The Children in the Photo

Photo by Mauro Metallo

“There used to be children playing on those swings, I remember them clearly,” says Sarah, tapping the black & white photo with her index finger.

“Uh huh. And what do you see now, in the photo?”

Sarah looks out the leaded-glass window of the doctor’s office at a street bustling with traffic, at umbrellas with people under them hurriedly trying to get out of the grey afternoon downpour. She hooks a loose strand of hair that’s fallen across her face and curls it behind her ear. The doctor steeples his hands under his chin, feigning patience. The sleeves of his tattered, mocha-coloured corduroy jacket ride up his forearms unnoticed.

The photo waits also, laid flat on the polished mahogany desk between them.

“I don’t know what I see. I see empty swings under a grey sky. I see no children.” She frowns at the photo, unsure of the right answer.

“There are no right or wrong answers, Sarah,” the doctor says. “Just relax and let your mind wander. Don’t try so hard. You’re not on trial, yet.” He gives her a weak smile and an encouraging nod.

“Yes, doctor, I won’t,” she says. She meets his eye; her mouth tightens into a thin line. She looks back down at the photo, eyebrows furrowed with worry. Come on, she thinks to herself, it’s right there, the answer. The doctor picks up his pen and scribbles something into his notebook.

A small black bird thumps into the window, likely disoriented by the rain. It lands on the concrete ledge. Both Sarah and the doctor rise out of their chairs with a start.

“My gosh, a bird,” says Sarah.

The doctor exhales loudly and sits back down behind the desk. He runs a hand over his receding hairline. The large clock on the wall seems to get louder as the seconds tick away. “Don’t worry about the bird, Sarah, we’ve got a lot of work to do. Now, the photo.”

Sarah takes her seat and tries to brush the wrinkles from her green dress. She turns her attention back to the photo. She knows it means so much to her life, or at least what’s to become of it. The judgment starts tomorrow.

The doctor leans back and waits.

Sarah pretends to look at the photo but can’t stop thinking about the bird. What a strange thing to happen, she thinks. What ever could it mean? Finally, she sneaks a glance at the windowsill.

Just like the children in the photo, the bird on the windowsill is gone.

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