When Lauren met David, his photo had, unbeknownst to her, been in her parents’ house for about 20 years. As a child, she had accepted without question that there was a photo of a strange family on their mantlepiece. It embarrassed her greatly in her teenage years until she learned to tell the story in a way that portrayed her mother as quirky and a bit mad, reflecting well on her quirky but charming self. It made people laugh and sometimes she got the sympathy vote. Later, she embellished further. Her mother observed the embarrassment and the story and the embellishment with weary but wry amusement, grateful for her advanced age and lack of anyone to impress.
In truth, the photo was there simply because nobody had got around to removing it – the story of their lives. The McArthur family was large and therefore poor and therefore thrifty. Heather, her mother, bought a lovely frame at the local op shop, to house a lovely family photo. It already had a photo in it, of a neat and attractive family with only two children, and she planned to remove them and insert her own, but never did. It stayed on the mantlepiece to remind her (or someone else) to do something with it. They got around to moving house before they got around to changing the photo. It came with them and was placed on a hook in the hall. The kids got used to it. The parents stopped seeing it. Sometimes they admired the frame, which really was very special.
Lauren was not in the habit of bringing men back to meet her parents, but David was special. Her mum made a roast and her dad brought out some old stories and promised to avoid politics. The last couple of siblings left at home (Lauren thought of them as residual) arranged to be around for dinner. It was all going swimmingly well until David went to the bathroom and came back with a strange look on his face.
‘There’s a photo of my family in the hall.’
Surprise and consternation all round.
‘There’s a photo of my family.’
They raced out into the hall to look, and there, indeed was the photo. David, recognisable now even as a child, his cute baby sister, and his parents – no wonder they had felt familiar to her! What were the chances? One in a million or so? What an amazing end to that story. They laughed, they talked over the top of each other, they texted people. Lauren pointed out that this was the kind of love story that got attention on social media. She and her sister competed to create the best headline. At the end of the night, they left on a high as the whole family waved them off. Lauren sat back in the car seat and felt the planets aligning, as clearly as if she had seen them move with her own eyes. David was quiet on the way home. Perhaps he could feel it too.
Or perhaps not.
David was over 30 by the time he met The One. Lauren was everything he had hoped for. When she invited him to meet her parents he knew that it was becoming serious for her, too. They seemed like decent people, a little nervy, but trying hard. Her youngest siblings were slightly odd and there was a weird smell in the house that he couldn’t quite identify, but none of that mattered. Lauren was the one he was there for, after all. He had the sense she’d built this up in her own mind and was quite worried about it, but she seemed to be doing OK. Until he saw the photo, he was doing OK too. But there it was in the hall. A family portrait taken when he was about 9 years old, in a fancy frame. He remembered the whole event. That was the year they gave the photo to all the relatives for Christmas. He had a strong feeling that this had been his aunt’s. How on earth had Lauren got hold of it? What kind of weird stalker displays a childhood photo of their boyfriend without saying anything? He was rattled, seriously rattled. When they told him the real story of how it came to be in their house, it made slightly more sense but also slightly less. Why would you have a photo of a stranger’s family on your wall? He couldn’t shake the weirdness of it.
That night he lay awake trying to decide what to do. Lauren by herself was amazing but seen in the context of her family, suddenly, she seemed a bit off. He had the strange sense of planets re-aligning. He was not sure how they would end up.