The camera was older than Liz – by a long stretch. The sign above the shop window grandly promised ‘Antiques and Objets D’art’. Second-hand goods might be a more accurate description. The unkind would call it junk, but the camera caught her attention and held it.
The brown leather case was a little scuffed but otherwise the old Kodak looked in good order. As a professional photographer, Liz could almost convince herself she had a good reason to look at the camera. It wasn’t just an excuse to avoid the next shop window.
Sighing, Liz turned back to the brilliant array of rings in the jeweller’s window. Last night wasn’t the first time Stewart had asked – but one of these times, it might be the last. Liz wasn’t sure she was ready to marry him, but she didn’t want to lose him. If she didn’t give him an answer soon…
Now her thoughts were straying in a direction she didn’t want to go. Time for a distraction. Almost of their own accord, Liz’s feet turned towards the open door of the antiques shop.
“I’m not sure how old it is,” the salesman said as he lifted the camera off the shelf. “But it’s in pretty good condition.”
“I can see that.”
Liz’s expert fingers tested for damage. The black fabric of the bellows looked intact. The lens was clear. She judged it to be well over fifty years old, but it still looked in working order. Liz was half convinced that if she clicked the shutter, the resulting photo would be sepia toned, and peopled with characters in the costumes of a bygone era. Such fancy! If suitable film could be found, the photos would show the harsh realities of today.
“I’ll take it,” she said, fishing in her bag for the few pounds stipulated on the price tag. Back on the street and clutching her prize, Liz very deliberately turned away from the glittering rainbow in the jeweller’s window, but in her mind, she still heard Stewart’s soft voice.
“Pick a ring, any ring, just say you’ll marry me, Liz. Please. I love you.”
Her workshop and darkroom filled what used to be the garage. Liz slipped in through the separate entrance, unwilling to face her mother and the inevitable questions about last night’s dinner with Stewart. Not that her Mum was nosey. Mothers always worry about their daughters, particularly when there’s no father to shoulder some of the concern. And when that daughter is almost thirty and showing no signs of getting married…
From habit, Liz took the camera into the darkroom before she opened it. Maybe the dim red glow of the darkroom would push Stewart and his gentle persistence out of her mind.
The camera’s tiny metal latch was very stiff. Slowly and carefully she eased it open, then frowned with surprise. There was film in the camera, wound part of the way through as if a few shots had been taken.
After all these years, could those shots be salvaged? What would they show? Liz examined the film closely. It was of far more recent vintage than the camera, but still many years old. Carefully she wound it back. Maybe… just maybe she could do something.
Liz gently immersed the film in a chemical bath, then considered going inside for a cup of tea. The problem was that her mother was there, and Liz just didn’t want to talk to her mother right now. Close as they were, Liz just couldn’t tell her about Stewart’s proposals.
The day they met, Liz’s Mum took an instant liking to the tall man with the quick smile. For his part, Stewart was more than willing to provide some needed masculine assistance around the house. And he was very fond of her Mum’s home made biscuits. The older woman clearly thought it was time Stewart made a commitment. As a dentist, he was the legendary ‘good catch’. And there was the small matter of grandchildren.
Liz didn’t have the heart to tell her mother that Stewart wasn’t the reluctant one.
Shaking off such depressing thoughts, Liz carefully checked the old film. Three images remained intact! She could see two figures in each of the negatives. With care, she should be able to produce prints. She reached for the photographic paper.
Stewart had been remarkably patient. He understood the hidden scars left by her father, who walked out the door many years ago and never returned. Nothing Stewart said or did could convince her that he was different. How could anyone promise to love another person for the rest of their life? People change. Feelings change. If her parent’s marriage hadn’t worked, why should her own?
Six months ago, Stewart had taken Liz to look over a house he wanted to buy. Together they admired the big family room and the spacious garden. Perfect, the agent said, for kids. They had even talked about converting the large garage into a studio if Liz said yes. But she couldn’t. Stewart bought the house anyway, and now lived there, waiting for her to join him.
To ease her troubled mind, Liz focused on the images slowly forming on the photographic paper as she sluiced it gently in the developing fluid.
The same two people appeared in each of the prints. A man and a woman. As details of their faces emerged, Liz could see they were no longer young. They appeared to be wearing their Sunday best. The woman’s floral dress was topped by a suitable hat, while the grey-haired man at her side looked dapper in coat and tie. Behind them a low stone wall gave way to rolling countryside and distant farm buildings.
Their hands were joined and they looked, not at the camera, but at each other. Smiling. Their faces exuded calm happiness. And something more. Something seemed familiar… Finally, Liz dismissed the feeling of recognition. She hung the prints to dry, and headed towards the kitchen.
According to her diary, Liz was supposed to spend that afternoon viewing a Norman Church in a nearby village. She was booked to photograph a wedding there the following week, and wanted to look for the best angles. Despite her own reluctance to walk down the aisle, weddings formed the backbone of her business. Normally she enjoyed them, but today, she just wasn’t in the mood.
Instead, she picked up the finished photographs of the elderly couple. Who were they? She gazed at the man’s face. It wasn’t exactly familiar, and she was sure she didn’t know him. Just something… The woman too.
Liz slipped the photos into her camera case, and made a decision. It wasn’t the one she needed to make, but it gave her afternoon a purpose. She would try to find the couple in the photo and give them the prints. The junk shop would be the best place to start her search.
This time, she did pause outside the jeweller’s window. Her liking for antiques wasn’t limited to cameras. The estate rings, designed in an older more genteel time, drew her far more than the trendy modern designs. That was the sort of ring she’d chose, if she ever did decide to …
Stewart’s first proposal had been totally unexpected, but very romantic. He declared his love on a fine summer evening, as they sat sipping wine on a hilltop with a glorious view over the downs. Liz wanted to believe his promise to love her always, but couldn’t. Her refusal disappointed, but did not deter him. He was, he told her, determined to the point of stubbornness. He would not give up on his heart’s desire. And he hadn’t.
In the antiques shop, she could set such pleasant, but disturbing memories aside.
“Can you tell me where the camera came from?” She asked the salesman after showing him the photos. “I’d like to find the old couple, and see if they want the prints.”
“I really don’t know. I suppose I could look in our records.” He didn’t sound very keen.
“That’s so good of you. Thank you so much.” Liz gave him a bright smile and no chance to change his mind.
It didn’t take long. “Sorry. I can’t find anything relating to a camera. There are notes about several boxes of stuff from different places. Deceased estates, house clearances. That sort of thing. But we don’t keep detailed records. Sorry.”
“Thanks anyway.” Liz swallowed her disappointment.
Outside the shop, she turned towards her van, without even glancing at the jeweller’s window. It was time she stopped being foolish. She would visit the Norman church and get her mind back on her work.
As she drove, Liz wound down the window of her small van, to breathe in the spring air. She draped one hand over the edge, feeling the thin edge of the decal attached to the door. In blue and gold, it identified her as Liz Parry, Photographer. The magnetic sign had been a gift from Stewart on her last birthday. The gift was his way of re-assuring her that marriage wouldn’t mean losing her own identity or giving up the work that she enjoyed. He would support her in every possible way, without trying to change her. She loved him for that, but still couldn’t give him the answer he wanted.
Something unusual about the road drew Liz back to the present. She glanced around, then carefully pulled into a lay-by. She must have driven this way a hundred times, but today, something was different. No. Not different. Something was unexpectedly familiar. That hill, and the line of trees running behind the big old barn.
Liz reached into her camera bag. The photos. That same hill rose behind the old couple. The same red barn filled the corner of one shot. The snapshots had been taken very near to this point. Liz studied the prints again, then looked once more out the window. Over to the left a little. And a little higher. Up that rise, if there was a road.
There was and it led to a small cluster of houses and a tiny church. Liz parked the car. Taking the photos, she walked to a small green next to the church. Yes, there was the barn. The shape of the hill was right. The photos were taken beside this church.
She leaned against the lych-gate. It was a beautiful place. Peaceful. She could take wonderful wedding photos here. If she ever got married, this was the place she would choose.
“Can I help you?”
Liz turned to face the speaker. A middle-aged man with a kindly face and a priest’s collar was also leaning on the gate. She smiled mechanically, unwilling to be disturbed. Then she recognised her remarkable good luck. The priest might know her mysterious couple.
He listened to her story, then took the offered photos. Almost immediately, his face lit with a slow smile. “Yes, I knew them. Joan and Nigel Henderson. They lived just up that road.”
“They’re no longer…”
“They died. It must be five or six years ago now.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.” This wasn’t how she had imagined her search would end.
“They were quite old. Nigel became increasingly frail. He passed away in his sleep one night. Poor Joan was heartbroken. She followed him just a few weeks later.”
“How sad.” Liz looked down at the faces that still seemed vaguely familiar to her.
But the Priest shook his head. “I don’t think it is sad. I didn’t know them well. I hadn’t been in this parish long when they passed away. But I could see how happy they were together. Joan told me once they’d been married for more than 50 years. That’s pretty amazing, when you think about it. And I believe that they’re still together, even now.”
They stood for a few minutes, the priest and the young woman, each lost in their own thoughts. Finally, Liz stirred.
“I must be getting on. One more thing. Did they have children? Do you know where they live? Perhaps they’d like the photos.”
“There is a son. I do have his address. He’d love to have them. Are you sure?”
“Yes. I can print more.” Liz handed over the photos. “Thank-you.”
“You’re welcome.” The priest watched Liz walk back to her van, with something like determination in her step.
Liz was cleaning her camera gear when Stewart’s car pulled up outside the house. Through the window, she watched him walk up the drive. Most people wouldn’t call him particularly handsome, but Liz loved his open, honest face. Her heart gave an almost girlish flutter as she remembered the strong warmth of his arms around her. His eager, almost bouncy walk signalled his great love of life, and of her. Liz stepped to the studio door, and waved a greeting. Smiling broadly, Stewart raised one hand in reply.
Then Liz understood the strange familiarity of the old photos. It was the look on Nigel Henderson’s face as he gazed at his wife of fifty years. The tall man walking towards her had the same look in his eyes. The same love. And she suspected that her own face carried a reflection of the love that shone from Joan’s eyes.
Liz reached out to take Stewart’s hand. “I’ve found the perfect church for our wedding.”
Published as ‘To Love and To Cherish’ by The People’s Friend – February 2004
Artwork by Gerard Fay, courtesy of The Peope’s Friend
Folding No1 Kodak Junior photograph courtesy of Suzanna Mayer
A friend of mine is a talented amateur photographer, who collects vintage cameras. I was with her one day when she went to pick up a camera she had bought on E-Bay. She always looks inside the camera – just in case there is a film waiting to be discovered.
© Janet Gover 2003