The final panel in my Tunbridge Wells Writers / Italian Street Scene triptych, complete, as always, with the image ‘prompt’. Parts one and two can be found elsewhere on the website or by downloading the FREE e-book containing my own and other Tunbridge Wells Writers’ stories via the link at the foot of the page…
Every Picture Tells a Story
The restaurant was quiet, less than a third of its tables occupied in the lull between lunchtime and evening diners. It enjoyed a steady supply of customers from the cinema next door, but wouldn’t be filled to capacity again until the evening showings an hour or so later.
Peter and Katie were sitting at a Goldilocks table – not too far from the attention of waiting staff but not too near to the main thoroughfare for the salad island, which, even at this time of day, could be noisy and distracting. They were in a booth, sitting opposite one another on plush leatherette benches with high backs that gave the illusion of privacy. Peter was wearing cream chinos and a dark blue polo shirt. Kate was wearing a pale yellow, floral-print, halter-neck sundress that showed her tanned shoulders and made her look much more grown up than her eleven years. Peter thought her achingly beautiful. He noticed she was wearing the thin silver bracelet he had recently bought her and the tiny stud earrings she had asked him for at Christmas. He wondered if she had put them on for him, or whether these were favourites she wore constantly.
He held her hand across the table. “You’re wearing the bracelet I bought you,” he said, spinning it on her slender wrist.
“Yes. And your earrings. I wear them most days. Haven’t you noticed before?”
Peter felt pleased and admonished at the same time. He smiled.
“Do you like my new dress?” she asked. “Mummy says it makes me look ever so grown up.”
“It does, especially with your hair tied back like that. You look beautiful.”
“Oh shut up!” she said, but Peter could see she was pleased.
She took a sip – more a slurp – from her cola then slid herself out of the booth. “I’ve got to go for a wee” she said, starting towards the toilets. Peter watched her go, his smile fading as she turned away from him. He looked at the leftovers on her plate, toyed with a discarded pizza crust before dropping it back into a salad consisting almost entirely of cherry tomatoes and potato wedges.
When Katie came back she seemed distracted. “What’s up, hun?” Peter asked.
“I’ve just remembered I’ve got homework to hand in tomorrow and I forgot to do it yesterday ‘cos Amy was round for a sleepover.”
“Ah. Better get your finger out tonight, then. What is it, maths?”
“Ugh! No, it’s English, thank god, easy peasy once I get started.” Katie loved reading and writing, and Peter had no doubts she would hand in something the following day that would earn her top marks.
“So what sort of writing is it, an essay or a story?”
“Both. Or either, I guess. We have to find a picture we like and then write a story about it. It can be anything, as long as it matches the picture.”
“Have you chosen a picture yet?”
“Nope. That’ll be the hardest part. I want something that’s interesting but not too easy. The other kids will probably just pick a picture of someone off the telly or something and write about them, but I don’t want a story about Eastenders or Casualty ‘cos anyone can do that.”
Peter laughed. “Smartarse” he said, leaning across the table to rough her hair.
“Don’t,” she said, ducking her head from under his hand.
There was a moment’s silence.
“What about that picture there?” Peter asked, pointing to a print hanging nearby on the wall. It was a grainy black-and-white photograph of three men and a dog on a street corner. Katie turned to look, screwing her face up in concentration.
“Actually, that could be really good,” she said, picking up her phone to take a picture of the picture. “We have to take them in to show Miss Stephens – do you think this will be alright?”
“I’m sure it will be,” said Peter, “She’ll think you’re very resourceful. So what do you think, then? What’s the story?”
They looked at the picture together while Katie gathered her thoughts. “Where do you think it is?” she asked, “And when?”
“Well they don’t look British,” Peter offered. “My guess would be Italian or French from the look of the young fella and the beer sign, but it could be Little Italy in New York too. It looks like the late fifties or early sixties from the younger guys clothes – perhaps he’s a Mafioso on his way to shoot somebody?”
“No. He looks too happy. What’s a Mafioso?”
“A member of the Mafia – they’re Italian criminals, a huge gang who call themselves ‘the family’.”
“I know what the Mafia is – it’s in loads of films – I just didn’t know that other word. How do you spell it? I might use it in my story.”
“M-A-F-I-O-S-O,” Peter waited a moment for her to repeat the letters in her head, then asked; “So what do you think is going on then?”
“Well the old men at the back are easy,” said Katie, “The one sitting on the bench is angry because he’s just found dog poo on his shoe. He knows it didn’t come from the other man’s dog but he’s angry with the dog anyway. The other old man is a bit angry too because he thinks the other man thinks the poo was from his dog and it wasn’t, but he doesn’t want to say anything in case he starts a big row…”
“And what about the young man, is he Mafioso?”
“No. I’ve already said, he looks too happy. Well he could be, I suppose, but he’s not on his way to kill anyone. Is he rolling a cigarette? Yuk!”
“He could be. Or blowing someone a kiss, maybe”
“No, he’s rolling a fag the dirty beggar… He looks kind of happy and sad, don’t you think? And smart like he’s going on a date. But then why would he look happy and sad if he was going on a date – he’d just be happy?”
“It’s your story”, said Peter, “You tell me.”
Katie looked again at the picture and then spoke.
“I know: he’s like you,” she said, “a man who’s split up with his family and only gets to spend time with his daughter every other weekend. He’s happy because he will soon see her and he’s really missed her, but he’s sad because he knows when she goes home it will be another fortnight before he can see her again.”
Peter was glad she was looking at the picture on the wall, knowing that it would have been impossible for his face not to register the jolt of pain he felt in his chest and stomach. He hid all of that behind a wide smile as Katie turned towards him again.
“I think that’s a beautiful story,” he said, “and you deserve the biggest ice-cream float this place can deliver for thinking of it.”
The free Tunbridge Wells Writers e-book (a dozen stories in total) can be downloaded in all formats from Smashwords via the link on the right.