Harry is very well known around town. His camera shop survives despite the power of the nationwide franchises, the big boys, the multinationals. It is probably the personal touch that does it, that indefinable something that makes the difference between an impersonal sale and an act of friendship. It is well known that at Harry’s you can depend on sound advice untainted by commercial gain. Harry, and each of his well-trained staff, will always advise on the best deal for you, even when that means lower profits on the deal.
It isn’t unusual to see Harry around the town, but rare to catch him without a camera. He uses a range of cameras, of course; but though you might not recognise it, he uses the Hasselblad more than any other. Harry loves this camera, having bought it second-hand when he was only eighteen after saving for it for three years.
When he is on the streets his camera is mounted on a large wooden tripod, heavy but rigid. The Reis tripod is another of his early purchases and, like the Hasselblad, his favourite.
Harry is famous, locally at least, for his street photography, and has had many exhibitions of his work. People are relaxed and confident with Harry, often approaching him as he is working and asking him to make their portrait, or to capture the image of a family, or maybe the new car, with the proud owner beside it.
Secretly, Harry is annoyed and exasperated by these requests, but smiles and accedes: he recognises that this is the price he must pay for working in the public eye. Despite his irritation he brings all his professional skill to play, taking time to set up the image, discussing with the customer (for he charges heavily, even for these impromptu sessions) what they are hoping to find in his work, explaining the details of what he is doing, and why. The results of these sessions rarely fail to gratify the customer.
Fortunately, Harry finds almost as much pleasure in these basically irritating events as he does in his pursuit of his favourite images. After all, making images of his customers provides a good part of his bread and butter. He knows only too well that his reputation depends on his unfailing politeness and professionalism. He is also only too aware that his rather eccentric appearance around the streets of the town, his almost antique equipment and the rather quaint picture he makes, black cloth over his head and long concentration on getting the light exactly right, the angle perfect, the scene set just so, makes excellent advertising. It is, in fact, the only advertising he does.
The black cloth, of course, is an affectation. The viewing screen on the Hasselblad is perfectly adequate for use in bright sunshine, although the occasional use of a hand to shade the screen further is often useful. The cloth, though, has other, more serious uses. Once under the cloth, his manipulation of the lens becomes almost invisible, allowing him great freedom in the composition of the image. It might seem, for instance, that he is making an image of, perhaps, the general scene at the lagoon, or maybe at the cathedral; beneath the cover of the black cloth, though, he might be, in fact often is, focusing on an angelic face, or maybe a shapely back, the face only half turned towards him.
There is a name for this type of obsession, a very unpleasant name.
Harry keeps these images, and the negatives, in a special locked filing cabinet in his darkroom. There are other images in the filing cabinet, but they are taped under the upper surface of the cabinet, in the space above the filing drawers. He rarely looks at them, but simply knowing they are there brings Harry a deep, if guilty, satisfaction.
Amy, Harry’s wife, is very fond of him. They have been married for more than forty years, and have raised two children, a boy and a girl. Paul is a junior solicitor in the capital, while Maria is a chemist, a partner in a local pharmacy. Both are successfully married, but neither has yet produced a grandchild for Harry and Amy.
Amy finds herself slightly bored. In the early days of Harry’s camera shop Amy was an important part of a dynamic business. Her own photographic skills equalled Harry’s, but it was in the darkroom that she really excelled, and it was there that she spent much of the early years, developing and printing thousands upon thousands of their customers’ images. The townspeople were often surprised that their photographs turned out so well, little realising that it was Amy’s skill in the dark room that converted rather ordinary images into something approaching works of art, a crop here, an increase in contrast there, a little dodging and burning from time to time.
Harry and Amy are, to use a rather boring cliché, pillars of society. Harry, in particular, takes very seriously his position in the town. He is a Rotarian, and has often held office though has never attempted any sort of regional or state position. Harry knows and understands his status, and modestly refuses to rise above it.
They are both members of the Methodist congregation, always ready to assist but never seeking any official position. Both Harry and Amy, from time to time, take to the pulpit, but only to read, never to preach. They are both very highly regarded by the congregation.
Amy helps out in many ways in the community, serving in the Op Shop, fund-raising with a variety of organisations, helping the slower readers in one or other of the primary schools. Still, she finds herself slightly bored. Her busy darkroom days were curtailed first by the advent of the ubiquitous automatic photo-developing machines, which allow unskilled shop-assistants to produce results acceptable to the general public at a price far lower than a specialist could manage; and later by the arrival of digital photography, which changed the whole world of photography.
Harry, of course, still uses film, but he prefers to develop and print his own images, though he is well aware of Amy’s pre-eminence in that field. He prefers, also, to use the darkroom in the camera shop rather than the rather excellent and well-equipped darkroom at home. The home darkroom is Amy’s, he says, though it is rarely used nowadays.
As in most businesses, the Internet has brought profound changes to the way Harry does business. Virtually every aspect of his little enterprise is dependent on the transfer of information, whether it be banking, updating of software, on-line storage facilities or the astounding ability to conduct research of any nature, though in the camera shop’s case this research is largely into the availability of digital equipment. His staff are all quite expert in its use, and Harry encourages a certain amount of experimentation.
On one thing, however, he is stern and inflexible: he allows no access to dubious sites, sites where images of an obscene nature might be available. Inevitably, he faces difficulty in defining the boundaries of this obscenity: nudity, for instance, is clearly a legitimate subject for artistic photography; but where does art cease and pornography begin?
This is not a new problem. He and Amy are frequently confronted with surprising images, particularly in their early days when, with black and white photography, they would sometimes discover that films delivered for processing at the shop contained images that took their breath away, though it was Harry who was more often rendered speechless.
Amy was amused rather than horrified, and found it interesting that some of their customers were so inventive, so creative. Who would ever have thought it? she asked herself. Both of them were amazed at the coolness with which the owners of the films call at the shop to collect their material. Perhaps they are unaware that the processing of film requires the images to be scrutinised?
Whatever the case, this type of images are never delivered. The film was blank, they might say, having destroyed it and substituted a film deliberately exposed. Or they might claim that the film was completely un-exposed, the leading edge having torn because of incorrectly loading the film into the camera. There are a thousand excuses to be found to explain the fact that this category of film is never satisfactorily processed.
Usually, the owners of the film catch on very quickly, and find themselves a film laboratory, usually in a bigger and more anonymous city, that is willing to help them.
Late at night, however, Harry, from time to time, makes prints from films of this nature before destroying the negatives. And it is these prints that find themselves taped under the space above the drawers in his special filing cabinet. Harry is well aware of the flaws in his character, and fights the good fight against them.
But the reputation of his shop is crucial, and he guards it strenuously. He has secretly installed spyware on the shop computers to limit Internet access, though he is aware that at least two of his employees are capable of bypassing these precautions. Everyone knows the computers are limited by the spyware, but none have so far discovered the little piece of software that notes and stores every key-stroke made, with certain keywords flagged. This spyware is strictly prohibited by law, but is nevertheless widely used by employers to provide oversight of their employees’ actions.
One of Harry’s employees, a woman in her late twenties, surprisingly, regularly bypasses the spyware and surfs dubious sites. Harry is keeping a careful eye on what she is doing, but has so far decided not to challenge her. He finds he does not want to expose his use of the spyware to his staff, and besides, gets rather a kick out of knowing of her interest in that particular variety of pornography. As long as she doesn’t go too far, he’ll keep this knowledge to himself.
One morning Harry awakes with a dull aching sensation in his arms and has difficulty fastening the cuff buttons of his shirt. Harry is not one to complain of physical symptoms, and says nothing to Amy, who nevertheless notices over breakfast that things are not as they normally are. She, too, says nothing; when he wants to tell her, he will.
During the short drive to work Harry feels a little light-headed, and his vision seems a little less accurate than he is used to: he narrowly avoids a collision with a small red Fiat as he enters a roundabout. He becomes a little flustered, and is glad when he reaches his parking space in the lane behind his shop. He switches off the engine and sits quietly for a few moments. He has broken out in a cold sweat, and experiences a wave of nausea. It is slowly dawning on him that he might be suffering a heart attack.
Harry puts his hand on the car’s horn, and keeps it there until Charlie, his youngest employee, comes to investigate. ‘Call an ambulance,’ he tells Charlie. ‘Tell them I’m having a heart attack.’
Charlie looks at Harry in disbelief, a little stunned. ‘Go on, you fool. There’s no time to waste.’ Charlie turns back to the shop, white-faced. He has never dealt with an emergency like this before. ‘And call my wife afterwards, tell her what’s happening.’
Charlie acknowledges this with a backward wave of his hand before disappearing. He runs to the rear office and snatches up the telephone, almost dropping it in his fumbling haste. He tries hard to remember what he has to do. Is it 999 or 000? He should know, but in his excitement the answer eludes him for a few seconds. He pulls himself together and dials triple zero.
The ambulance station is no more than half a kilometre from the shop, and within half a minute Harry, still sitting in his car with the driver’s door wide open, hears the wail of a siren. He feels strangely calm, smiling to himself as he realises that he is able to track the siren’s approach as though tracing it on a map.
Charlie has still not reappeared when the ambulance, the siren,
now deafening, races up the lane behind Harry and squeals to a stop. The siren dies. Harry is relieved.
Within minutes, Harry is taken from the car and placed on a trolley, oxygen delivered through a mask, a drip in his arm. Something is injected into his other arm, and he feels an ethereal blanket being pulled over him, insulating him from the world. He feels relaxed and comfortable, though he finds it difficult to answer the questions fired at him by the ambulance man crouching beside him as they rush through the quiet of the early morning town. The siren is silent, though it is reinstated briefly as they cross a major intersection against the lights.
Amy sits in the rear office late that night after having spent most of the day at the hospital. She hasn’t been in the shop for several months, and it is years since she last involved herself with the administration. Not much has changed, though, and she soon finds her way into the accounts and prints a series of reports. She staples these together and works her way through them, striving for an understanding of the current position. She will have to arrange an appointment with the accountant in the morning, but she realises that the shop is running smoothly and maintaining a reasonable level of profit.
She looks next at the staff files, and sees that at least two of the old hands are still on the books. Stability, she thinks; she has never met Charlie, the youngest, and has had only the slightest acquaintance with Rebecca. She will talk to them all in the morning. They must be wondering what will happen.
It has been a long day, but her mind is buzzing. Amy gathers her things and takes one last look around the office, checking that all is as it should be. She locks up and leaves by the back door, setting the alarm as she goes. She sits quietly in her car for a moment or two before driving home, but her mind is still racing, going over and over the events of the day.
She knows she is going to have difficulty sleeping, despite the fact that her body is nearing exhaustion.
She is surprised to find herself, upon waking the following morning, fully dressed except for her shoes and lying on top of the bedding. It is already light, and the alarm clock beside her tells her she has slept the whole night through to eight o’clock, something almost unheard of. She rings the hospital immediately, and is put through to Harry’s room without delay. He is well, he tells her. Sore
and uncomfortable, hooked up to tubes and wires and goodness knows what else, but well. He has been woken and washed and given a little water and now faces a day of boredom. What time is she coming, he wants to know?
Amy undresses quickly and steps into the shower. It’s going to be a very busy day, and as she soaps her body she runs through those things she must attend to, revising the order of events a little. She stands in thought as the water cascades over her body, relaxing and feeling some of the tension drain away. She is in the bathroom much longer than usual, but when she leaves the house she has a very clear plan of action.
‘You all know your jobs better than I do,’ she tells the staff. ‘Harry will be back before long, so just treat it as if he was taking a holiday. Alistaire will act as manager,’ Alistaire nods in agreement, ‘and if there are any queries, any big decisions you’d rather not make on your own, call me immediately. I’ll have my mobile.’ The six of them stand in a semicircle before her, looking confident but serious. ‘So, any questions?’
Rebecca, nineteen years old, asks about her holiday, which has been planned for two weeks ahead. She and her boyfriend have bought a package deal that will take them to Fiji for ten days. Amy reassures her. ‘There is no need for any of you to worry. I managed this business with Harry for a very long time before I had my children, so although I’m a little out of touch, things will carry on as normal.’
But the hospital rings while she is with the accountant an hour later, and she learns that Harry is back in surgery. His left lung has collapsed, and he is not responding well to treatment. Amy rushes back to the hospital, but is met by Aichison, the cardiac specialist, who tells her that the tension pneumothorax has led to cardiac arrest, and that Harry is currently in an induced coma. It is unclear what the outcome might be.
Amy struggles to understand the words Aichison is using, but the words ‘induced coma’ bring with them some hope. ‘He’s going to be okay, then?’
Aichison, hedging his bets, insists that it is too early to be sure. It had been difficult to get Harry breathing again. There could be damage to the brain.
For three days Amy waits in the hospital. It is clearly touch and go. She is allowed to peer through a window at his somnolent body, his bed surrounded by machines that utter a cacophony of soft and rhythmic noises, nurses tending him from behind masks. She waits, but she is not allowed to enter his room. On the third day Aichison emerges and informs her very gently that Harry has succumbed. She watches, stunned, as the nurses, without their masks now, disconnect their machines.
Two years go by. Harry is remembered affectionately in the town, but the camera shop has changed considerably. Rebecca has moved on, having married her beau not long after the Fijian holiday and was now settling into a life as a young mother. The rest of the staff are still with her, having been augmented by two new-comers, Richard and Verity. The shop is no longer an independent retailer, but operating a franchise, Wizzzoz: the battle to remain independent has been lost without Harry’s touch.
Amy is content, though. Profits are still good, and she has returned to her first love, the darkroom, operating a growing business processing film, one of a dwindling cohort in a digital world. She and her particular expertise have not been forgotten in the profession, and she has more than enough work to keep her very busy, and very satisfied.
She and Alistaire are toying with the idea of forming a couple. They imagine that this is their secret, and it is true that so far no-one has made it too obvious that they know. However, it is not only the staff at Wizzzoz that are aware of what is going on. The signs have become obvious: the long periods when the ‘Do Not Enter, Film Processing in Progress’ sign is lit in the back office of the shop, and neither of them to be found elsewhere; the self-conscious silence when they are found together in the shop by an earlier-than-usual Verity, who passes this information discreetly to the others, none of whom snigger; the occasional weekend discovery of the two walking innocently by the river; or finding them sitting together in the cinema on a Sunday evening, though they had arrived, and departed, separately.
Well, why not? Alistaire’s wife would have a ready answer to that question, of course, but such goings-on are not exactly unheard of. Jennifer is an unpleasant, hard-faced woman, widely disliked.
Alistaire, on the other hand, is an easy-going fellow with a casual manner, an easy smile, a friendly voice. How he ended up with a woman like Jennifer is the subject of much conjecture around the town, though it is true that Alistaire has had a string of liaisons with women, married and single, starting not long after his marriage to Jennifer. Perhaps this is why Jennifer comes across as hard-faced and unpleasant.
But Alistaire is careful that his conquests are not widely known, and though Amy knows he is very unhappily married, she has no idea that it could be his regular philandering that has poisoned the marriage. Nor does she realise that Rebecca, who left the shop eighteen months before, not only bore Alistaire a son, but is currently pregnant to him again. Her husband Jayme is quite similar to Alistaire in build and complexion. He has no idea that the mumps he contracted as a teenager left him sterile; he is proud, he thinks, to have fathered his wonderful child, and is looking forward to the birth of the next one.
Amy and Alistaire have only recently reached the hand-holding stage, the gentle kissing stage, the stage that has Amy, at least, dreaming of the sexual adventures that, she hopes, will begin in the not-to-distant future. She is not in a rush, savouring this unexpected experience, smiling in secret satisfaction. She has never been one to rush into things, and so far, Alistaire has put her under no pressure. If the truth were known, Alistaire is finding it difficult to fit Amy into a tight schedule, and is glad that much of their relationship has so far been conducted during working hours.
The computer system at the shop is updated every few years, a wise and cautious procedure. Harry always dealt personally with these updates with the help and advice of his friend Alex, who operates an IT consultancy in the town. Alex was sorely hit by Harry’s death; they had known each other since attending primary school together. He was Harry’s best man when he married Amy, and godfather to their children.
It was with his help that Harry installed the illegal spyware on the office system, and for some time Alex has been wondering if Amy knows about it, and if not, how he can raise the subject with her. In many ways he would rather forget the whole affair, but in the same way that he had decided to help Harry, and several other
local businesses in town, he feels that Amy should be offered the same facility. The installation of the updated system brings the opportunity he has been seeking.
The shop has three computers and a variety of printers, scanners, hard drives and other peripherals, all linked in a network. The upgrade plan is to replace the main computer and one of the scanners, install the latest operating system and review some of the wiring. Alex will carry out this work over the weekend. The shop is to be closed on the Saturday to allow two full days for the upgrade. Alex arrives early on Saturday. His assistant, Meredith, helps with the heavy lifting before leaving for her touch-football match. Alex settles in to deal with the upgrade.
At ten o’clock he rings Amy and suggests she join him at the shop; he has a few things he’d like to show her, he says.
Amy is enjoying a rare Saturday off work. Since Harry died, her slight boredom with life has disappeared completely, and she is now so busy she sometimes feels she has no time to scratch herself. She has been luxuriating in a late start, having read in bed until nearly nine o’clock, then eaten a lazy breakfast in the garden with the paper. It is a pity that her plans have been interrupted by Alex’s call, but that’s life, she tells herself. She showers and finishes dressing, drops the breakfast things in the dishwasher and leaves for the shop. Alex has not suggested that she hurry so she decides to walk, enjoying the spring air and the mild sunshine. She will be meeting Alistaire that afternoon, and she is feeling great.
She lets herself in through the front door of the shop, and walks through the sales area to the office. Alex greets her quietly, and they exchange pleasantries for a few moments: though she has always liked Alex, she has never felt particularly close to him.
She laughs when Alex explains about the spyware. Unlike Harry, who had always been a bit of a prude, she was amused to discover that they were able to pry into the behaviour of the staff, and even more amused that Harry had overlooked the unusual tastes of Joy Hoskin, the errant staff member. Amy is broadminded in most sexual matters. Live and let live, she thinks. ‘No, that’s okay, Alex. If it doesn’t interfere with the running of the business, leave the spyware there. I’m not interested in what my staff do on the internet as long as it’s legal, but it could be useful evidence if we ever experience trouble.’
‘What sort of trouble?’ Alex asks.
‘What sort of trouble could any small business run into?’ Amy smiles. ‘Fraud? Theft? Anyway, leave it there, and I’ll keep a vague eye on it. I’m glad you told me about it, though.’
‘That’s not all you need to know about, I’m afraid.’ He gets up from the desk and beckons Amy to follow, leading her through to the darkroom and switching on the light. Amy knows this darkroom well; she used to be able to move around safely with no light at all, but it is four or five years since she was last there in the dark. Things have changed.
‘I found this key taped underneath the keyboard of the main computer,’ Alex tells her. ‘Strange place to keep a key, I thought to myself, but you know Harry always had peculiar ideas about security. I suppose it’s the modern equivalent to keeping a spare key to the house under a pot plant. Anyway, it looked like a filing cabinet lock, so I tried it and it fits this one.’ He points to Harry’s special cabinet, unlocks it and pulls out the top drawer. The drawer sticks half-way out, and is clearly prevented from opening. ‘So I knelt down and poked around with a ruler until I found what the problem is.’
Amy is wondering where this is leading. She looks keenly at Alex, expecting more. He’s clearly embarrassed.
‘There’s a package stuck to the underside of the top of the cabinet. It’s a fat envelope. The edge of the envelope has come unstuck and is drooping down, so I held it up with the ruler while I took the drawer out, and had a look. The envelope is still there. I took a look at what is inside it. Then I put it all back and put the drawer back in.’
`Alex shuffles his feet. ‘I think you’d better have a look yourself. I, um... well, I don’t want to get involved.’
Amy pulls the drawer out until it sticks again, and holds out her hand for the ruler. Alex gives it to her. ‘I think I’ll just go back to the shop while you do that,’ he says.
Amy nods silently, then kneels and holds what she can see of the package out of the way while she opens the drawer fully. The drawer is full of hanging files, some of them holding slides, some of them prints. She opens one and removes an eight by ten. Black and white, of course. It features a naked boy standing in the river, the water up to his knees. Sunlight strikes the side of face, his hair seeming to form a halo. To the left is a red gum growing diagonally from the bank, and further out in the river, out of focus, are more children and a few adults, splashing water into the sunlight where it sparkles like diamonds.
It is a beautiful photograph, perfectly composed and exposed, and is typical of Harry’s work. She can see no reason why he should have locked it away.
But as she pulls more images from the folders, all of them of naked or near-naked children, she begins to realise what she is looking at. She finds she is holding her hand to her mouth.
She takes the drawer out of the cabinet. It is heavy, and she almost calls Alex back to help her, but she manages by herself and balances the drawer on the side of the bench, then kneels once more.
The package is a thick yellow envelope. Amy reaches in awkwardly and tries to pull it from its place, but apart from the drooping corner it is stuck tight. In one of the small drawers under the enlarging bench is a scalpel, and she takes that and carefully cuts away the tape holding the package in place. As she removes the package, she becomes aware of a deep foreboding.
She takes the package to the desk and sits for a while, looking at it. It is about three centimetres thick. That’s a lot of photographs, if that’s what it is. What else could it be? She takes a deep breath and removes the photos from the envelope.
The first one is a very good print of a very poor photograph. There has been no attempt at composition, just the subject filling the photograph: a woman’s breasts being fondled by a pair of very rough hands. If there is any photographic merit to the image, it is in the juxtaposition of the soft and tender breasts and the hard and calloused hands. There is a wedding ring on one of the hands, and they look very much like the hands of an older man, possibly a manual worker judging by the callouses and a few tiny scratches, magnified by the closeness of the image. The breasts, on the other hand, look very much like those of a much younger woman.
The next photo is very similar, beautifully printed but a raw, direct photo of the same breasts and hands, but from a wider perspective. The faces of the two people are shown, looking directly at the camera. They are the Hansens, father and daughter. Shocked, Amy turns to the next photo which shows a wider angle still, the smile still on Amelia Hansen’s face, Bill looking down at his hands with a serious look in his eyes; but to the left of the pair is another woman, fully dressed in a light, flowered frock, walking away from the camera towards the couple. The face of the second woman is not visible, but Amy recognises her anyway. It is Bill’s wife, Shirley.
Bill has been dead for fifteen years, Amelia is married with three grown-up children. Shirley moved away from the town when Bill died.
Amy quickly calculates. The images must have been created twenty years before. Why does Harry have them? Why are they in this secret stash? She stares at the remaining pile of photos, alarmed. What is she going to discover in them? Nevertheless, she turns them over, one after the other.
All of the images have been made by amateurs: composition is non-existent, lighting is very poor, exposure and focus are frequently wrong. In every case the subjects are engaging in a wide variety of sexual activities, often while looking directly at the camera. Very few of them depict what Amy considers to be conventional sex, but instead demonstrate the breadth of imagination that some humans bring to their relationships.
Amy has recognised many of the people portrayed in the images, and realises that the ones she looked at so far must have been created a very long time ago. The faces, so young in the images, belong mostly to people who are now so very much older, many Amy knows to be dead.
Amongst the images are people who are now leaders of their society. There is an ex-Mayor, the president of the women’s bowling club and a very senior policeman, and many more lesser dignitaries.
As she progresses through the pile Amy begins to realise that she has seen one or two of the images before, but always in negative form: these must be prints from the films they refused to process properly. Why has Harry printed them and kept them secretly? Amy thinks furiously about this. Blackmail? Boy, she thinks, they’d be worth a fortune used that way.
But Amy doesn’t think so. There has never been the slightest hint of that sort of scandal, and Harry certainly hadn’t died with a handsome bank account. So what did he keep them for? Amy has no idea.
Harry had always seemed a bit of a prude. He was the one who was always shocked when dubious films were sent to them for processing, while Amy regarded them as a bit of joke, though one which they could not condone professionally. Had his prudery been a mask, she wonders?
Clearly, the images would have to be destroyed, and quickly, before they can do any damage, both the hidden pile and those of the children: she has no desire to see Harry’s reputation ruined.
She takes the pile to the shredder in the office, where Alex is still working on the upgrade. He turns as she leaves the darkroom, his eyebrows raised in question. ‘Did you go through all of these, Alex?’ she asks.
‘No. Just the first ten or so, and the ones in the drawers.’
‘I think they must be destroyed,’ she tells him.
‘Oh yes, definitely,’ he replies. ‘Don’t worry about me, by the way. My lips are sealed.’
Amy hopes so. She starts feeding the photos into the shredder, a slow and noisy process. The machine takes no more than three prints at a time. It’s going to be a long job.
As she gets towards the bottom of the pile, waiting for the machine to digest the latest three prints, her eye is suddenly drawn to the next image. She pauses to examine it more closely. It is a colour image, and quite unlike the majority of the ones that have gone before. This one is perfectly exposed and as sharp as a tack. A man is kissing a woman, his back to the camera. The side of the woman’s face is clear, her eyes closed in what looks like bliss. Her hair is long and straight and as black as a raven, falling around the man’s arm, which is around her shoulders. What has caught Amy’s attention is that the man is undoubtedly Alistaire. She recognises his hair and the shape of his head. Alistaire’s wife is a mousy blondish woman with short hair permed to curls.
The shredder has finished and waiting for more, but Amy turns to the next image. It is Alistaire again, this time taken through a high-powered telephoto lens, the perspective flattened by the lens. He is sitting in a car with another woman, who Amy recognises as the owner of the shop next door. They appear to be parked in the shade of a large gum tree, and behind them the river is flowing. She has her arm around his neck, gazing into his eyes with a radiant smile in her eyes.
Amy sits at the desk, and turns to the next image. Alistaire again, and this time he is with a much younger Rebecca, the girl who had worked at the shop before Harry died. She is holding hands with Alistaire, who is looking down into the face of the girl, affection written all over his face. Amy stares the image. What on earth is going on?
The next four prints show more of Alistaire, each with a different woman, two of them known to Amy but the other two strangers. The remainder of the pile show different men, and Amy recognises most of them. They women they are with are never their wives.
Amy looks up and sees that Alex is staring at her. ‘Are you all right?’ he asks. She is white-faced and trembling a little. ‘I’ll get you a glass of water.’
Amy nods. Her mind is spinning. What on earth does all of this mean?
She drinks some of the water with Alex standing over her. She is still holding the sheaf of prints in her hand. Alex tries to gently take the prints from her; it is obvious that she is truly upset. She refuses to let them go, but starts feeding them into the shredder again.
Alistaire is a little surprised when, only ten minutes before their planned liaison, Amy calls him to tell him she can’t make it. A little surprised, maybe, but not at all concerned. He looks at his watch then makes another call. ‘Yes,’ he tells the woman, ‘I know it’s late notice, but I can make it after all.’ He listens to her reply, to the excitement in her voice, and smiles to himself.
Alistair finds a note addressed to him at work on Monday morning. He recognises Amy’s handwriting, and slits open the envelope. It contains a check for a large amount, roughly two months’ wages. He stares at it in surprise. He unfolds the accompanying note. It says simply ‘In lieu of notice.’
Amy walks home from the shop on Monday evening. It has been a hard day, particularly as Alistaire has insisted on an explanation. But it is over now, and everything has been done that needed to be done. It is cooler, now, and she walks the shaded route to her home with a certain jauntiness. God, she thinks, what a fool I’ve been, and what an escape I’ve had. She glances at the sky above. ‘Thanks, Harry,’ she says, and winks with a flourish of her head