Black Petals Issue #87 Spring, 2019

The Sepia Photograph

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There's an App for That-Fiction by Hillary Lyon
The Sepia Photograph-Fiction by Roy Dorman
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Granite Garden-Poem set from Michael Keshigian
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sepia1.jpg
Courtesy Bing Images

The Sepia Photograph

 

By Roy Dorman

Remains of former days

 

James Benson decided to take the clothes that were on hangers out of the closet first. He wouldn’t sort them, just stuff them in garbage bags; Goodwill could sort them.

With the clothes and shoes gone the closet looked empty, but it wasn’t. James knew his mother had stashed some boxes of mementos in the back. He’d been curious about them as a little kid; he and his mother had gone through them a few times, but once he hit his teens he’d forgotten about them.

The closet was a walk-in. Only three feet wide and a little over six feet from floor to ceiling, it was probably eight feet deep. The natural light from the bedroom windows couldn’t quite reach the boxes in the back; James had to turn on the bedroom’s overhead fixture. 

Normally not one who frightened easily, James felt uneasy as he stared at the boxes. He was alone in the house, and nobody knew he was in it cleaning out his mother’s things. If something happened, it would be a while before someone found him.

“What could happen?” he said as he stepped into the closet. “Let’s get this done.”

But he was only three or four steps into the closet when he quickly looked back to make sure the door wasn’t slamming shut, leaving him in darkness.

“Get a grip, bucko,” he muttered to himself.

There were four medium-sized cardboard boxes in all with a large photo album sitting on top of the stack. He carried everything out and put it all on his mother’s bed, already stripped to the mattress.

Though James had planned to get this whole business finished as quickly as possible and head back to San Francisco, he now sat on the bed and picked up the photo album. He had done the downstairs and the basement yesterday and could easily get the upstairs and attic done today. He felt he deserved a little break.

He opened the album and, staring at the first picture, memories came flooding back.

This is a picture of your great grandparents’ wedding reception at the old town hall in Bristol, Ohio. That’s my grandma and grandpa there in the center.

Why isn’t anybody smiling?

People didn’t always smile for the camera back then, Jimmy, even if it was a happy occasion.

James moved on to the next page, and then a few more pages after that. The photos were in chronological order, and successive pages held more and more photos as cameras became common place.

Before closing the album and getting back to work, he looked again at the sepia colored photo of the wedding reception. Examining the people in the photo more closely this time, he was puzzled to see a man who looked like Mr. Larson, the owner of the local hardware store. He remembered asking his mother once about the resemblance.

Oh, no, that’s not Mr. Larson, Jimmy. All of the older people in this picture have been dead for a while. A few of the younger ones might be still alive, but I couldn’t tell you which ones.

But it looks just like him, Mom.

Maybe a little, but that couldn’t be him; he’s only a little older than I am.

James scanned the rest of the people in the second and third rows, and gasped when he saw…himself! He tilted the album one way and then another to try and get the light to give him a better angle and still found himself looking at someone in the third row who looked just like him. It was like looking in the mirror. James was going to be fifty-six in a month, and the person in the picture looked to be about that age also.

What could this mean? He probably hadn’t noticed the “himself” in the picture when he was a kid because he wouldn’t have seen a middle-aged man as having any resemblance to a seven year-old.

But the man in the picture was him. And the man in the second row was Mr. Larson, no matter what his mother had told him. She must have known that it was Mr. Larson. Why would she lie to him?

It was still a half hour before noon. James decided he’d walk downtown and have lunch at the little diner. After that he’d go to the hardware store and ask Mr. Larson for an explanation. James and Mr. Larson were two of the oldest people in a picture that had to be almost a hundred and fifty years old, and neither of them was dead.

He would take the photograph album with him.

 

“Hello, Mr. Larson.”

“Well, hello,” said Mr. Larson, extending his hand. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I know you.”

“I’m James Benson. I’m in town to clean out my mother’s house so I can put it up for sale.”

“Jimmy Benson! Yes, I remember you. It’s been, what, thirty years or more since I’ve seen you, right? You used to come in to get something now and then that your mom needed. Oh, and I’m sorry for your loss. Your mom was a wonderful woman.”

James put the album on the counter and opened it to the first page. He watched Mr. Larson’s face and saw his smile slowly turn to a frown.

“How old are you, Mr. Larson? How old are we?” James asked, pointing at himself in the picture. “What does this photograph mean?”

Mr. Larson was probably a little over thirty when James and his mother had last discussed the possibility of the man in the photo being Mr. Larson. That was roughly fifty years ago, making Mr. Larson at least eighty years old. He looked to be a spry sixty. Not much different than how he looked in the picture.

Mr. Larson reached out and gently closed the album. He looked over James’ shoulder as if to make sure they were alone in the store. “I don’t really know where to start,” he said. “And I don’t know if you’ll be able to accept what I’m about to tell you. You’re about fifty-something—no, wait, don’t interrupt—and you were about fifty-something when this photograph was taken. 

“You were your great grandmother’s uncle on her father’s side. A month after the wedding, you were killed in a hunting accident. You “went away” for a “reconstitution” after that first death, and eventually went on to go through four more reconstitutions. You’ve always been quite accident prone.  

“And then you were born in this town…to your mother. 

“Your father was a good man, but he wasn’t your biological father; you started as a fertilized egg implanted in your mother. That egg contained your own DNA material. Reconstitution is a sort of cloning process that uses a natural birth mother for incubation.

“As to how old I am, I’ll be two hundred and fifty in a couple of years.”

Mr. Larson stopped then and fixed James with a stare as if to let him absorb what he had just heard.

James stared back. “Go on,” he said.

“There are eighty-seven of us scattered throughout the world. When one of us dies, usually by accident or murder, that person’s spirit and a small sample of tissue go to an underground facility deep in a cave in the mountains near Denver. He or she is then reconstituted and reborn.”

“You said you were almost two hundred and fifty years old,” said James. “You’ve never died?”

“I’m one of nine who have never used the reconstitution facilities. Every fifty years or so we have to liquidate our assets and move on to a new location. People start to look at us a little funny when we don’t seem to age that much. 

“I’ll be moving on from here very soon. I’ll stop at the facility for a “tune-up,” a complex makeover so that I appear to be about twenty-five or so. Then I’ll start a new life. ”

“What has all this to do with me?” asked James. “Where do I fit in?”

“You’re one of us, Jimmy. I told your mom she should tell you, but she wanted you to live a normal life. 

“And you have up until now. But we don’t age much after we reached the age of fifty or so. In another twenty years people you know will start wondering about you. Your mother always said she would tell you someday, but then she was killed by that hit-and-run driver.”

“And you’re sure my mother was one of you? One of us?

Mr. Larson opened the album to the sepia picture. “After you found you and me, did you finish looking closely at the rest of the people in this picture? Did you look closely at this face?” he said pointing at an older woman in the back row.

James gaped.

“Your mother is at the facility in Colorado. She’s getting reconstituted; she’ll be born somewhere about nine or ten months from now. I’ll talk to some people to find where she ends up and let you know.”

“Thanks, Mr. Larson,” said James, extending his hand. “I’d appreciate that. After I have a tune-up in a year or so, could it be arranged that I go to the area where she will live? Maybe it could be said that I’m her uncle on her mother’s side. I’d like to be a part of her life as she grows up.”

“Of course, Jimmy,” said Mr. Larson. “You and your mother are one of us.”

“One of us,” Jimmy mused. “But what are we? How is it that we can live so many lifetimes? Who established the facility in Colorado and developed the necessary scientific database to help us maintain those lifetimes?”

“That’s too much to discuss at a hardware store counter, Jimmy. Why don’t you come to my house for dinner tonight? I can give you a tutorial on our history.”

“I’ll be there at 7:00. Can I bring a bottle of Merlot?’

“That would be great,” said Mr. Larson, giving James a hug and then walking him to the door. “But better make that two bottles of Merlot, okay?”

 

James arrived at Mr. Larson’s house a few minutes before seven. Walking up the steps to the front porch, he noticed the front door was ajar.

“Mr. Larson?” he called. “It’s James Benson. Should I come in?”

James pushed open the front door and stopped when he saw Mr. Larson lying on the floor in the hallway.

“Yes, do come in, James,” said a voice from the living room. “You’re just in time.”

James didn’t move. “Just in time for what?” he asked.

“We’ll be taking Bill Larson to Colorado for reconstitution. It’s his time. You can come with us if you’re finished with your mother’s house.”

“But his head is bleeding,” said James. “That looks like a gunshot wound.”

“It is a gunshot wound, James,” said another voice from within the house. “Bill will need more than physical reconstitution; he’s going to need some…psychological work.”

“Bill was the hit-and-run driver who killed your mother,” said First Voice. “They had a disagreement, and he killed her.”

“We police ourselves,” said Second Voice. “We can’t allow one of our own to go rogue and jeopardize us all.”

“But, you…killed Mr. Larson?” said James.

“He resisted,” said the First Voice. “He wouldn’t agree to do what needed to be done.”

“You’re one of us, James,” said Second Voice. “But Bill’s mind wasn’t…quite right. He may have even been planning to kill you tonight.”

James hesitated. This was all happening so fast. But the photo album backed up what Mr. Larson had said. The people in that sepia photograph told a strange story, but one James had no trouble believing.

Looking again at Mr. Larson, he didn’t seem to be someone who was dead, but someone in need of help, in the form of reconstitution.

“After we get Mr. Larson…packed up, I’ve got two bottles of Merlot here,” he said. “And I think that’s tomato sauce I smell coming from the kitchen.”

“Yes?” said First Voice.

“I’m one of you,” said James, “one of you.”

The End

Roy Dorman, roydorman@yahoo.com, of Madison, WI, who wrote BP #87’s “The Sepia Photograph” (+ BP #86’s“New Orleans Take-Out” & “Not This Time”; BP #85’s “Door County Getaway” & “The Gift”; BP #84’s “Goodbye to Nowhere Land” & “Nobody Should Be at 1610 Maple St.”; BP #83’s “Door #2”; BP #82’s “A Nowhere Friend” & “Foundling”; BP #81’s “Nowhere Man in Nowhere Land” & “The Box with Pearl Inlay”; BP #80’s “Andrew’s War” & “Down at the Hardware Store”; BP #79’s “Cellmates” & “Get Some Shelter”; BP #78’s “All Is as It Should Be”; BP #77’s “Essence of Andrew”; BP #76’s “Flirting with the Alley”; BP #75’s “The Enemy of My Enemy…”; BP #74’s “Doesn’t Play Well with Others”; BP #73’s “A Journey Starts with a Flower”; BP #72’s “The Beach House”; BP #71’s “The Big Apple Bites”; BP #70’s “Borrowing Some Love”; and BP #69’s “Back in Town” and “Finding Good Help…”), is retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Benefits Office and has been a voracious reader for 60 years. At the prompting of an old high school friend, himself a retired English teacher, Roy is now a voracious writer. He has had poetry and flash fiction published in Apocrypha and Abstractions, Birds Piled Loosely, Burningword Literary Journal, Cease Cows, Cheapjack Pulp, Crack The Spine, Drunk Monkeys, Every Day Fiction, Flash Fiction Magazine, Flash Fiction Press, Gap-Toothed Madness, Gravel, Lake City Lights, Near To The Knuckle, Shotgun Honey, The Creativity Webzine, Theme of Absence, The Screech Owl, The Story Shack, & Yellow Mama.

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