THE SISTERS' SONG coming in January 2018 from Allen and Unwin. Sign up to my newsletter.

An excerpt from my novel, ‘Ida’s Children’.

LEN’S CAMERA

One night he came out, full as a boot and holding up a cardboard box as if it was a priceless antique.

‘I won! I won!’ he kept saying as he came over.

He’d won a raffle and had a choice between a camera and a side of beef, so he chose the camera.

‘We could’ve eaten the beef,’ I said, as I pushed his bike along the footpath.

‘Ida!’ he said, pumping out his chest. ‘Don’t say that when I’ve just won us a time machine.’

The next day, he took the camera out of its box and held it up for me to see. It was smaller than I expected, not much different to the ones you see today—black, with the round lens jutting out the front, and Leica written on the side.

When I saw the knobs and lever at the top, I said, ‘Are you sure you know how to work it?’

‘’Course I know.’

He opened up the back and hooked up the reel of film, then took me outside to the fence by the veggie garden and told me to pose and smile. I felt as if I was the Queen of England as he fiddled and clicked, but then I grew bored and tired of smiling into the sun, so I started mucking around, pulling silly faces and pouting with my hands on my hips, not trusting the camera would even work.i Nan Allan - Version 2

 

‘Sit still,’ he said.

When he’d finished, he handed it to me to take a photo of him but I didn’t dare. ‘No,’ I said. ‘I don’t know which bit’s which and I might break it.’

So he asked Doreen to take a photo of us out in the street under the power pole.

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The film took a couple of weeks to develop, and cost most of Len’s pay. He had to decide between going to the pub or collecting the photos, and he chose the photos. He stopped going to the pub after that.

When he came home with the yellow Kodak envelope, I could hardly wait for him to open it.

He pulled out his packet of Drum and started rolling a cigarette.

‘Hurry up. Hurry up,’ I said, standing behind him.

‘Hold your horses.’ He lit his smoke then shook out his hanky and wiped his hands, including between each finger, before he slid the photos from the envelope. There, on the top of the pile, was me in my pastel dress with the white collar, sitting on the fence and smiling wanly, as if I was afraid of the camera.

I laughed out loud and so did Len.

He slipped them out one-by-one and I gazed at us caught in the moment. We nearly split our sides at the photo of me, hand on my hat, tilting my head like a movie star and pouting at the camera.

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We marvelled at how it worked, how the light captured the moment somehow and there it was on the glossy card in front of us, never to be forgotten.

‘Don’t bother explaining it,’ I told Len when he started. ‘I’ll never understand.’

I reached for the photo of Len and me by the power pole—Len in his dark trousers and white shirt and me in my checked dress, taller than him but trying to hide it—but Len tapped my hand away.

‘Don’t touch ’em with your dirty fingers.’

I turned back to the sink, humming and smiling as I finished the wiping up, while Len rolled a smoke and looked at the photos all over again.

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THE SISTERS' SONG

Coming January 2018 (Allen and Unwin)

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