She looked out at the building from the backseat and scowled. “It didn’t look like this last year.”
Her husband killed the engine in their little car. Without the mechanical whining the vehicle, the lack of life in the outside neighborhood seemed that much more stark. “It looks fine. We’ll only be here for a few minutes.”
Abby looked up and down the street at the neighborhood surrounding. The homes were all in disrepair – but it had been that way during college college, hadn’t it? The upstairs apartment they’d rented through her undergrad had always been falling apart. At the time it had seemed charming. They’d made do with what they had.
It was different, though. Having the baby made it different.
“It’s a tradition, Abby.”
She swallowed her uneasiness. “Sure. Of course.” She unbuckled Maisy while Bart retrieved the camera and tripod from the car.
The first Valentine’s Day they had taken this photo – their first Valentine’s Day, four years ago – it had been a selfie against the cement wall. A whim, nothing more. Someone had spray-painted hearts on the smooth surface, all different shapes and sizes to create the perfect romantic backdrop. When they eventually married, Abby featured it on their save-the-date card.
When they were still together the next year, they did it again. That year Bart had the tripod and remote. The next year, the picture had announced her pregnancy. Abby supposed, if she looked back, she remembered the other graffiti too near the hearts that second year. The cracks in the wall when she was pregnant with Maisy. Abby had loved the neighborhood dearly, but the crumbling houses had always had feeling paint, it had always lacked the life and verve she’d invented in her nostalgia.
She pulled her baby close to her chest, carefully adjusting the little flowered headband covering Maisy’s downy hair. By the time she climbed out of the car Bart was already setting up his tripod, muttering to himself.
“Go on, hon – I need to frame the shot.”
She did so.
Maisy nestled her little head against Abby’s chest, rooting for the breast and yawning. They’d tried to plan the picture around her nap time, but the car always lulled her right to sleep.
“Hey, baby – it’s time to take your picture.” She tickled the baby’s cheeks and nose, smiling as Maisy giggled and stretched her whole body in Abby’s arms. Bart joined them, the remote trigger nestled against his palm. He ruffled Maisy’s hair. For a moment, it was calm.
Not far enough in the distance, a dog began to yap and growl – quickly joined by another. Abby startled and looked up at the camera, then down at the baby. “I don’t think this was a good idea,” she said quietly.
He kissed her forehead and squeezed her around the waist. “Don’t worry. In the photo it’ll all look perfect.”