Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Harris Tobias

The Finger

The Poindexters were happy to be home. Janet was exhausted. She'd planned the trip to Europe down to the last detail. It was something she'd dreamed of doing for so long but at 65 she underestimated how strenuous it was going to be. Milton, on the other hand, was happy for a totally different reason. He spent the entire two weeks with a nagging, anxious feeling that he was being followed. Something menacing was stalking him. Often he'd turn around to see if he could catch sight of who or what it was. Of course there was never anything there. He never mentioned his unease to Janet. This was her dream vacation, after all, and he didn't want to spoil those few precious days on the continent with his paranoia. Janet was happier than he'd seen her in years as she marched them from castle to palace to museum. Eight cities in two weeks didn't leave a lot of time to get to know a place, but they each had their own cameras and snapped away trying to record every sight.
Now they were home and the anxious feeling was gone. The bags were unpacked and put away in the garage, the film was dropped off at the drugstore and the familiar routine of their lives was restored. A few days later, Milton picked up the developed prints from the pharmacy.
When they got them home, he and Janet spread them out on the dining room table, all four rolls worth. It was immediately obvious that Milton was a poor photographer. Many of the pictures he took had a big pink blob somewhere in the frame. When Milton saw them that anxious feeling returned.
"Oh Milton, don't you know enough to keep your fingers away from the lens?" Janet chided him. Milton shrugged and tried to laugh off his apparent incompetence. Janet sighed one of her "what can you do with a man like that" sighs and proceeded to put the pictures, both good and bad, in an album. It was a cherished record of their trip dragged out at the slightest provocation to show their friends.
Everyone got a kick out of Milton's inept picture taking. They all made jokes about the big pink blob that traveled with them throughout Europe but Milton wasn't convinced that the big pink blob was entirely his fault. He might not have been the best photographer but he knew how to use his camera and he could swear he knew how to hold it. But there it was lying across a roof top or lurking behind a building or down one of those marvelous cobbled streets in some medieval town. It struck Milton as odd that the finger always appeared on the edge of the picture. He studied it closely looking for proof that it wasn't his finger but proof was as elusive as the blob itself.
Matters rested there for several weeks until one fine summer afternoon when friends were gathered around the pool and Milton, with a scotch in one hand and his camera in the other was snapping pictures of guests and grandchildren drinking and cavorting in the sun. He caught a whiff of that almost forgotten feeling, that ominous presence he had in Europe. Here was a chance to prove to himself if there was something to his paranoia or not.
He took special care how he held the camera and how he placed his hands. He took a few random shots of nothing in particular to see if he could catch the finger off guard. He could hear Janet teasing him about those shots even as he took them. "What's this, a shot of the shrubbery?" she‘d probably ask.
When the photographs returned from the drugstore, Milton couldn't wait to see them. He eagerly shuffled through the envelope in the middle of the store. Sure enough, there was the same pink blob. It wasn't in every picture but it was in one or two of them. Especially the unplanned, random shots of shrubs and trees. On casual examination it looked like a finger. But if you really studied it with a magnifying glass, you could see that it wasn't a finger at all. What it was exactly, Milton didn't know but he was determined to find out.
In the following weeks, Milton became obsessed with capturing the finger on film. He'd taken to calling it "the finger" for lack of a better name. Everyone referred to it as Milton's finger anyway. He faced a lot of good natured joking from Janet but Milton was determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. He bought himself a better camera, one with interchangeable lenses.
"Again with the camera?" Janet would say. "We need more pictures of your finger? And what's with the gloves?"
Milton explained, "I'm making photography my hobby. The gloves keep me from smudging the lenses."
He shot a dozen rolls of film before he had his proof. He'd taken to wearing white gloves when he went out picture taking. That way he would know that if it was indeed his finger it would be white but if it was "the finger" it would be pink. Milton roamed the parks and towns near his home looking for subjects and snapped away. His picture taking improved considerably. When the finger appeared it was always pink.
"Got you," Milton said looking through the latest batch of prints and finding one with a big pink blob in one corner. He tossed away the rest of the prints even though some were excellent compositions. He was elated. Here at last was proof that he wasn't being paranoid, proof too that it wasn't his fault. He didn't expect anyone would believe him but he now knew for sure—"the finger" was real and it was following him.
He rushed out of the drug store with the print in his hand. He was going to show Janet what he'd discovered. He was never seen again.

© Harris Tobias 2011

Harris Tobias was raised by robots disguised as New Yorkers. Despite an awkward childhood he learned to read and write. To date Mr. Tobias has published two detective novels, The Greer Agency and A Felony of Birds, to critical acclaim. In addition he has published short stories in Down in the Dirt Magazine, Literal Translations, Electric Flash and Ray Gun Revival. He currently lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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