notquiteold

Nancy Roman

ALL I HAVE LEFT IS THIS PHOTOGRAPH

Flash Fiction Course. Week 2. I was given the prompt, “All I have left is this photograph.” Goal: Write a story in under 1,000 words.

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ALL I HAVE LEFT IS THIS PHOTOGRAPH

Everybody told me not to go.

My parents, of course. My mother cried. My sisters said I was nuts. My father said if I went, I was not welcome to come back. Ever.

I thought my friends would be more supportive. But they mostly hated the idea. “Communes are not like what you saw in ‘Easy Rider,'” said Michael, with no experience but lots of opinions. As usual. “Besides,” added Karen, “Even in Easy Rider, the whole place was kind of creepy.” “You’ll be murdered,” said Janice.

But it was 1970 and I was nineteen, and I was swept away by the adventure. I wanted to experience something that I instinctively knew would not last. Communes were a cultural moment. I wanted to be in that moment.

So I stuffed a few things in my backpack, and I left. I took a bus. I had heard of a place. Not out in the desert like in Easy Rider, not on a farm out in the country. An abandoned factory in Pittsburgh. Kids had turned it into a home. Everyone was welcome. So they said.

It was a dump. It was filthier than anything I had ever seen. Trash everywhere. It stunk.

Their leader, if you could call him that, was as creepy as Karen warned me about. Bryce. A made-up name for sure. “What can you do for us?” he asked. I guess not everyone was welcome. “I can pick up all this garbage. I’m a born cleaner,” I replied.

So I stayed. It took weeks to pick up all the trash. I took empty boxes out of the dumpster at the nearest supermarket, and brought them back to the dumpster filled with garbage. Sometimes I got a ride. Mostly I walked. It did not inspire the group to a neater life.

There were sixteen of us. Bryce was the oldest. He was 26, he said. I thought more like 46. There was lots of sex and drugs, like my parents imagined. But there was also music and books and conversation.

Four of us had paying jobs. They kept us in food. One has happy to do it. Maggie. The other three, Sean, Joe, and Billy, were resentful. They expected more gratitude. Of the sexual kind mostly. We obliged.

There were three babies there and one on the way. Patsy was mother to one and caregiver to all. She breastfed all the babies. She looked pale and exhausted.. The other mothers were stoned or just plain uninterested.

I stayed five months. I left in January. The factory was cold. I was hungry. I was tired of picking up trash. I saw the new baby being born, and I was awestruck. But he died.

All I have left is this photograph.

See look. There is Bryce, who does not look fatherly, as he sometimes was. He looks demonic, as he often was. Here are Sean and Joe and Billy. I slept with them all. I was lucky I didn’t get the clap. These two are Maggie and Patsy. I loved them. And the babies. Here are the others whose names I have forgotten after all these years. The day we took this photo, no one was fighting. It was exceptional.

And see – .right here. This is Jake. He came with me when I left. The best thing about that time. He saved me.

When I came home, my father held me and cried.

Dad and Jake were inseparable for the next nine years. Jake saved all of us. That’s what dogs do.

15 Comments

  1. Awesome story. What an imagination! Great job.

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    • Paula

      I gotta know–what is really an old factory in Pittsburgh, or was that made up for the story? Disclosure: I am actually from Pittsburgh, and I’d hate to think I “missed out” on an important cultural moment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Tim Driscoll

    As always, an enjoyable read.

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  3. What a bloody good story

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  4. What an amazing story. Thank you for sharing it.

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  5. Your story sucked me in… as all good stories should do. I’m curious, where are you taking the class? I’m looking for something similar in my area (or online).

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  6. Good story. I’m glad she left and took the dog

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  7. cj

    This is seriously good! Really enjoyed it, well done 🙂

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  8. Kaye Hamilton-Smith

    Great ending! Totally different style for you with short, choppy sentences. So glad you are sharing your homework!… Kaye

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  9. Donna W.

    Nancy, this is brilliant. I pray you are recognized with honor by your peers. Love, Donna

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  10. That was a great story!

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  11. Nicely done, Nancy – I felt like I was there…

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  12. Nancy, you took the prompt and ran with it. Written as if it was real. I was there with you. I was your mother trying to protect you and waiting for you to come home!!

    Like

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