Henry pressed the button and heard the synthetic click of a shutter that didn’t actually exist. The lens icon twisted together like the time warp design in old movies then opened back up again. Henry eagerly dropped the camera away from his eye and scrolled the screen to the “camera roll”.
Anticipation turned to disappointment. Henry peered more closely at the image on the screen. The tree—so robust and green with splashes of early-summer sun dripping from the new leaves—had looked so much more when he had lifted the camera to his eye. But there, in the picture, the leaves were dull and drooping, the entire tree looking as though it had shrunk and appeared smaller than it really was.
Henry looked up at the tree again then back down to the camera. He clicked over to the lens screen, adjusted the aperture, and raised the camera to his eye, this time making sure he had collected the entire tree in the frame. Henry clicked the shutter again and quickly looked at the picture. He frowned and looked back up at the tree.
Henry glanced up at the sun then walked slowly under the nearest branches. The branches reached down to embrace him as they wrapped their shade around his shoulders. Henry put a hand on the trunk of the tree and glanced up. He reached toward one of the lower branches, pulling off a handful of dead leaves from amidst the green foliage surrounding them. Henry studied them in his hand then quickly tilted his hand and let them drop on the ground. He took a half-step back. He walked out from under the shade of the tree, shivering when he stepped out into the heat of the mid-summer afternoon. He took one last look at the tree then turned and started off down the park path.
Henry walked slowly through the park, savouring the idea that he had nowhere to go. He let his arms swing a little as he walked, breathing in the musty brown scent of sun-warmed earth as it mingled with the garden-green smell of just-sprouting grass.
A fast-moving biker whipped along the path toward Henry, heedless of the children scampering around on the grass. Henry took a step to the side to let the biker pass. He felt the weight of the camera in his hand and, impulsively, he quickly raised the viewer to his eye. He snapped the shutter just as the biker passed. The biker turned a quick glance on Henry, frowned slightly, then raced on.
Henry lowered the camera to check the picture. Everything except the biker’s face was blurred. The face might have done better to be blurred as well. Henry had caught the biker in the midst of a scowl, his face bunched up and his jaw clenched, teeth showing. Henry thumbed the screen and deleted the picture.
A slight breeze brought the wind-chime sounds of children’s laughter to Henry’s ears and Henry glanced around. A short way down the path, Henry spied a playground with children buzzing in and out of play equipment like bees around a beehive. Henry strolled down the path to the bench opposite the play equipment. He lowered himself onto the fading wooden seat, the chipped paint making a two-tone design of light and dark, like the colours of a toasted marshmallow.
Henry heard the jangle of metal on metal and looked over to see a tattered dog cantering crookedly along the path. Its ratty fur hung in clumps along its back, collected in age-old mats. Dirt and sand soaked into the fur on the dog’s legs and paws. The dog licked its chops as it passed the playground but didn’t stop.
Henry lifted his camera to his eye and snapped the shutter. He looked down at the picture then looked curiously back up at the mutt as it dog-tracked away down the path. Henry looked back to the screen. The camera hadn’t picked up the mats or the dirt—those things hidden in the colourings of the dog’s fur. What Henry noticed above all else was the dog’s bright, white teeth gleaming out from the picture. If Henry hadn’t known better, he would have sworn the dog was smiling at the camera. Henry grinned and saved the picture.
A loud giggle rose up out of the blanket of noise that covered the playground, like bubbles rising from a soda. Henry glanced around, only locating the source of the sound when it erupted again. A girl—maybe three or four years old—ran across the black rubber surface of the playground in a bouncing stream, her dark curls bobbing up and down behind her. A tall woman, solidly built, followed close on the girl’s heels, arm outstretched toward the girl. The woman caught up to the girl in two long strides, reaching for the girl’s hand and halting the girl’s flight. The girl turned, her giggle sharpening into a high-pitched shriek, a large smile splitting her face. “Come here you,” the woman caught the girl up in her arms. “Time to go home.”
Henry cautiously raised the camera. He quickly snapped the mother and child then lowered the camera just as quickly. Henry casually glanced down at the camera screen. The sun had caught the girl just right when Henry had opened the shutter, limning her in a white shadow, part of the girl’s dark hair sparkling with flashes of sun as she smiled up at the mother. The light wasn’t so flattering to the mother. Her face was shrouded in a dark shadow, the crease on her face even darker as she turned one corner of her mouth down.
Henry quickly glanced back up at the retreating forms of the mother and daughter as they moved off down the path and away from the playground, the mother pulling the reluctant girl by her wrist. Henry looked back down at the camera and pressed the delete button.
Henry stood and turned his face up to the sun. He closed his eyes, feeling the heat as it turned the inside of his eyelids a bright pink. He took a deep breath and smiled a small smile. He had a fleeting thought of work—pictured his computer lying dormant on his desk at the office while his officemates worked diligently at theirs—and quickly shoved the thought aside, not liking the slight clutch of guilt that gripped his stomach. Henry opened his eyes and continued walking along the path.
A few minutes of brisk walking brought Henry to a part of the path that curved along a man-made lake, it’s uniform edges fitting around the buildings and forcing the water to remain confined to its prescribed boundaries. Several benches lined the side of the path, looking not toward the path but, rather, toward the lake. One bench rested in the shade of a large oak tree, its branches protecting the elderly woman on the bench from the onslaught of the mid-afternoon sun. The woman held a paper bag on her lap and every few seconds she would reach a translucent-skinned hand into the bag, pull out her gnarled fist, and thrust it forward flinging crumbs in a wide arch toward the lake’s edge. There would be a flurry of wings and feathers as birds and ducks squawked noisily in front of the woman, vying for the crumbs that spewed out onto the ground and sometimes into the water.
Henry studied the dark, wrinkled face of the woman—like a dried-apple doll that people with too much time on their hands used to make. He looked at her white hair, held securely in a stringent bun at the back of her neck. He studied her sunken eyes, the colour of pale cornflowers that lay half-hidden under sagging eyelids.
Henry lifted the camera and clicked the shutter. He almost didn’t look at the picture—almost didn’t want to see it—and yet he did. In the picture, the sun broke through between two tree branches and shone out from behind the old woman, not obscuring her in shadow, but casting a bright glow onto her face. A fine spray of sparkling silver curls had seemingly escaped the woman’s careful coiffeur in the very moment Henry had snapped the picture, softening the harsh lines stretching out from the corners of the woman’s eyes—eyes that shone like the smile that stretched across the woman’s face, borrowing a gleam from the sun to make its own. Henry pushed the save button on that picture too. The woman turned and smiled a knowing smile at Henry who started and quickly moved on.
A warm, early-summer zephyr tousled Henry’s hair and he shook his head, flipping away the hair that blew into his eyes. He took a deep breath and thumbed the camera’s “off” button as he glanced around.
Henry spied a man leaning over a garbage can, his arms buried inside elbow-deep. Henry regarded the way the man’s long filthy coat draped down around him, like a tattered old tent, hiding the occupant but not really protecting him if it were to rain. Henry lifted the camera, flicking it on in the process. He raised the camera to his eye and took the picture. The walking tent man cast Henry a suspicious scowl and hurried away as quickly as his shuffling gate would allow.
Henry looked down at the picture. He frowned and checked the settings. Somehow the picture had come out black and white, a myriad of grey tones filling in everything on the screen. No. Wait. There was still some green in the grass at the tent-man’s feet. Henry studied the picture for a moment then hit the delete button.
Henry continued along the walking path, his camera clutched firmly in one hand. He reached to his jacket zipper, pulling it down and feeling the cooling breeze whisk inside his jacket. He wished he had worn sunglasses even though he had specifically chosen not to bring them—they made picture taking difficult.
Henry heard the murmurings of low voices punctuated with well-times bursts of shouting. His steps quickened and he soon came to a large group of people dressed in white, black, and purple. The people milled about uncertainly, talking amongst themselves and paying little attention to the foot-traffic on the path as they formed a barricade across the pavement. A woman with a heavy-looking camera in her hand was trying to herd the group into formation on one side of the path.
Henry stepped off the path to move around the group. He didn’t intend to stop, but he noticed the bride out of the corner of his eye and paused to watch her for a moment. She was turned intently to the groom, the two of them talking quietly as they stood in their assigned position, waiting for the others to be placed by the photographer.
Henry considered the controlled chaos for a moment then lifted his camera to his eye. He watched the milling throng that way for several moments then let his finger drop onto the shutter button. Henry heard the artificial “click” and looked down to the camera.
Henry might have laughed if it hadn’t been for the dispirited sensation that sucked at his breath and tugged at his stomach. The picture wasn’t at all what he had hoped for. The bride stood squarely in front of the groom, giving him a stern frown. In return, the groom’s eyes were rolling back in his head which was thrown back in the classic “you’ve gotta be kidding me” gesture. One of the purple bridesmaids was caught half way to the ground as she stumbled, her sharp heel remaining behind, stuck in the dense grass. One of the groomsmen had his head cranked around, watching the falling bridesmaid with a rather impolite expression. Over to the side, the ring-bearer (a grass stain on the knee of his black dress pants) was throwing a hand-full of grass at the flower girl. The grass was spewed out, frozen in the air over top of the girl who had her hands raised up to protect herself from the foliage, her mouth opened wide. Henry could almost hear the scream echoing in his head. The photographer, meanwhile, stood watching the group with a flat expression. Henry shook his head, sighed, and hit the delete button once more.
Henry stepped around a straggling girl in a purple dress and back on to the path. He took a couple of steps forward then shook his head and turned back the way he’d come. This time he didn’t look at the people he passed. He looked forward and tucked the camera back into its case, clicking the snap shut on the lid of the case.
The sun dipped lower ever so slightly, its light coming to rest directly in Henry’s eyes. He blinked and turned his head away from the glare. When he opened his eyes again he stopped. Some way off, perched on a low stone wall that separated the bank of the lake from the grass of the park sat a woman. It wasn’t her beauty that caught Henry’s attention. She had a large nose that hooked just a little at the end. The woman’s small eyes were enlarged only by the thick glasses she wore. The only colour that resided in her thin hair was from the reflection of the sun.
The woman held a book in one hand but glanced up at the lake in front of her every few seconds. Henry stood watching her until she closed the book. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, taking off her glasses and setting them down beside her. Henry reached to take out the camera, only to find it already in his hand. He looked down at it in surprise but quickly raised it to his eye, flicking it on in the process.
Henry heard the mechanical tones of the digital camera shutter and quickly lowered the camera to check the picture. The tugging at Henry’s stomach let go and an easy breath flowed into his lungs. A small smile meandered across his face as he stared down at the picture. A calm serenity lay on the woman’s cheeks just where her long, dark lashes rested against them. Her long hair fell back, layered with streaks of sun-toned highlights at the side where the sun shone on it. The pink of her broad lips was reflected in her rose-coloured cheeks.
Henry looked up at the woman and watched as she took a deep breath of the cooling air. He started forward, holding out the camera eagerly, the smile still etched on his face. Henry went over to where the woman sat. She started slightly at the sound of his steps and quickly opened her eyes, looking at Henry. She glanced between Henry and the camera he held out to her. She finally looked down at the viewer. Henry watched as a broad smile broke open across her generous mouth. He smiled too.
The woman looked at Henry and reached out her hand toward the camera. Henry looked at her hand then at the camera, then back to her hand again. He swallowed hard and slowly lowered the camera into the woman’s waiting hand. She smiled at Henry and raised the camera to her eye, pointing the lens at Henry.
Henry took a deep breath and held it until he heard the loud click of the shutter.