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Another Family Photo
‘Nola! Here, take a snap of us with Mum.’ Frank, Nola’s younger brother, hands her the Box Brownie.
The southerly whips around the station and in and out between the people on the platform, throwing dust into eyes, forcing those who were keeping back tears to bring out their handkerchiefs. Nola shivers against the cold and wishes she were home in front of the fire. Then, doesn’t. She expects when she is home, even when they have the fire blazing, she’ll feel the chill.
‘Come on, Jim.’ Frank waves over his brother, older by six minutes.
‘Righto.’ Jim takes his leave from Mike Dolan and his family.
It’s not so much Mike Jim’s interested in as his younger sister, thinks Nola. She wonders whether Gloria is the waiting kind. Whether Jim is.
Jim grabs their mother about her waist and presses his cheek to hers. Frank does the same so that she’s framed by two identical laughing faces. ‘Okay, sis.’
Their mother is momentarily so alive with pleasure a casual observer might not notice the shabbiness of her winter coat with its fur trim the worse for wear. It’s worn-out really, like its owner, although May only lets it show when she’s caught unawares. The way she did when the letter arrived from their father with no money and the news he might not get back from the old country till after the war. The way she did stoking the coal range the morning after the twins told her they’d enlisted. And then again after word came their regiment would be among the first to embark. As she will when Nola sets the table for dinner tonight and there are only the two places.
Nola peers into the viewfinder. It’s all a blur.
‘Suffering fantails, big sis is crying,’ announces Jim.
‘No blubbing allowed,’ says Frank, as if she’s nothing but a sentimental schoolgirl. ‘We’ll be back before you can say Jack Robinson.’
‘Frank and me, we’ll send those Jerries packing quick smart.’
‘Any idiot can see it’s the dust.’ Nola wipes at her eyes and then she clicks the shutter closed.
‘Take a couple, Nola. Your Uncle Ralph and Aunt Lilly will want one.’
‘Oh, Mum. I might as well invite the king to tea!’ Uncle Ralph is a photographer for the Auckland Star. He’s got a name for himself, taking photos of important people and big events. He gave them the Box Brownie.
‘I’m sure the king would be grateful if he were thirsty,’ says her mother. ‘And take one for your father so he can see his boys in uniform.’
Nola holds her tongue.
There’s a loud toot and steam rushes into the air from the stack. They’re surrounded now by the hustle and bustle of last-minute goodbyes. Nola snaps the extra photos. The guard blows his whistle. The boys grab their kit. They kiss May. Jim says he’ll send money. Frank says not to worry and he’ll send money too. They chuck Nola under the chin, tell her not to cry and, then, they’re gone.
There’s a chuff from the engine; a pause, another chuff, and another more quickly. The carriages move, people wave. Nola cranes her neck. She thinks she sees Jim, or was it Frank, waving at a window.
‘Well that’s that,’ says Mike Dolan’s father.
Yes, thinks Nola. That is that. She puts her arm through her mother’s, pats her hand and they turn for home. The wind is against them.