In The Picture
The lift doors closed. Laura did what she always did when lift doors closed, and there were strangers present. She took her mobile phone out of her handbag and began to flick through her received messages.
But the man in the lift with her was less inhibited. He was openly staring at her. After a few moments, Laura looked up.
“Hello, Laura”, said the man.
He might have been in his early sixties. He was handsome in a craggy, square-faced kind of way. He wore rimless glasses and a smart grey suit, and his grey-blond hair was curly. Laura was sure she had never met him before.
“Do I know you?”, she asked, not smiling.
The man gave her a crooked, roguish grin, and his eyes twinkled.
He simply looked at her for a few moments, but when he spoke, his words stunned her.
“Loopy Laura and Raving Ray”, he said, slowly, as though savouring every syllable. “Two champion morons up against the world.”
The doors opened, and the man stepped out. Laura tried to reach out and grab his arm, but she was blocked by a young Asian woman stepping into the lift. There were four others getting in, and none of them waited for her to get out first. By the time she had escaped the lift, the man was gone.
She wandered the shopping centre, looking for him, for almost fifteen minutes. She felt as though the world had slipped off its axis. How could a stranger know what she had said to her husband on her wedding day?
* * *
“No, crocodile...it’s nothing important. I just read something like it, that’s all. Must just have been a coincidence. I’m going to get back to my movie now...oh, it's OK, but a little too much blood, and far too much cleavage. Don’t work too hard...I love you.”
She hung up, and stared at the telephone receiver. Why couldn’t she tell Ray what had happened to her today?
Because she was too scared, that’s why.
She went back into the living room. The well-endowed Kara Schumann was paused in mid-scream on the TV screen. Laura didn’t want to see any more.
She went to the bookshelf instead, and pulled down a thick, leather-bound photograph album. It had been a wedding present. Probably the least expensive, and the one that had come to mean most to her.
She took it to her armchair, sat down, and opened it.
There was a photograph of the moment Laura had created Loopy Laura and Raving Ray. She remembered the flash, just after she’d said the words. It was one of those ridiculously happy memories, and she had hoarded it jealously, never even telling their daughter Wendy.
Ray had just told her he’d never mentioned it to anyone, either. She believed him. She always knew when he was telling the truth and when he was lying.
She flicked to the picture. It was one of her favourites. Ray was sitting with her at the bar of the Claymore, a few hours after their simple wedding. Their friend Gwen had surprised them with the photo, but she’d been standing some feet away when she’d taken it.
Laura had seen the photo so often it was hard to see it. To really see it.
To see, for instance, the man who was sitting at the bar beside Ray, barely visible past his shoulder, apparently lost in a newspaper.
It was the man she had met in the lift. There was no doubt about it. He had sideburns and heavier frames on the glasses, but it was him.
She realised she was trembling.
She turned the page. The next photograph showed her and Ray standing outside the Savoy cinema in O’Connell Street. They had just seen The Black Hole.
And behind them, walking out of the cinema, arm-in-arm with a pretty blonde woman in a broad-brimmed hat, was the man.
He was looking straight at the camera. She had looked at this photo a thousand times, and she had never seen it. But why should she? It wasn’t so strange for a passer-by to look into a camera, was it?
Her bowels tugged at her. Suddenly, she wanted to use the bathroom really badly, but she kept turning the pages, her horror growing with almost every photograph.
He cropped up in every second or third, always in the background, never looking out of place. Invisible, if you weren’t looking.
He followed them abroad on holiday, into private parties, down through the decades.
The picture that made her cry out was the last.
She had taken it at home, on her own, after decorating the Christmas tree. It was a yearly ritual. Ray had been at his office party that night.
In the mirror above the mantlepiece, to the left of the Christmas tree, she saw her own reflected head and shoulders.
And just visible behind that—- in the hallway, glimpsed through the open door—- the crown of a man’s head.
The doorbell rang.