The Only Photograph

“It’s stuffed. I’ve pushed all the buttons and nothing happens.”

“I’ve been telling you to get it fixed for months. Come back out here then, the heat is just trapped inside like a bloody sauna.”

Tama shut the ranch slider behind him and joined Suzie in the moonlit courtyard. “I can’t remember it ever being this hot in December. Global warming, eh?”

Suzie leaned back into the chair, closed her eyes and looked to try and slow her breathing in an effort to keep cool. “Well, at least the kid’s air-con is working. It’s hard enough being pregnant on a normal night, let alone in the middle of a heat wave. Hopefully, Chelsey will be able to get some sleep.”

Tama grunted as he eased himself into the seat next to his wife. He looked at her in the silver light as she kept her body as still as a beam. Her upper lip had a line of wet dots mirroring his own, and the streaks of grey framing her face looked as black as the rest of her hair as it stuck to her skin. He smiled and patted her hand. “I’ll get it fixed tomorrow.”

Suzie turned her hand to clasp it with Tama’s and gave it a soft squeeze. He squeezed back and looked up at the glittering black sky. “Another Christmas, eh love. How many is that now? 37?”

“38. You never could keep count.”

“Hey!” He dug his index finger into her palm. “I remember the important stuff.”

She smiled and opened one eye for a moment to peek at him. “Yeah, you do.”

“Remember that first Christmas here with Chelsey?”

“Of course I do. Best one we ever had.”

“This heat actually reminds me of the Christmas before that. I remember that one too.”

Suzie pulled her hand away and placed it with her other on her lap. The crickets screamed, fighting to be heard over the jetlagged cicadas. Tama looked back at his wife and saw a frown crease into her forehead.

“Come on, Suzie. We never talk about this. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, with Chelsey’s due date nearing…”

“Why bring it up again? It doesn’t matter anymore. Life has gone on.”

“She asked me the other day if we had any photos of the birth. Of you and her in those first moments.”

“We didn’t take as many photos back then. This generation has to document it all, not everything needs to be filmed!” Suzie sat up and tossed in her seat as she re-adjusted her position. “What did you tell her?”

“I said I’d have a look. Suze, maybe it’s time to talk about it again. Maybe she should know.”

“No, Tama. I’ve made my peace with it. Why, after all these years, haven’t you?”

They sat in silence as nothing but hot, thick air hung around them, trapping them under its weight. Tama looked back up at the night sky and remembered.

 

 

Beep. Beep. Beep.

Tama felt a cold shiver down his spine as the metallic sound invaded his ears. The insipid stench of hospital air couldn’t be veiled by the usual joy in the maternity ward. He would feel better once he knew they were all ready to leave and the doors were swinging behind them. They wouldn’t be at home for Christmas, but that was the least of Tama’s worries. Christmas could wait.

He rounded the corner into Room 8, the air dense and warm as the ceiling fan rattled and thumped above them. He stood in the doorway and watched the three of them for a moment. Suzie stirred and smiled as she recognised him.

“Hello, my love. Girls, Daddy’s back.” She sang to the sleeping babies in the cot next to her. Tama smiled, dropped his bag down and walked to her side. He leaned over to place a kiss on her damp forehead and turned to admire his daughters in their hospital cot. “They really are perfect, aren’t they?”

“Utterly.” Suzie choked out the word as tears welled in her eyes. Her face was pale and lined with exhaustion from lost sleep and the stress of trying to feed two stubborn newborns. Tama placed his hand on hers and sat down on the side of the bed. Suzie leaned into him.

“What have we done, Tama?” She grabbed his hand and pulled his arm down to her face as she began to sob. “I can’t do it.”

Tama gripped his wife and stared at the girls. He couldn’t cry. He couldn’t bring himself to let go. Not yet.

“We’ve talked about this. We don’t have to be in the room. The agency has it all sorted. We’ll have our little girl, and we’ll have said our goodbyes.”

“How can I say goodbye, Tama? What did she do? She doesn’t deserve to lose her sister, to lose us.”

Tama gritted his teeth and took in a deep breath. How was he supposed to keep it together if he had to consider these things? How would Suzie cope if he wasn’t strong for her? It was bad enough knowing he couldn’t provide for his family, that they even had to make this decision in the first place.

The day-nurse knocked on the window before she crept into the room. Behind her was a tall, elegant woman in a tight black dress and with festive, mistletoe earrings dangling on either side of her face. She smiled without teeth as she followed the nurse inside the room.

“Mr & Mrs Jones? This is Mrs Howard. She just has a few questions for you before you can take your family home this evening.” 

“But – it’s Christmas Day. I – I thought we wouldn’t be discharged until tomorrow.” Suzie looked up at Tama, her eyes wide.

“The family are here today, they are ready now.” The tall mistletoe woman spoke with a posh accent. Tama wondered what she thought of people like them. She placed her handbag on the empty food tray and withdrew a clipboard and pen.

“We just thought we’d get to have one Christmas together that’s all,” Tama said. “But I guess it’s easier this way…”

“I’m sure this is incredibly hard for the two of you. We just need this paperwork filled out with final signatures, then the process is complete,” Mrs Howard instructed. “You are doing a very wonderful thing. My clients are so grateful.”

Suzie clamped her mouth shut with her lips and whimpered by Tama’s side. He nodded and with a shaking hand took the clipboard from Mrs Howard and returned it signed.

“Wonderful. That’s all we need. We’ll just process this and be back shortly. We’ll leave you to say your goodbyes.”

The room was emptied, leaving only Tama and his three girls in the weighty silence. The fan thumped on. Suzie leant over the cot as her body was wracked with sobs. She whispered to her babies as she picked each one up to lay in her arms back on the bed. “We love you. We love you.”

Tama couldn’t handle what he was feeling inside. He looked at the three of them and his heart swelled. He had never felt so much love inside of his body before this moment and the weight of it threatened to drown him. 

“She’ll have a better life. We all will. We’ll get back on our feet and we’ll go find her. Tell her why we had to do it.” Tama scrambled. He wished he could do anything to change it. But they just couldn’t afford two kids. They could barely afford one.

Suzie nodded but continued to whisper and coo over the babies, lost in their faces. Tama just stood in silence and took them all in. This would be the last time he would see them this way. All together. He remembered his bag and walked over to grab it. Inside he pulled out his camera and removed the cover from the lens. Suzie looked up at him with a wary look.

“Just as you are. Don’t move. You are all perfect.”

Tama brought his eye to the lens and what he saw through it really was perfect. He adjusted the focus and pressed the shutter button.

“Thank you.” Suzie murmured and beckoned Tama over with a flick of her head. They huddled together looking at their two beautiful daughters, knowing one would soon be taken away forever. Tama placed a hand on Suzie’s neck and began to cry.

 

 

Tama’s tears streaked hot down his face and he felt exposed in the moonlight. Beside him, he could feel Suzie’s eyes on him, and she reached to take his hand again.

“I’m sorry I could never talk about it, Tama. I’ve just never forgiven myself.”

“Neither have I.”

They sat there holding hands, as wordless as that Christmas Day all those years ago. Tama knew they were both remembering their girls as they were that day, innocent and lovely in their arms.

Suzie began fanning her face with her hand. “You can show Chelsey the photo, love.”

Tama clamped shut his eyes and took in a sharp breath. A few heavy tears leaked through their barrier as he exhaled. “I’ll fix this. We’ll look for her. They may both hate us for it, but I’ll fix that too.”

Suzie nodded and let her own tears drip down her chin and neck.

There was a clunking sound and then three metallic beeps from inside the house. Tama smiled and wiped his eyes. “Well, that’s the air-con fixed. See, I’m working miracles already.”

Suzie smiled. “My very own Mr Fix It.”

They stood hand in hand and walked back inside the house.

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