“What are you doing here?” Irene held her magnifying glass over the photograph.
“Who?” I leaned over my sister’s shoulder, trying to see.
“It’s hard to tell in this light, but…” She ran her fingers over the faces of our relatives, as if trying to read the history of their lives. “All these people. All these smiling people. Gone. And their stories with them, I’m afraid.”
“We can’t get every story down, Irene.” My sister the historian. Trying to gather the clues to her life from ancient history stored in attics, musty basements, even, in one case, beneath the bridge a homeless uncle once called home. “You spend too much time in the past, you forget about the future.”
She glowered at me. “I like the past.”
“I’m comfortable there.”
I laughed and tears immediately sprung to my sister’s eyes. “I’m sorry, Irene.”
She shook her head. “I’m certain it’s Bruce.” The long-lost uncle. Our father’s brother. Left town at fourteen, never to be seen or heard from again. Stories told in whispers indicate he killed a man. Accidentally.
“Can’t be Bruce. Check the back.”
Irene flipped the photograph over. Our grandmother’s writing, cramped and tight, spelled out names in a red felt-tip pen. Carolyn. Harriet. Robert. Denise.
Later, perhaps as the press of time weighed more heavily upon her chest, Grandmother had penned in more details in a black ballpoint: 1963. Jerry’s house. Mom’s eightieth birthday.
And then, almost as an afterthought, this time in green. Bruce?
“He was there. See?” Irene pointed.
“They all looked alike. Could’ve been a cousin. Grandmother…Well, her memory was likely slipping.”
Irene flipped the photograph back. Brought it closer to her face. “All these people staring back at us, crossing time and space.”
We continued in this way, looking through the old photographs; smoothing out old family documents and pressing them onto the table; Irene’s eyes constantly flickering to the photograph she’d set aside.
“I need a break,” I announced at two.
Irene put on a pot of coffee. I cut the apple pie I’d brought into thick wedges.
“Why would he just show up after all those years?” Irene stirred sugar into her coffee. “I mean….it was almost as if he could travel through time.”
“Oh, Irene. Now you’re just being silly.” I cut the tip of my pie with the side of a fork. “This pie is lovely, isn’t it? For store-bought anyway.”
“Haven’t you ever heard of parallel universes? People jumping from…”
“Enough, Irene.” I put up my hand. “Let’s just get this done.”
“There’s no other explanation. Why would Grandmother list four people then how many years later, add a fifth?”
“If he had been at that party, the stories we’ve been told all through our lives would be different.” I sighed. My father’s entire life was defined by the void left by the disappearance of his brother.
“What if he went to the party after?”
“Yes. After. AFter the party had ended. After everyone had gone home. After all the relatives had returned to their separate lives.”
“You’ve been watching too much science fiction. When’s the last time you went out on a date?”
“Open your mind to the possibility.”
“No.” I shoved away my half-eaten pie. “This is crazy, Irene. Show me that picture again.”
And as we watched, my Uncle Bruce lifted his hand and waved, laughing a little as he did so. I flipped the photograph over and watched his name disappear.
Later that day, we would discover a diary kept by my grandmother, the opening line written in green. Bruce has been traveling again.
Irene’s eyes grew animated. We poured more coffee, shoved aside our plates and began chasing our uncle through time.
We were interrupted by a sudden knock at the door.
Irene’s eyes widened as she stared at me across the table.
This was written for this week’s Studio 30+ prompt. We were to begin or end a piece with the words “What are you doing here?”
My family and I have been spending much time going through old photographs, so this started in truth. It is true that my grandmother made notes on the back of her photographs then went back and added notes some time later. But there is no Uncle Bruce.