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Cabinet of Chic Curiosities

That Damned Tram

“Parisian woman with her cat in her cannabis garden, 1910”

Jasper was late. His very first client, who had booked suddenly with him that very morning, surely would be unimpressed with his punctuality. He sprung up the stairs of the elegant, yet eerily somber, red brick mansion and anxiously rapped on the door, his camera equipment juggled under his

No one answered. Or are they refusing him? He was 45 minutes late thanks to the tram accident that had occurred two days prior and was forced to walk the 5 kilometres. The fiery inferno, the result of a surprise collision between opposing trams; now claimed his new reputation as a photographer, as well half a dozen lives.

“That damned tram” he cursed under his breath. He wiped his brow, damp with sweat. The maid who called upon him this morning didn’t give him many details, just that the family needed a photographer to capture their daughter’s image that very afternoon. He didn’t feel prepared and suggested she go see Mr. Bennet, the camera pioneer in their small city. Unfortunately, he had taken ill with a cold and Jasper was their only option.
He rapped again, harder. His first client after months of practice to master his new camera (the first in the area!) would undoubtedly bruise his reputation as a skilled photographer.

He sighed and began to head home when the door opened with a screech.
A woman’s face peeked through the darkness, grimacing with the shock of natural light. She wasn’t old, maybe in her early forties, but she looked aged. Her eyes seemed swollen and her lips tight and dry. With downcast eyes, she quietly said “Excuse me Mr. Bernard, I was in the garden preparing Esther for the photo and did not hear you. Please, follow me.”

Jasper removed his hat and nodded, silently following her through the hallway and into the garden. The house smelled of stale bread and unwashed clothes. He wondered where the servant girl he had spoke
with earlier had gone. His subject was seated on the terrace and he subtly studied her profile as her mother led him past. Tendrils of curly auburn hair escaped from the knot tied at the nape of her long neck, which was slightly inclined to the side as she read a newspaper balancing upon her knee. Jasper’s heart thumped in his chest. He had never found a woman so beautiful and he suddenly felt strangely timid.

Setting down his equipment, he began to introduce himself when Esther’s mother’s high-pitched voice interrupted him. “Just complete the photo quickly Mr. Bernard. I’ll be back in 10 minutes to see you out.” She left him in the garden with Esther, accompanied only by a grey cat whose tail swung slowly back and forth on the table. He glanced at Esther’s hand resting on the newspaper. No ring. Perhaps he was photographing her for the annual Debutant Ball in a few weeks. He wanted to learn more about her, to hear her voice, but decided he should do the photograph first. She was silent and with the exception of the birds tweeting in the cage behind her, the August air still, heavy with humidity.

“Are you ready Miss?” he asked, “I’m going to do a test shot first, then we can do a few different poses if you’d like”. He placed his head under the hood and began to count down. “Don’t be alarmed by the flash of light, try
not to move. 3, 2, 1.. “ Jasper focused his lens on Esther, studying her full face directly for the first time.

Those same delicate tendrils of hair framed her face, curling around her ears. Her chin was round and her lips full. As his eyes roamed up further, something began to not feel right. He blinked his eyes, bracing for the flash that always startled his subjects.

POOOOOF! Jasper jumped back from his camera, knocking it to the ground. Esther hadn’t even flinched. Her eyes remained open, focused. Staring forward. Cold. And dead.

Her mother stepped out from behind the rose bushes, silently sucking on a rolled cigarette. She blew the smoke out in an airy wave as a single tear slid down her cheek. “That damned tram”.

Morgan Walesh spends her time revealing insightful yet comically aloof historical gems hidden in plain sight throughout the streets of Paris. 

Read more stories from the MNC Storyteller Challenge here.