I wanted Mom to see me nodding in the rearview mirror. She looks in the mirrors as much as she does through the windshield, so I’d moved to the middle, putting my head directly between the mirror and the world disappearing behind us. I preferred dad’s driving style, focused on the things hurtling toward the car, but mom’s constant glances allowed me to silently support Leo as he nagged her to drive through the Photomat on the way home.
“They won’t be ready, Leo.” Mom made sure to catch my eye in the mirror. “I see you, Warren. Please pick a side.” I slid back to the window.
“Mom, they only tell you 24 hours so they don’t get Aunt Agnes hammering on the window and demanding her bingo pictures four hours after she dropped them off. It’s not as if they’re scrambling to get them done at 23:45. Let’s check. If they’re not ready, it’s not like we even have to get out of the car.” Leo was eager to get the pictures because mom took photos of us with our cousins and their friends, and their friends included Cara, who looked like she was being groomed to be a Bond girl. Leo hadn’t shut up about her since we got home.
“I bet they won’t be ready,” she said as we pulled up to the little pagoda-roofed shop that looked like a converted phone booth. When mom asked if the photos were ready, the clerk asked it was Reed with an E or an A.
“This place has space for about fifty stacks of photo,” Leo whispered after mom said E. “What are the odds there’s a Reed and a Read in that pile?” I knew a Jenny Read in elementary school, but I kept it to myself. It seemed unlikely her family dropped their film the same day we did.
When the clerk flashed the photo envelope to mom and told her $3.87, Leo grinned. “Don’t be smug, young man,” she said as she dug into her purse for her Kodak coupon and a fiver, then thanked the man when he handed back the photos and her change.
“Say hi to the Reads with an A for us,” Leo said as we pulled away. Mom slapped his knee, but I cracked up. I slid to the middle again and sat forward, putting my arms on the back of their seat so I could watch as Leo looked at the pictures.
“Warren? Guess what I’m about to say.” I slid a bit to the right so I could still look over Leo’s shoulder, but he wasn’t looking at them, he was just flipping through like a librarian rifling though the card catalog.
“I don’t think we got the right photos. These are all fish.”
Mom kept checking her mirrors. “What does that mean?”
“It means it’s just pictures of fish.” Leo began dealing them like playing cards onto the bench between them. Striped fish, red fish, big fish, one of the coral with no fish, blue fish, on and on. “Did you take all these?” He was asking mom – she’d been in charge of the Instamatic through the whole weekend in Boston. The aquarium had been our first stop.
When we got to a red light, mom picked up one of the photos. “Oooo, I remember these. Don’t they look like giant bumble bees?”
“So they are our photos?” I was going to ask if the envelope said Reed-with-an-E, but I kept it to myself. I figured Leo would get there on his own.
“I think so,” mom said without confidence. “I definitely took some pictures at the aquarium.”
“You took all the pictures at the aquarium, mom!”
“No I didn’t. I took pictures of you guys at Bunker Hill, and Faneuil Hall, and on the boat taxi. Not just fish.”
Leo started picking up the pictures and counting aloud, the increasing numbers making mom glance even faster from mirror to windshield to mirror. He kept going until all the photos were in his hand. “37. All fish.”
“I don’t think that’s right, Leo.” I reached into the front and grabbed the stack out of his hands.
Leo flipped over the photo envelope. “Reed with an E.” He dumped out the negatives and held a strip up to the sunlight. “Fish, fish, fish, fish, fish.”
“No, I’m sure I took other photos.”
“I’m sure you pointed the camera at us, mom. Did you hear a click when you took them? Did you wonder why you didn’t have to wind it?”
“Settle down, young man. What are you so upset about? It’s not like you wanted a picture of yourself at Bunker Hill. You posed like it was part of your penance.”
Leo slumped against the passenger door, making a big show of his silence. I wished one of them would turn on the radio but they were busy trying to punish each other with the quiet. Since I couldn’t reach the knobs from the back seat, I kept looking at the pictures. Most of them were blurry, and all of them were washed out by the flash reflecting off the tank glass, but I wanted to tell mom she was right — that one school did look a little like a bunch of bumble bees. But I kept it to myself.
© 2016 WPReagan. This is one story in the 2016 series, Everyday Stories: 30 Tales in 30 Days Inspired by 30 Stranger’s Photographs.