This is my entry for the CAW 11 writers' challenge based on a photograph of a young woman walking along a dark misty street. I would recommend that readers visit the Sex Stories forum for more details concerning this photo and the challenge. Please note that this story contains no sexual content of any kind.
The Girl In The Photograph
I suppose we've all had days when we've asked ourselves "what if.....". It generally occurs when something really bad happens and we feel remorse, though it can also be an expression of relief when something potentially disastrous has been narrowly avoided. Whichever it may be the "what if" syndrome is something which generally lives with us for years until it is happily resolved. This is one such scenario which occurred in my life.
Many a young couple has found to its dismay that the relationship they believed to be based on love is built on the shifting sands of lust and when the lust runs out the shared experience becomes a nightmare. This was my own situation when my wife Susanne and I finally realised that our three-year marriage was built on foundations of clay. Those early heady days of intense sexual activity soon gave way to arguments, recriminations and the usual "sorry, darling, but I have a headache" excuses. The only good ingredient of this marital breakdown was the lack of children in our lives as we had decided from the beginning that we should wait at least five years before starting a family. Perhaps a baby might have made a difference to our lives but in the long run it was probably for the best that a young child have nothing to do with our disintegrating liaison.
I had moved out of our flat and found myself a small bed-sit on the outskirts of London within easy reach of my place of work but still far enough away to be outwith the unspeakable price-range of inner-city properties. Fortunately we had decided to rent for the first few years of our marriage and I therefore found myself free of any back-breaking mortgage repayments and I was thus able to lead a pleasant life. Working for a well-known insurance company gave me a good salary and left my weekends free so I was able to have nights out with friends and Saturday visits to see my favourite football team, Fulham. Okay, they're not exactly Chelsea, Arsenal or Spurs but my dad was a great fan of Johnny Haynes and he instilled a love of the club in me. After the disaster of my married life I was in no great hurry to start up another serious relationship and bounced around from one-night-stand to one-night-stand. Some of them were really nice girls and in a normal situation I would have been looking to start a permanent bond with any one of them but for the moment I just could not face the idea.
It was one Monday morning that a chance occurrence started of a chain of events that would have a profound effect on my life. My routine was firmly set in stone; I would arrive at the railway station at 8am, buy myself a newspaper which I would then sift through until my train arrived at 8:15, arrival at my destination at 8:45 followed by a 5 minute walk to my office before starting work at 9 sharp. On the morning in question, however, an accident on the line had led to trains being held up and I arrived to find that the 7:45 was still sitting at the platform. A quick calculation told me that if I waited for my usual train I would more than likely be late for work so I forewent my daily read and rushed onto the platform, boarding the train moments before it set off. The carriages were overcrowded and I found myself obliged to stand for the duration of the journey. I listened to the mutterings around me as people I recognised complained about not having a seat but the trip was relatively short, unlike some I had undertaken while a student when I spent an entire night sleeping in the corridor of a coach, and I refrained from becoming involved in their conversations.
The end result of all of this was that I found myself with 30 minutes to fill before I reported for work and with nothing of interest on the usual route I slipped off into a side street I had never visited before. I was amazed to discover that, apart from the pub and various offices I was aware of from my regular crossing over the street, there were a number of small shops selling bric-a-brac, much of which I considered junk but may have been worth a small fortune to the initiated. Suddenly I found myself before a shop window full of photographs. I was immediately entranced by the beauty displayed; most were highly emotive shots taken in black and white and were easily recognisable to anyone with an artistic bent as the work of a creative genius. I quickly looked at my watch and, finding I had plenty of time in hand, began to inspect the works of art displayed. The general theme consisted of atmospheric settings involving mist, fog, rain or sunshine set against houses, haystacks or other edifices.
My eyes moved across to a photo I had not noticed at first glance; the composition was that of a night time setting of a street shrouded in mist, a façade of houses facing a row of park railings. The lighting and the texture were truly wonderful and I had great difficulty moving my gaze from it. It was with regret that I looked down at my watch only to find that more time had passed than I had realised and with one last glance ran off towards my place of work.
That evening after work I decided to check out the shop again and have another look at the photos. Nothing had changed since that morning and the shop was still closed so I passed a good half hour, most of it spent looking at the one which had caught my attention that morning, before taking a later train home than usual. For some unknown reason that photo worked its way into my psyche as I found myself compelled to pass by the shop the next morning. I was surprised to detect the presence of a vague figure emerging from the mist which I had not detected the previous day but put it down to a trick of the light. After work I accompanied colleagues back towards the station only to find myself inexplicably heading off towards the shop.
Each day saw me magnetically attracted towards this shop window and each day I found that the figure, that of a young woman, became more and more evident, emerging from the mist. Perhaps the most surprising part of this, as though the appearance of a previously unseen personage was not unusual in itself, was the fact that the young woman was in colour whereas the remainder of the photograph was in black and white; so much was I enthralled with this developing spectacle that I even headed off to town during the weekend to witness the continuing progression. Much to my despair, the shop remained resolutely closed during my visits and I was unable to elicit information concerning the origin or even the price of this most wonderful work of art.
What most attracted my attention during this time was the shimmering olive green coat worn by the young woman which contrasted with her golden hair. She seemed vaguely familiar to me but I could not for the life of me explain why. Each night from then on I would suddenly wake with the vision of this green coat fixed in my head. I soon found myself assimilating the green of her coat with her desirability even more so than her physical beauty which emerged more and more every day. I became increasingly incensed at the consistent closure of the shop which appeared to respect no opening hours which could possibly appeal to any member of the passing public. Nonetheless I was ineluctably drawn back to view what had now become for me my daily drug.
It was on the Friday evening of the third week that I passed to take in the last of my, by now, thrice daily doses of pleasure, as by now I was spending each lunch time, much to the dismay of my workmates, viewing the object of all of my desires. By now the young woman was totally in the foreground and staring fully into the camera. More than ever she reminded me of someone I knew, or rather had known in the past, but I was still incapable of putting a name to her. Suddenly my attention was distracted by what I assumed to be movement inside the shop. I moved to the door and peered inside. Sure enough there stood a seemingly ancient old gentleman so I tried pushing down on the handle and the door opened.
"Are you open?" I asked, realising how stupid this must sound, but I could think of nothing more intelligent to say.
"As you see, since you have now come in" he replied in a straight, though I assumed half-mocking tone.
"I've been looking at a photo in your window but you always seem to be closed."
"I'm semi-retired and only open when I'm expecting a customer."
"So I'm in luck. Since you're waiting for someone."
"Yes. As I said I was waiting for a customer. Now what can I do for you?"
"I was wondering how much the photo with the young woman in the green coat costs" I replied knowing full well that it would be far beyond my means.
"Didn't you see the price tag on it?" he answered gesturing over to the vitrine with his hand.
I moved across and turned the pedestal which held the object to find that it did indeed have a price tag. What shocked me, however, was the cost. Instead of the several hundred pounds I was expecting, it read "£20".
"This can't be right" I protested, but I was assured that it was correct. The photographer was apparently someone of means and wished his work to attain as wide an audience as possible. In my mind I told myself that the frame alone was worth far more than the asking price and the photo was, well, priceless. Without more ado I handed over the money and departed with the desired icon.
On arrival home I hung the photo above the fireplace and spent the rest of the evening staring at it. It was a large photo and could be easily viewed from a distance and this made my disbelief at its risible price all the greater. I changed position several times during the evening but the stare of the young woman who was becoming more and more desirable by the minute became inescapable. Even in sleep her face haunted me and it was with a hint of disappointment that I woke the next morning to the incessant sound of my alarm clock.
Today was a big day. It was Saturday and Fulham were playing in the FA Cup at Peterborough. I had arranged to meet some mates at King's Cross station to go to the match. I took one last look at the photo before setting off into London where a group of us took our places in the last carriage of the London-Leeds express.
The journey was short and we spent time chatting about work and drinking a couple of beers. Arriving in Peterborough we headed for the exit deep in discussion but for some unknown reason my attention was attracted towards the second-last coach. A young woman was looking through a window towards me, her hair was blond and I recognised the girl in the photo. I moved over towards the coach but the train began to move and since the coaches were air-conditioned the windows could not be opened. I ran alongside as far as I could, watching as she waved her hand and mouthed incomprehensible words to me. My last view of her was one of total despair. This was the woman I had been dreaming of for the last few weeks and who had been within touching distance only to disappear.
The rest was just a blur. I think Fulham won though that's only because my pals were celebrating afterwards. I was a totally miserable bastard and none of them could understand why. When we got back to London I set off home rather than go out on the traditional lads' night out, claiming I had come down with a bug. To make matters worse on arrival home I found that the photo had once again changed. The figure was now in silhouette and by close examination I worked out that she was walking away from the camera. I drank far more than was good for me and the next day was in no fit state to even think about examining the image.
Fortunately by Monday morning I had recovered and set off to work with a spring in my step. The photo no longer held the same attraction for me and as the week progressed the figure appeared to walk off into the misty distance. By the following weekend I was beginning to regret paying even the miserable sum of £20 for it. It was therefore no hardship on Sunday evening to remove the previous chef d'oeuvre from the wall and consign it to the depths of a rarely visited cupboard.
And so we reach what would have been the end of this unusual story but for one thing. Some three months after the unusual happenings I have related I once again found myself in the horns of a dilemma. A burst water pipe had closed my normal route to work and I found it necessary to take the diversion I had been using on a regular basis all those weeks before. Without realising it I stopped before the window I had viewed so many times previously only this time it was empty. A sign indicated that the premises were for rent and a note on the door stated that the owner had now retired. I immediately felt a sense of sadness as I thought back to those moments of pleasure that the photos had given me. I found myself wishing that the photos I had seen had found good homes and it suddenly made me feel guilty to think that I had hidden a work of art in the back of a cupboard where no-one would ever see it.
That evening I was invited to the birthday party of Mike, who was one of my pals since primary school. By now I was getting over the divorce and had again become one of the lads and was therefore looking forward to getting laid. As I was one of the early arrivals I was also one those who overdid the drink and by the time that most of the guests arrived I was more than merry. It was sometime during the evening when I was sitting looking into my half-empty glass that Mike approached me.
"Dave..." he said in a slurred voice.
"Duncan. It's Duncan," I replied
"That's what I meant. Duncan, do you remember Gillian Gilmour from primary school?"
I looked back down towards my half-empty glass and took a drink.
"Who the hell wouldn't remember her?" I answered. "God's gift to little boys. Christ, I used to wank myself silly thinking about her."
Suddenly I was hit by the realisation of what had happened.
"Well, Duncan, old chap..;"
With that he staggered to the side and collapsed in a heap though whether he was pushed or fell I could not say but I now found myself confronted by the object of all my desires.
"Hello, Duncan. I came across your photograph in a strange little shop recently."