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Photo Booth

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It’s like we’re fixed in time. I suppose it’s always like that with a photograph but this seems more so. I’ve been rummaging, having a clear-out, sorting through drawers and boxes. I pick up a pile of papers it falls out, drops to the floor, looking up at me.

The afternoon was a hot one. I remember that well. We’d been sitting round with ghetto blasters in funky park. We went there a lot of days that summer.  At least we called it funky park because the tunes we played there were always loud and always as funky as hell. It was that sort of summer. It was just the town’s municipal park but it was the best we had.

There was a bunch of us, Jack and Austin, and the rest of them. Jack had started talking to a group of girls who were sitting on the grass a few yards from us. I assumed they were from the local college. There were some I’d seen around before, others I didn’t know.

Jack was getting on with one of them, a brunette with a pixie cut. That didn’t surprise me. Jack was always getting on well with girls with pixie cuts. It was no more than we expected of him. The upshot was that they all came over and joined us. The rest joined in the conversation and got us to turn up the music louder.

I noticed one of them, who was sitting a couple of feet away. She glanced over from time to time. She was blonde, with hair that fell over her shoulders, in a pink summer top, cut-off jeans, and with a pair of shades perched on her nose. It wasn’t long before we were talking. Call me Roxy. Everyone else does. That’s what she said when we introduced ourselves.

We stayed in the park for an hour or so. Then there was a mood among everyone that we should leave and hang round town for a while. There was a band on at The Railway that night and we were heading there, but there was shopping to be done first. Austin in particular was keen to do that. He was trying to find a certain look. He’d seen it in a picture in a fanzine he’d picked up a few days before. I remembered him walking into the cafe with it. Thunderbird three was on the cover. Or was it Thunderbird one?

So we left the park and headed down the high street. Roxy was walking with me. She was telling me about what she’d done at college, this course in fashion design. But now there were no jobs so she was working as a receptionist somewhere, for now at least. She was covering for someone who was away and didn’t know how long it would last. She expected to be there a couple of months, no more.

What would she do then, I asked? She laughed and threw her hair back. She had no idea. She didn’t make plans. The next few months would take care of themselves. It was her duty to let them, as far as she believed in duty, that was. It was the same for all of us. If you planned too much, you missed the journey.

I looked at her and smiled. She was right of course. Though how many of us follow that advice?

The shop Austin wanted to go to was in a side street. It was a second-hand one, selling all this used clothing. We often paid it a visit if we were in town. Austin laughed as we walked in, and said he knew exactly what look he wanted. Then he disappeared round the rails.

Roxy and I made our own way round. There were some polo shirts hanging up, though none of them were in my size. She looked at some skirts but decided not to bother. Then we went over to some hats and tried them on. She laughed as I put on a trilby and said it suited me. I wasn’t sure. Then she put on a floppy cap and we laughed as we looked at each other in the mirror and pulled silly faces.

I did buy some shades of my own though, some wayfarer ones. I put them on as I walked out of the shop.

Austin was standing outside with a scarf in his hand. It was, he said, just the sort of scarf he was looking for, all blue and polka dots. He put it round his neck and headed down the street, arms in the air and turning and telling us it was time to follow him.

Then Roxy spotted it, a photo booth next to a shop. She looked at me and smiled. Come on, she said. Let’s go and get our pictures taken. I laughed and said that sounded fun. So we headed into the booth and sat down, the two of us crammed together, onto the one seat that was in there. I found some loose change from somewhere in my pocket and put it in the slot. There would be four pictures in the set. We sat and posed and grinned, first with our shades on, then with them off, then exchanging them, her in my new wayfarers and me in her girlie ones.

The final picture was of us laughing uncontrollably. We looked at each other and waited a few moments until the pictures came out, four-quarters of a Polaroid. Then she put her arm round me and kissed my cheek. I returned the compliment and we sat there for a minute or so until we decided we should catch up with the others.

So we left the booth and raced down the street to the rest, who were nearly at The Railway. We followed them into the bar where everyone bought drinks. It was only a little after six and the band wouldn’t be on for a couple of hours or more. I stood and bought Roxy’s and mine. Snakebites were all the rage back then and some of them opted for that. I stuck to my lager which I requested be served in a straight glass, of course.

We ensconced to a table and the two of us sat in a corner. We laughed at the Polaroid and decided we needed to share it. We tore it in half, taking two pictures each. I slipped mine into my wallet and sat and drank my beer, carrying on the conversation with her that had continued unabated all afternoon. The band was doing their sound check upstairs. You could hear them from time to time, in the breaks in between the Bowie and Jam records we loaded on repeat onto the jukebox in the corner.

After a while, it was time to move on. The beers had their early evening effect. My head was feeling muzzy as we left the bar and headed up the stairs to see the band. There were already a few people around and it was filling up all the time. We went to the bar and got more drinks and headed to the front.

We milled around for a while until the band came on. I can’t remember what they were called now but they blew everyone away. There were four of them, a manic drummer, a cool-looking bass player with white blonde hair, a crazed guitarist who raced around all over the stage, and a cool as hell keyboards player, who just stood there, his floppy fringe falling forward over his face, entrancing the crowd with his Hammond organ goodness.

I looked at everyone, Jack and the pixie haircut girl at the front of the stage, Austin with her friends, his new scarf hanging loosely round his neck. And Roxy and me, just behind, my arm round her shoulders. I remember that moment as clearly as if it was yesterday. We were going back to Jack’s later, having an impromptu party. Who knew what fun and frolics would await.

Things were about to explode on stage. The guitar player was so manic. He was out of control. He lost it at one point, raced back, and crashed straight into the drums. Part of the drum kit fell over and he was on his back, feedback flying out of the speaker. He was laughing. Then he got up and carried on. Roxy and I looked at each other, grins all over our faces. All the time, the band kept playing their tunes.

I saw Roxy a few times after that. We left Jack’s house the following morning and said we’d see each other in funky park. That’s what we did. She and her friends were there or, in the evenings, in The Railway or The Crown.

That summer seemed like it lasted forever. But it was only a few weeks, looking back. In any case, I had other things on the horizon. I was going away to college soon and had started to ready myself, getting mentally prepared to move on. When I came home at Christmas, Roxy had moved on herself, I never found out where. No one mentioned her or her friends. You just moved seamlessly from one to the next. It was the way things were back then, and still is.

I lean down and pick the picture up, and have a proper look. There’s a boy and a girl, not much more than children, sitting and laughing at the camera. These two had so much to experience, the lessons of life - good and bad - ahead for the learning. I wonder what happened to them.

Time. That’s where I am, pondering its mysteries, its questions. Sometimes it distorts your vision of events. Sometimes it makes it clearer. Most of the time it tells you all you need to know. There can be a tendency to play with the past, and imagine how things could have been different. It’s best not to. Let the picture tell the story, take you to a summer afternoon long ago. You don’t need anything more.


Written by BillySoho
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