Flicker: Sarah on a yacht. The sun is just beginning to spread itself across the horizon, staining the sky orange; it's either dawn or dusk, I can't tell which. The status line updates after a short delay, perhaps a second: June, 2002 / Cape Cod / Sarah Vaughn. I theorize it was our son, Stephen, behind the lens, but there's no listed credit.
The photo frames were his idea. There must be two, possibly three hundred photos in the database now, and each month he faithfully adds another two or three. He bought the frames in 2001 as a Christmas present for the family: one for me, one for him, and one for Sarah. A set for his grandparents. A few for assorted aunts and uncles.
Flicker: Sarah and Richard on a beach. The water is like a mirror beneath the sky. Richard is wearing black swim trunks, no shirt, and - no surprise - a manufactured smile. Sarah is in the green one-piece I bought her in Florida, back when we were together. She's shading her eyes against the sun, glowing.
I need a drink, possibly two. I walk over to the cabinet, and discover that the resident gin is nearly gone. Scotch will have to do. The glass squirms in my grip, nearly slipping to the floor, but I manage to maintain my hold and ease it to the counter. My hands are shaking rather vigorously. Perhaps three drinks would be even better than two.
Steve's idea was good in theory; he knew how much I missed - and still miss, and will continue to miss - Sarah and him, so he thought the frames could serve as a conduit between us. It was great when I first got the job in London. I'd stare at the photos that crept by while I spoke to them on the phone, and it was almost as good as being there. Sarah would laugh, lightly, like wind chimes, and Steve would tell me he missed me, and ask when I was coming home.
It was spring, 2003 when Sarah decided that she needed a break. My boss still hadn't promoted me, there was no sign my work exile would be ending soon, and Sarah had had enough loneliness. She'd met Richard at the office, and, well, things just happened. She wanted me to be happy, she said. She wanted to be happy, I said. I just didn't understand, we agreed.
The scotch fills the glass, nearly to the brim. I finish off the bottle, too, just for good measure. It slides down my throat like fire, and my hands steady a bit. I walk toward the porch; I need air.
Flicker. I don't bother looking. It's probably just Richard again, smiling that funeral director smile of his.
The sliding glass door rumbles and jars in its track, and the breeze does me one better, taking my breath away and dropping me into one of the cheap green plastic chairs that make their home on the patio.
I called her a few more times. Sarah, that is - I tried to keep in touch, but she became more and more distant, until the calls evolved into a greeting and farewell separated by a span of uncomfortable, trans-atlantic rate silence. I gave up before the summer ended. I never spoke to her again, until tonight.
The photos kept coming, though. Sarah and Richard on the train in Italy. Sarah and Richard on a cruise. Sarah and Richard, soaking wet from the pouring rain in Oxford. An hour away, they were, and they never bothered to call.
Finally, three months ago: Sarah and Richard in a chapel. I'd known it was coming - Steve had given me the heads up over a year ago - but it was a shock nevertheless. I'd glanced over at the clock on the end table, and there it was, framed, in black and white, but for the bouquet. Sarah made a lovely bride. Again.