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By Graham Parke
I find our old camera at the back of a drawer. I switch it on and immediately Alana smiles up at me, tanned from surprisingly few hours in the Greek sun. She’s wearing that white bikini I got her, and a sliver of suntan oil runs down her shoulder. Her hair is jet black against the bright wall of an ice cream parlor.
Even on the camera’s tiny display, Alana’s imagine is intense and powerful.
Greece was fun. Sexy and carefree. It was all about enjoying the food and the scenery and the hot, hot sun. ‘Greece,’ Alana said, ‘is like being strapped to a barbecue, inside a sauna, on a particularly hot day.’ She brushed a strand of hair from her face, stuck there with sweat and oil. She added, ‘Greece is like standing in the pathway of airplane exhaust, and not being allowed to step aside.’
She was being glib of course. Greece last August was much hotter than that.
Next picture; Alana and I standing in front of some rustic eatery. Some run down, mom-and-pop restaurant. Some rundown, mom-and-pop-and-sisters-and-brothers-and-a-crazy-old-lady-we-couldn’t-identify restaurant.
It was a little place in a side alley that we stumbled on to by accident. I didn’t see the beauty of it but Alana insisted this was the real deal. The real Greek experience. ‘These,’ she said, ‘are authentic Greeks, with an authentic Greek restaurant, in an authentic Greek side alley.’
So we sat and ate. Had fun. Laughed. Took pictures. And later suffered authentic Greek stomach cramps.
Next picture; Alana and I standing in front of our hotel. Alana’s face is all scrunched up because, for once, she’s cold. Freezing. You can see that she’s shivering, goose bumps popping up all over her arms. It’s close to forty degrees Celsius, so I’m fine. If anything, I’m too hot.
Next; Me standing in front of a fountain. Me standing in front of a statue. Me standing in front of a terribly red Ferrari.
Apparently, I spent a lot of time standing in front of things. As if Alana and I were gathering evidence of our stay. As if we might one day have to convince the world we’d really been there, rather than some other exotically hot and grimy place.
Then; Alana trying on shoes.
Alana trying on hats.
Alana trying on more shoes.
Alana getting me to try on shoes and hats.
We’re on a bus. We’re in a dinky rental car. We’re on a train heading down the coast sweaty, sleepy, happy.
I remember not caring if we ever got off that train again.
Next; Alana turning her suitcases inside out trying to find her journal.
Next; Me taking Alana’s journal from my one, single suitcase, getting ready to ask her where her journal is – just so I can snap her turning her four cases inside out.
I moving through the pictures backwards. Each button press takes me a little further back in time.
Next; The hotel room mini-bar. It’s filled to the brim with T-shirts. Alana’s T-shirts. The body of the mini-bar, the door, the freezer compartment, it’s all crammed tight with T’s.
Alana has a system: every morning, every early afternoon, and every evening she takes a new T from the freezer compartment. Then she moves one of the T’s from the door to the freezer, and one of the T’s from the body to the door. This way she’s always wearing the coldest T’s and simultaneously cooling down another. If she needs more than three T’s a day, she’ll have the others as back up. As long as we keep coming back to the room for replacements, she’s covered.
Our alcohol and soda’s float in the bathtub. It’s re-filled with cold water every morning and afternoon.
I browse faster. Perhaps attempting to shorten this self-imposed torture.
Then; Miles of golden beach, snapped from above.
Stark white clouds, stacking up towards the camera like fantasy skyscrapers.
The ground, disappearing in a blanket of acid rain.
Two rain-coated travelers, queuing for luggage check-in at Schiphol airport.
Moving our bags from the bedroom to the hallway of our tiny apartment.
Some last minute packing.
Alana’s journal, visible over her shoulder, forgotten on her bedside table.
The last image vanishes and the display goes black. I’m back in my kitchen and my apartment is more empty than it has ever been.
I still have no idea why Alana left, and where she went to.