The following is an exercise from a book I picked up called Now Write! Fiction Writing Exercises From Today’s Best Writers & Teachers edited by Sherry Ellis. “The Wedding Picture” is the very first exercise. This is my new curriculum, so get me writing more, to give me a prompt and keep me from flailing about in the Sea of Stories. The prompt is to write a one-page fiction inspired by a wedding photo. I chose one of my own.
“You ready for the next one?”
“Not yet—I’m only on the third page.”
“C’mon, we have four more albums to get through.”
I’m stuck on one photo. I breezed through the others, but this one struck me for some reason. It’s my parents’ wedding album. The photo is of the recessional, a candid shot of my father and mother retreating back up the aisle, arm in arm away from the huppah. They are laughing because people are throwing dried leaves at them. The leaves are maple, mostly, selected for their autumn colors and carefully pressed. I know from the album that they were married September 26, 2009 in Poulsbo, Washington. Almost forty years ago.
I’ll see if I can describe it, maybe I’ll figure out what keeps me staring at this one so long. It isn’t the resolution, which is fine. I am pretty sure they had digital cameras by then. (You can actually make out someone’s camera off to the side, but you can’t really tell what kind it is.) But you can see in the top right corner of the photo a few of the leaves being tossed, blurred at their edges so you can see that they are moving. You just don’t get that with cameras these days. They all freeze so you can see every vein of every leaf, every drop of every waterfall, or every foot or arm suspended in mid-stride. But there’s a feeling from this image of spontaneity, of true motion. Like it wouldn’t take much to shake the photo and get the scene moving again.
Dad is young. I forgot he was so portly in his youth. His curly hair is trimmed very short. He has a close beard, shaved to nearly a stubble—I remember as a kid he used to sport a beard, but it was scraggly and sparse and never filled in like the stately beards you’d expect of a Jewish of Russian descent. He shaved it when I was in college…that was when he started losing weight. I guess he wore the beard to hide his double chin. I think it looks good on him.
He has on a grayish-brown suit, not a tux, with an outlandish paisley tie in autumn colors that is so totally him. A deep crimson flower—a zinnia? dahlia? I’m no good with flowers—pinned to his lapel. His glasses look old. Makes the whole picture look old. Were they fashionable at some point? He always tried sort of halfheartedly to be “cool.” But he did care about his appearance, and this is evident here. He looks sharp.
So does Mom. Both of them look so…god, the only word I can think of is jolly. Mom’s laughing harder than Dad is. Her dress is beautiful. It’s the only time I’ve noticed a wedding dress, except for when my wife picked hers out and she asked me about the back. Mom is tugging a part of her dress up to facilitate walking over the green grass strewn with crunchy leaves. Her skin is so smooth here and you can’t really make out her freckles but I know they’re there. Her fine blonde hair is swept across her forehead in a seemingly casual way, but I know it was carefully planned that way. Still, I like the way she had it back then. Controlled, but with a hint of randomness or chaos that was always permitted, just like them. I look more like her. My son looks more like his grandfather.
Leaning into the frame from the side of the aisle is a young boy with shaggy dark hair—I think that’s my older cousin, Raphe. I’ve never seen him as a kid. But it’s definitely him, you can see the prankster. He’s reaching for something, maybe a handful of leaves, or maybe the dress.
Look at Dad’s arm, at a right angle for Mom to hold on to. You see his wedding ring loud and clear. To think that that was the first moment he wore it. He had designed it himself: white gold band, with an embossed leafy vine wrapping around it—a perfect balance between the organic and the stylized. I’m looking at it now; I inherited it.
They were so happy then, and so healthy.
“I’m ready for the next one, babe.”
—April 29, 2010