewer and snapped.

I looked at the new picture, and it was the same as the first one. A dark, smudgy background with her figure stark and bright against it. It was like the sunlight couldn’t reach behind her, or for some reason there was a heavy shadow over the background that blocked out the house. I screwed up my face again, and she raised her eyebrows at me.

I caught her expression. “It happened again. This is weird. Can I try one more time?”

The party buzzed around us, filled with crashing children’s voices and banging doors, balloons and party dresses and bright, garish paper plates and napkins. Somewhere a huge ice cream cake waited. I felt Grandma slip into patient-mode, and she smiled at me. “All right. One more. Then I want to go get something to eat, all right?”

“Okay!” I was jacked, because I knew I’d get it right this time. I just knew it.

I bounced down the porch steps and turned, holding the shiny silver camera over my eye. I zeroed in on her but didn’t have a clue how to zoom in yet, so I had a longer shot of her smiling down at me, the yellow clapboard-sided house with white shutters behind her, a bed of roses in front of the white railing, her pastel floral-pattern dress and sunhat framed against one of the dark living room windows, offering me a perfect background for my shot.

“Say ‘cheese’!” I tensed my index finger over the shutter button like I’d have to rush to capture the shot.

Her doughy cheeks folded into her wonderful laugh lines, and the soft, gray hair spilling from under her hat teased like spider’s silk on the tender, loving breeze wafting through the honeysuckle bushes beside the house.

“Cheese!” she grinned, dutiful and doting. And I jammed my finger down on the button as fast as I could. The camera buzzed and snapped.

I switched to view mode and looked into the camera, and what I saw scared me so bad, scared me to my core and shook my hands so hard, I almost dropped the camera, like I told you before.

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