I hid from him—leaned against walls, stood in shadows—but his camera always found me. Even when he pretended to aim at other people, there I was in every background, conspicuous in my homemade clothes. He liked me, Charles did, because I once said hello to him. A pale, gangly boy with an almond-shaped head, thin red hair, eyes like slits, a tiny valentine mouth, and a condition we didn’t know the name of. He wore his camera on a strap around his neck, an expensive-looking thing, big enough to topple him. No one knew how soon he would die. It didn’t occur to us to wonder. He was a ghost already, creeping around in gum-soled shoes, taking pictures for the yearbook.
Senior year he invited me to prom. I couldn’t say no without a reason, so I said I had plans with Tony—a lie Tony was glad to go along with. He picked me up on prom night. My dress was red taffeta, fabric my mother had been saving; it swished and rustled as I got into Tony’s Packard. Tony turned up the radio and drove us past the school, past the lit-up gymnasium (“Where are we going?” I said; “You’ll see,” he said), out to the highway (“But where?”), to Crescent Motor Court, where he worked. He didn’t even have to pay for the room. He untied my red sash. He unpinned my corsage and laid it on the nightstand. We never made it to the prom. No streamers or balloons for us. No band playing Blue Moon. No whatever else they do at proms.
What a different night, what a different life, if I’d been brave and just said no to Charles.
Or yes. What if I’d been that girl—one who went, and danced, and sipped punch from a dainty cup, and smiled for the camera? How much nobler my suffering would have been, and sweeter, and shorter.
Kim Church is the author of a novel, Byrd (Dzanc Books, March 2014). Her stories have appeared in Mississippi Review, Shenandoah, Painted Bride Quarterly, the Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward, and elsewhere. A Pushcart Prize nominee, she has received fellowships from the North Carolina Arts Council, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Millay Colony for the Arts, and Vermont Studio Center. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. Visit her online at kimchurch.com.