Shadows – by Véronique Béquin

You said, “They can’t find out,” every time I took the camera out and aimed it at our full hearts.

You said, “My dad would kill me if he knew!” I didn’t tell you mine nearly had when my secret got out.

You said, “My mom always talks about having grandchildren. I can’t break her heart.” I never said mine couldn’t be trusted to hold the ones she already had.

You said, “Let go of my hand. People might see us.” I let go every time but held on inside my skin.

You said, “Let’s move in together!” I had never played house before, but I’d try anything with you.

You said, “Stop pointing that thing at me!” I dropped the lens of the brand new camera you gave me and turned it back to black.

You said, “Let’s rent a two-bedroom apartment. Nobody needs to know we sleep together yet.” I held your yet like a beacon in the dark skies we still lived under and looked for the rainbow ahead.

You said, “My brothers would crack your head open if they knew what we do.” I didn’t tell you that my brother – just a boy then – had spat at me when I’d had to leave home.

You didn’t say a word but hit fist for fist when the drunken soccer team jumped us on our way home from the only gay bar in town.

You didn’t say a word when they split my lip open. We washed each other’s face in silence in our two-bedroom apartment and slept like two spoons in a very cold drawer. We had no words when the haters had no names and recognised us anyway.

You said, “It’ll be fun to go shopping for stuff together.” I ended up buying the sheets and pillows alone. Your mom needed your help with her car. I chose blue, your favourite colour.

You said, “Make sure your vacation is at the same time as mine, we’ll go on a camping trip.” I asked for the time off from my boss. I didn’t tell you about the graffiti in the last washroom stall from the left at work. It tagged me with a word so crude I heaved in the toilet bowl when I read it and never used that stall again.

You said, “Let’s get a dog!” Your mom spoiled that puppy like the grandchildren she thought she wouldn’t get from you. I walked our dog in the sand dunes for hours when your parents visited on Sundays.

You said, “Look at that! What a laugh we had!” I smiled at your family’s Kodak moments. You all wore brightly coloured Christmas paper hats and grinned around the dinner table. You didn’t need a pagan vegetarian coming out of nowhere. Your holy days were yours to choose.

You said, “Here are the keys to my car. What’s mine is yours! I’ll teach you to drive.” I took you home from the bar when one or two beers weren’t enough on pay day and you drank a barrel.

You said, “You are the world to me.” I whispered your words back at you when we slept side by side like two spoons in a warm bowl of soup.

You said, “It’s you and me from now on, girl.” Joy flowed through my veins in an unfamiliar transfusion. I was your girl and you were mine.

You said, “My mom will like these.” I let you take away all the close-ups of your beautiful face I took with the camera you’d given me. Your mom loved them. I loved you.

You didn’t say a word about whether she knew that I was the eye behind the viewfinder. These were the days when cameras couldn’t be tracked within phones so smart they could be traps too.

You said, “See how that pup is all grown!” After five years, our dog was at its full size. She liked to herd us into her pack. You, me, and that wild dog we’d chosen together. More blue sheets had been bought for the bed we shared.

You said, “Okay then! As long as nobody can tell it’s us!” Two more years had passed and you leaned into me when the pale sun was brightest in the blue sky. Blue like the eyes you wouldn’t turn to the lens. Winter had just landed on the blond sand edging the rough sea hesitantly as the tide was going out. Blond like your hair that hid in the shadows.

You said, “You’re my family, you know.” The camera shutter blinked its quiet sound and our dog left her wet paw-prints on our silhouettes. That winter, I kept my family portrait by my side of the bed. Your shadow leaning into mine. Our dog’s criss-cross paw prints right there too. The last time I bought fresh blue sheets for us, you used them for the new girl the same week you introduced her to your mom and dad. They’d been divorced for as long as we’d had our dog.

You didn’t say anything.  I left you the sheets. The dog came with me. The portrait never had time to be framed. But it made me smile for years, once the wound had scabbed over. I was foolishly thankful for that once-in-a-lifetime Kodak moment when I believed in family do-overs and in the gift shadows brought me.

Véronique Béquin’s work has appeared in Sinister Wisdom, CV2, the IO Literary Journal, and the Scapegoat Review, among others. It’s been shortlisted for the Bridport and the Wasafari Prize. Her short story “The Fall Of The Kapok Tree” won the 2019 Alice Munro Short Story prize. Having lived in France and in the UK, she currently lives in Ontario, Canada, where she often writes about grief and loss, and her experiences as an LGBTQIA2S+ writer who has moved across cultures, languages, and countries.

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