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The Photograph

The Photograph

If it hadn't been for the miracle of the Internet and social media, Anne and Kevin would never have known each other. Even today they have only ever met online, although their relationship is as real to them as it would be between two people who live in the same place and time. Neither are in the first flush of youth; in fact, they are both well into what some describe as their twilight years, although they do not accept any declining of the light and expect to live for many more years. Both got married in their early twenties and had enjoyed decades of fulfilled married life, although latterly both have felt that something was lacking and that a vital spark has somehow been extinguished.

Anne lives in the one of the southern United States in a rural area well away from any large conurbation. Although she once had an active social life, a combination of her husband's illness and the consequences of the recession following the global financial meltdown of 2008 have meant that she now leads a rather isolated existence, and social intercourse is mainly through her online connections. She has a very lively social conscience and is considered by many of her fellow Americans to be politically very radical. She has always been deeply concerned about humanitarian issues and has discovered that social media sites are an ideal forum for sharing information and ideas about the many good causes, which she supports as actively as her financial circumstances allow.

Kevin lives in a major city in the United Kingdom and until his retirement at the age of 60 worked in the public sector as an epidemiologist and public health expert. In his thirties and forties, he was very active in local politics on the left of the political spectrum and has always had a strong commitment to issues of social justice and equality of opportunity. Although he is no longer a political activist, he has continued to give his time as a volunteer with a number of humanitarian organisations and in the local community. Unlike Anne, he has traveled widely, both for pleasure and as a member of teams on humanitarian missions to the Indian sub-continent. He also has discovered that social media are an ideal means of extending his humanitarian and campaigning activities.

It was Anne who first realised the similarity of their outlook on the world. She noticed that Kevin often left approving comments on the items she posted on the most popular of the online social media sites and that he would sometimes add his signature to the online petitions about social justice issues that she supported. Although she was basically rather shy and cautious, she was so intrigued that one day she sent him a request to become a ‘friend’ — up till that point, all her ‘friends’ were either family members or close friends from her local community, so this was rather a brave thing to do. Kevin accepted, and over the next few months, they would occasionally communicate using the messaging service of the site. As the more outwardly extrovert and self-confident of the two, it was Kevin who took the next step when he sent Anne his email address and suggested that they might correspond by email, but only if she was happy to do so.

Gradually their letters became more intimate in nature, and before long they were sharing details about their private lives and started to send each other pictures of their homes and families. One day they became aware that the email provider that they both used also had a function that allowed them to hold realtime text conversations and even to talk as if they were on the telephone. When Anne first spoke to Kevin on her mobile phone there was an immediate "connection", not on a superficial level, but a true meeting of minds and hearts. As Kevin put it to Anne after a while, it was as if they were two separate parts of the same mind and it was amazing how often they would say the same things at the same time, or complete each other's sentences. They soon both realised that their feelings went beyond friendship and that, without meaning to, they were falling in love.

One day Kevin asked Anne to commit herself to him for evermore by becoming his "wife," and to his immense joy, she accepted. There and then they exchanged vows to love, honour and care for each other, in both good and bad times, until their life's ending, forsaking all others as the wedding service puts it — that is all others apart from their real-life partners of course. Wonderfully, neither felt jealous of the other's husband or wife, although they kept their relationship a secret from them, since they did not wish to hurt them in any way and did not feel that there was any conflict with their real-life marriages.

Both Anne and Kevin believed that in some way their relationship was no mere accident, but something that was fated, and that it was inevitable that it would happen. Although this might sound far-fetched, the following story might explain why this was so.

One day Anne sent Kevin a picture of a poster for an exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington of black and white photographs of various American cities taken in the early years of the 20th Century before the Great War. The picture was of a young couple standing in front of some building or other. The woman was apparently in her early twenties. She was dressed smartly and wearing a fur stole, and had her arm through the arm of the man, who appeared to be a few years older than she was. He had a black beard and the short hair of the period and was wearing a rather dashing fedora.

Anne was particularly excited, and said, "Look it's us, it's you and me in the picture."

Kevin replied that that couldn't be possible since they had never met in real life, although he did accept that the couple did look a bit like they had in pictures taken when they were in their twenties. However, Anne was insistent that it really was a picture of them.

When Kevin asked her for more information, she replied that it was a picture of the photographer featured in the exhibition and his fiancé. She went on that she had been so intrigued by the picture that she had made further enquiries and was told that the photographer was William Chesters, and his fiancé was a lady called Sarah O’Donnell, which was the name of her grandmother.

The photographer William had been born in Pittsburgh, the son of an Englishman called George Chesters and an American woman. His mother had died when he was an infant, and he had been brought up by his maternal aunts, his father having returned to England in the late 1880s, promising to send for his son but failing to do so. Kevin was amazed by this, as his maternal great grandfather was a man called George Chesters, a potter from Stoke-on-Trent in England who had gone to Pittsburgh in the early 1880s to pass on his skills to the fledgling pottery industry there. He had returned to England towards the end of the decade, where he had married Kevin’s great grandmother, and fathered several children, of whom Kevin’s grandmother was the second eldest. However, he never mentioned that he had formed a relationship with a woman while he was in America and that they had had a son together.

William died in the Great War during the first Battle of the Somme in July 1916, having gone to Canada in 1915 to volunteer for the Dominion forces. Anne said that there had been a story in her family that her grandmother had been previously engaged to an American before she married her actual grandfather and that the man had died in France. Since her grandmother had married in 1917 before the Americans joined in the conflict, she had thought that the story was purely apocryphal, but now it made complete sense.

In conclusion Anne felt that it was inevitable that she and John would fall in love once they met, and that they were fated to become lovers and then marry because they were completing the love story of her grandmother and John's grandmother's step brother, a love story that had been so cruelly cut short by the war. The moral of this story is that true love never dies and will inevitably triumph in the end over all barriers of time and geography.



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Copyright © 2020 by Keith Paver

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