"Who's that?" A child's hand points to a photo ticked into the back of the album, curiously tracing the unfamiliar face. The woman frowns and slips it from the glassy laminate, holding it up to the light of the lamp beside the armchair.
It is a picture of two girls. Their arms are sling around each other's shoulders, faces pressed together in matching grins while the blond holds the camera away from them to take the picture. She looks at the blond. Squinting against the sun, freckled and burned across her cheekbones, the girl is young and pretty and relaxed in her youth. The woman smiles. Life had been so different then.
Her eyes move slowly to the other girl. It awes her how not, all thesse years later, there is still the same rush of emotion, the same swift ache.
"A friend. A long time ago. Her name is Mary."
The woman remembers the summer that everything began. Lying next to Mary in the attic bedreem, hands interlocked; her pale fingers tangled in Mary's dark, their skintones night and day. Mary's hair, wild and curly in the damp sea air and her contagious grin. Mary's matter of fact observations about life, her easy way with people and the way her hand had tightened its grip on hers when the older generations frowned at their friendship. That summer had been an eye opener in so many ways.
The woman brings the picture closer.
They had gone swimming in the pool that day, the day they borrowed her father's camera. The woman remembers that ache that flled her bodu as she watched Mary dive in, her clothes discarded on the shore and her dark body breaking the water in a frothing, gleaming streak. How Mary had splashed her and they had laughed until they couldn't berathe and fell into the water, a tangle of black and white limbs.
How she had lain late awake at night while Mary held her loosely in her arms, breathing softly on her cheek.
How she and Mary had surfaced in the frozen ocean and the laughter had died as their bodies collided.
How Mary had kept her away all summer and her mother began to watch them with worried eyes.
"She's pretty," said the child.
"Yes, yes she was."
They had laughed at the boys who had tried to catch their eyes and took the rowboat out to the tiny, distant island with the lunches they never got around to eating.
How Mary's body was as familiar as her own and they thought that such familiarity would last forever.
The child strokes the photo. "Do you ever see her?" A child's puzzled, correct perception that adult friends come and go.
Her mother coming up to look for something in the attic one morning. Her mother screaming at the sight of her blond, blue eyed daughter tucked into a naked black girl's sleepy embrace. Her father's harsh words. The bus that had come to take Mary home and the fearful, shy and guilty last look they had exchanged.
And the sight of Mary as she stepped off the plane ten years later in a suit and heels. Their enthusiastic cup of coffee. Mary's catching grin. Memories bittersweet and full of a young girl's confusion.
"I saw her right before you were born. She's a lawyer now and lives across the country." And I never called her like I said I would, the woman thinks.
The child digests this and nods slowly. Fingering the corner of the photo the woman realizes she hasn't thought about Mary in a long time.
The warmth of her body, the smell of her hair, the way her forehead always touched mine whenever we hugged.
Bored now, the child tugs on her sleeve. "Mommy, mommy lets look at more." Carefully the woman tucks the picture back where it belongs and kisses the child's forehead. Mary was a long time ago and her father's shock had killed it, whatever it was. She does not regret that summer anymore than she regrets her marriage and her child, and her seventeenth summer was a very long time ago and she was very young.
Still, the woman's eyes linger on the photograph, wondering.