Alice had no idea he had taken the photo, at least not at the time. She would see it later though, after it was developed, and they were both married to different people.
He must have taken the snap as she buried her face into one of the hydrangea blooms. The picture was black and white of course, but she knew the petals had been a soft blue. Like his eyes. It was so unfortunate that they had both been committed to other people when they met. That the war had managed to drag them both into this town, and set them to work side by side. It was so easy to be in his company, it almost shocked her how comfortable they were together. She had tried to make excuses for it — loneliness or mere infatuation. But those ideas vanished the moment she had seen her fiancé again, briefly on leave. He had laughed too loud, and swung his arm heavily over her shoulder, nearly knocking her off her barstool. Suddenly she realised, the man who had seemed to fit her so perfectly before the war, now felt as baggy around her as a badly tailored coat. Nevertheless, they were engaged, and her blue-eyed boy had a wife somewhere in Yorkshire.
She remembered looking up, and wondering at his small, delighted smile. It had been a cool day of pale summer sun, and they had decided to have a picnic out in the garden, behind the red brick house where he was staying. Nothing special, just sandwiches and lemonade. She had brought her camera out, intending to take pictures of him, but had lost her nerve. She had lots of photos of her female friends, but a male one might cause suspicion. Her fiancé had never been the jealous type, so she thought, but the distance between them had changed that. Now any male name in her letters was met with comments like, ‘and who is this chap you like to spend so much time with?’ and other probing, bitter statements.
Luckily blue eyes didn’t seem to have this worry, and insisted on taking photographs of both of them. He was awfully clumsy with the camera, and managed to drop it twice. Every time his face had flushed red, and he’d barraged her with apologies. He knew how important it was to her. When she had first explained her love of photography he had actually understood that it was a passion, not a mere hobby. He said her landscape photographs were the best, and told her about how he almost became an artist himself. He’d sketched a lot in his youth, but hadn’t been good enough for an art school scholarship. So, instead it had become a pastime. He knew she liked the sea, and had painted Whitby Bay from a postcard for her birthday. In return she had given him several photos he had taken a fancy to for his. Landscapes of the fields around Canterbury, and a few shots of the cathedral. Her best work. If they had been together perhaps they would have framed them, and the tokens would have ended up adorning the walls of their house. Instead she’d hidden the sketch in a drawer for years after the war ended. As far as she knew he’d locked away her photos too, or even thrown them away. Who knew?
She regretted it slightly, that day in the garden. She should have said something then. Should have taken his hand, and told those bright eyes how she felt. True he was married, but maybe… but maybe not. Maybe it was for the best, that they had parted then, after a glorious year together. A divorce and a broken engagement might have been messy and difficult. Perhaps there would have been arguments and resentment. Perhaps it had been better as a possibility, rather than a reality. Reality spoilt a lot of things.
She slipped the photos back into their envelope. The thick cream was as foxed as her own hands, the photos as worn and scratched as her own memories. She couldn’t even remember his name now. It was time, she realised, to let those bittersweet ghosts rest. That afternoon she buried the envelope, in the shade beneath her blue hydrangea.
Katherine Sankey is a freelance writer from the East Midlands, England. Her flash fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Flash Point Science Fiction and in the bookmark magazine Type! Her work was also shortlisted in Tortive Theatre’s monthly competition FlashFiction101 in 2021.