The Picture Perfect Day

She hid his promise in her heart with no intentions of letting it go unfulfilled.

Lori clung to her farther’s legs. Tears streamed down her face as she pleaded. “Father, please let me go on vacation with Aunt Beth. I want to see the ocean!

“Not this time.” Her father uttered.

She buried her face in his pants squeezing tightly to muffle her scream. “It ’s not fair!”

Silence invaded the room. Lori wailed, but nothing changed. She knew her father’s decision prevailed over her childish actions.

“One day, sweet pea when you’re older, I’ll take you to see the ocean.” her Father promised.

His promise coated her tears for now, and Lori hid it deep inside her heart with no intent of letting it go unfulfilled. She despised the loneliness born an only child and the youngest in her family brought her.

The gentle bouncing of the car, the slight breeze blowing through the cracked windows and the sound of the roar from the tires against the payment reminded Lori of the lake. She imagined herself lying on a float rocking back and forth with the rhythm of the waves. She closed her eyes and fantasized about the ocean. She listened to the stories her cousins told her, about their trips to the beach, for as long as she cared to remember.

She thought about the blue skies and the sun beaming down on the white sandy beach causing each grain of sand to sparkle like small crystals. She imagined the clear, blue water splashing its waves on the shore pulling the sand from underneath her feet. She envisioned sea shells, by the hundreds, scattered across the shore, the smell of salt in the air, and the breeze constantly blowing through her hair.

She longed to walk on the pier that seemed to stretch a mile into the ocean. Her heart beat rose slightly as she wondered how the sun rising over the ocean appeared to burst from the depths of the water and then slide beneath its surface at sunset. She longed to see the light from the moon glimmer across the blue water breaking into rays of light and then dark again as the waves rolled beneath its sight. Her heart filled with excitement and she felt cold chills sweep across her body  from head to toe. She inhaled a deep breath sighed, closed her eyes and faded off to sleep.

The sound of heavy traffic stunk Lori’s ears waking her out of her sleep. She sat straight up, realizing they must be close to her beloved body of water, she so desired to see.  She wanted to get a peak of it as soon as it surfaced. They turned down one way streets this way and then that way. Lori’s excitement rose each time with hope of a glimpse of the beautiful blue water.

“There it is!” He said.

“Where?” Lori asked, her voice sounding sharp with excitement.

Her heart beat faster as she looked in the direction he was pointing. Her eyes widened as the water came into focus. She remained quiet as they drove down Beach Boulevard to find a parking place. She could hear the roaring of the waves as they walked through the gate to get to the beach.

The cool, wind swept through Lori’s hair sending cold chills across her arms. The gray clouds hid the sun and the blue sky from them. The water looked gray instead of the clear, aqua blue she expected to see. The waves seemed angry as they crashed against the beach splashing water across her legs. The water felt cold. She wore her swim suit underneath her shorts, and tank top. The harsh weather laughed at her choice of clothing; she was sure of it. The sand laid flat and wet on the beach and it appeared the color of rust. Seaweed and half eaten fish lined the beach. Trash clung to the seaweed as if it hoped the waves wouldn’t wash it into the ocean. The air smelled of rotten fish! The stench overpowered the salty air she remembered hearing about.

Two sea gulls glided in the air above them. They squealed and then swooped down and swiped a bite of lunch. They were the prettiest things around. Lori reached in her pocket and retrieved her camera. She gazed through her lens toward them and started snapping pictures. She took pictures of the water and hoped to capture the angry waves.  She took pictures of the beach hoping the trash and half eaten fish wouldn’t be visible in her photos. She was disappointed with the lack of color her photos would add to the photo album she had purchased for the trip.  She had even engraved “My Beach Trip” across the front.

She determined to make the best of the disks she purchased and continued snapping pictures. She finished one disk and put it in her pocket and then slipped the second disk inside her camera. She used all the film and motioned to her mother. There was nothing left to see , she was cold and she was ready to go.

Once they were back in the car, he told Lori this wasn’t a beach tourist flocked to. It was a port where ships docked and unloaded their catch for the day. It also serves as a gateway to the casino boats floating just off shore. Gambling, is what this beach is about.

“Oh and a strong storm came through a couple of days before we arrived,

that’s the culprit for the nasty beach.”  He enlightened her.

Lori shrugged. She slumped in her seat and forced her tears back.  It didn’t really matter at this point. Things didn’t work out the way they were suppose to anyways, so she couldn’t really blame him for the horrible beach he brought them to.  My photo album should read “The Worst Trip Ever” she thought, careful not to say the words out loud. She remained in the backseat for the long drive home.  She wrestled with her emotions.  It seemed life jaded her from the beginning. and things continued on a downward spiral since that horrid day Aunt Beth checked her out of school.

Just before lunch, Aunt Beth came to her school  and checked her out for the day.  Lori tried asking why she took her from school, but all she said was she needed to take her home. Lori’s curiosity piqued when she saw her parent’s vehicles in the driveway and several of their neighbors on the front porch. She ran inside to question her parents and found her mother crying. He didn’t suffer, she was told by someone she didn’t recognize. Lori froze. It occurred to her, someone seemed to be missing.  Her father!

“Who, wait, what?” Lori  muttered.

She placed her hand across her forehead hoping to stop the blood from rushing to her head so fast Her mother put her hand out to touch her’s. Through a broken voice, she said “Honey, your father died today.”

Several pieces of Lori’s  heart died that day too. The parts only a father could fill. The promises he made  shattered without a warning. The special occasions, cancelled! The loneliness she so despised, completely engulfed her.  She was told to be strong, keep moving forward, her father would want her to do just that. Lori wanted the world to stop, if even for a minute, and realize what it had lost in her father’s death! Didn’t they understand, there was loss that punctured a hole in her heart?

The days ahead turned bleak. Joy and laughter,  gone. Lori learned to suppress her feelings to hide her pain. Through damaged emotions, somehow, she trudged on. She was a senior in high school now, and she couldn’t wait to graduate! She hoped for a new season in life. She longed for an opportunity to escape the seemingly bottomless pit of this thing called life! She had grown tired of the loneliness and disappointments she encountered often. There to be something more!

Lori grabbed her time card and punched the clock. She strode out of the local grocery store, where she worked,  and walked next door to the pharmacy. Filled with excitement, she approached the counter and purchased her photos. She thanked the clerk and told him to have a nice day. She trotted to her car, started the engine and turned on the air. She slid her hand inside the thick envelope and slowly removed the photos. Holding them carefully in her hands, she inhaled deeply and looked down at the first picture which showed the two sea gulls in flight. Hmm, they appear very white and, amazingly,  the sky looks blue.

She shuffled to the next photo, another picture of the sea gulls flying closer to the water. Strange, Lori thought. The water is a beautiful blue and the picture is bright! She moved to the next picture. The sea gulls rested on the beach, the white sandy beach with grains  of sand sparkling like small crystals! The next picture, the ocean, blue, clear water with waves floating across the sandy white beach and the sun so bright , it was almost blinding in the picture. There were no ships or boats in the background.

Lori was beginning to question if the lab put the wrong pictures in her envelope. That is the only explanation I have, she was thinking as she flipped to the next picture. Lori’s hand flew across her chest as if to hold her heart. She gasped at the sight! Her father stood, by himself, on the beach in the white sand with the sun”s rays shinning all around him and the waves of water sweeping across his feet. She stared at the photo for some time admiring her father’s face like she remembered it. He appeared to be laughing. His skin glowed.

Picture after picture Lori saw her father standing or sitting on the beach with the ocean behind him. The sun shining bright against the blue sky above him. His mouth opened wide with laughter. Lori wondered what the laughing was all about. She couldn’t see anything except him. How did her photos take a gray, overcast day and turn it into a picture perfect day? She wondered to herself. She gripped the pictures in her hands not daring to look away. She lingered there in her car flipping through the photos again and again until the air condition started to roar. She put the car in drive and headed toward home.

The sound of her alarm clock interrupted her sound sleep. Lori reached over to her nightstand and slammed her hand against it. She worked the early shift today and she hated mornings. She stretched, yawned and threw the covers back. She glanced toward her dresser and caught a glimpse of her father’s picture. She plopped across her bed and started thinking about the dream. The wonderful dream of photographs she held in her hands of her father on a beautiful beach. Her heart felt as light as a feather. If only the photos were real, she lay thinking to herself. The pictures!

She jumped up and finished dressing. She was so distraught from their trip to the beach she put her camera on a small table in the living room and forgot about the disk. Today, she wanted to send the film to be developed. She grabbed her purse from her door and rushed to the table. There, on top of her camera, lay an empty package. Odd, she thought. She picked the camera up and flipped it over to open the back, and saw the disk was missing. Strange, my camera is right where I left it and the extra package as well, but both are empty.

“Mom!” Lori shouted, so her mother could hear her from the kitchen.

“Yes, dear. What is it?” she asked appearing in the doorway.

“Have you seen my disks?” Lori asked.

“Not since you put them right there on the table.” Her mother replied.

“The camera is here, but the two disks are missing.” She told her mother.

“Are you sure you left the disks there? Could they be in your

purse or your bags?” Her mother suggested she look in those places

before jumping to conclusions. Lori, her mother, and the man her mother married spent the next several days looking for her disk. They never appeared. Lori decided to abandon the search and surrender to what she already knew in her heart. She plopped across her bed and stared at the ceiling. She felt elated, light, and somehow renewed and full of hope.  The heaviness she carried in her heart seemed to have gathered some slight speckles of peace.

“Thank you daddy, she whispered, for keeping your promise to show me the

ocean. Thank you for the pictures you sent to me. I will treasure them in my heart forever.”

“Thank you God, for giving my father a picture perfect day on a beautiful beach and for capturing his laughter in the photographs. I will never feel the need to question your love for me again. It has pierced my heart and given me a peace that cannot be explained.” Lori prayed.

With her broken promise fulfilled, a piece of her heart mended. She tucked the moment deep inside it and cherished the fact it could never be taken from her. She understood what her father’s laughter was all about. She was absolutely convinced she was allowed to see a small glimpse of heaven through her father’s expression in those photographs. Heaven and laughter go together. Her father’s face reflected what she could not see behind the photos.  She treasured the experience and someday, she thought to herself, my eyes will behold that which was reflected on my father’s face and we will stroll through heaven together. Until then,  my heart will forever treasure the glimpses I saw through the photographs in my dream.