Friday, May 13, 2011

Sepia Tones

I bought a box the other day. Not just any box, but a faded cardboard box covered in modge-podge and lace, a modge-podge covered box filled with photographs, photographs faded and done-up in old black-and-white, contrasting shades mellowed out by sepia tones.

I don't quite remember why I bought it, or who I bought it for. I do remember looking through it, pausing at this bundle of glossy paper. There was one that just made me stop and stare. It was a woman, dressed up, standing in front of a microphone. Thin hands for a figure that fills the picture are loosely wrapped around the stand. Her lips are dark black in the color, parted as if she's just finished a line in a song, and her eyes are drawn upward and off, towards a person who isn't in the photograph. She's wearing sensible heels, sturdy soles and thick clasps.

Somehow, I feel a strong connection to this woman who I don't even know. I want to know her story, want to know where she was, why the back of the photo says "Ruth. December", who she's thinking of and why she's in ten other photographs, looking sadder and sadder as I flip through. Who was this dark-haired woman, what is this proof that one Christmas season so many years ago, she sang a song for a man who wasn't even there?

The last picture makes my heart clench and my eyes tear a little. She's in the background, watching a couple dancing. The couple is both strikingly beautiful, the type of All-American look that comes from being born with it. The man's wearing a hat, suspenders and long black-blue-maybe-charcoal pants. His shoes are far too clean, scuff marks all dressed up and only the gleam of the camera's flash let's you know that he was wearing shoes. The woman's eyes are staring at his and she's laughing, her skirt flying back, kicked up as he seems to pull her up out of a dip. Her hair's longer, pulled up in a ponytail, with a scarf hanging off the end.

And suddenly, I understand. Ruth's the one on the outside, wanting in. She fell in love with this man: James, Eric, Andrew, whoever. But he fell in love with this girl: Susie, Elle, Kathy. Her name's far too bright, new, fast-paced and her character's even shinier than Ruth can keep up with. Ruth's tradition, formal dresses, glasses of wine and perfect etiquette. This other girl, she's fast cars, cigarettes, the new glamour of Hollywood and neon lights.

Image courtesy of Liverpool Museum

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