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Baby Pictures

Flash Fiction by Maryanne Stahl

"I want to see a picture of you as a baby," Maddy said. David glanced at her, reached from the steering wheel to take her hand. His smile was so quick, it seemed fake, ironic. But Maddy knew that he wasn't either of those things; he was warm and slightly shy.

"Silly," David said, then added, "Okay, I'll find one." He drove with his window open, his elbow propped and hanging, and the simple assurance of his posture made Maddy feel safe.

"Maybe ask your mother," she suggested. David's family still lived in the small town where they both had grown up, where the two of them had gone to Catholic school. But she had been three grades ahead of him, so they hadn't really known each other then. Not until years later; now. He flipped up the turn single and checked his mirrors to change lanes. He was driving the rental car to the airport where he would catch a plane back to Boston, she to Philadelphia. She tried to memorize the shape of his hands, his fingers, to keep them with her. "Your mother must have pictures, from birthday parties or holidays or something." The backs of Maddy's thighs were damp and warm, sticky with the residue of almond massage oil. She hadn't had time to shower.

"Maybe," David said. "Got that map?" Maddy bent forward, straining in her seat belt, toward the floor. A blue corner of the map stuck up from beneath the rubber mat.

"Yup." She held it up.

"Okay, thanks," David said. "I don't need it yet." Maddy folded the map. She glanced out the window so he wouldn't see her face as she wondered whether they were going to try to know each other completely, the way she and her husband had tried. Tried and tried until they were tired of trying.

"Hey," David said. His hand reached, testing side to side like a blind person's, settling on her knee. Maddy stretched across the space between their bucket seats. Her fingers stroked the fine, thick fur of his arm. She nuzzled his shoulder and he leaned his cheek toward hers and they drove like that, skin to skin. A few miles from the airport, a wasp whirred in through the open window like a tiny plane. It alighted on the dashboard, bronze against the black plastic, wings translucent, antennae dark and bobbing. Maddy felt her shoulder go rigid against David's arm.

"Baby," he said. "Just open your window."

She did, keeping an eye on the wasp, considering redirecting it with her hand, but she feared the insect's vengeance. After a while, despite the buzzing vibration as they drove at high speed, the wasp seemed to fall asleep.

David slowed for the exit ramp. "I'd like a baby picture of you, too, you know," he said. Maddy realized he was doing his best to please her.

Did she have any baby pictures of herself, aside from the one in the framed family collage on her mantle? Over the years, she had given away what she had. She couldn't think where any might be, unless in that cardboard box beneath the basement stairs. She remembered a few, particularly sweet, black-and-white images of her baby self, lost in one of her several house moves, and she wished she had them back. She would give them away one more time.

Maryanne Stahl, writer and folk artist, lives in Thunderbolt, Georgia. She has published two novels, The Opposite Shore, and Forgive The Moon, for which she received a nomination for the Georgia Author of the Year Award. Her children's story, "Where Do Cats Go", won the Spirit of Moondance Award at the 2004 Moondance Film Festival. To read more of her work or to email her, visit her website: www.maryannestahl.com

Reprinted from Ink Pot #6; available now

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