Aunt Mabel says Adam’s gonna propose today. She says he’s gonna stand up at the picnic table during dinner and tap a fork against a glass and then lead his girl to the shore of the lake where he’ll get down on one knee and propose in front of the whole family. Aunt Mabel carves a watermelon as she says it, tossing cubes like little red jewels into a tupperware and others into her mouth. Uncle Mark says that if Adam proposes to that girl today he’ll sell his favorite car, the Pinto with the baby blue stripe down the center. He says that Adam has all the courage of a mayfly and none of the buzz. Says the odds of Adam trotting a girl out in front of God and everyone and proposing to her are as good as a mayfly driving his favorite Pinto around town. Uncle Mark tugs at his shirt, peeling the sweaty fabric from his overripe belly. But they’re just so good together, says Gramma Pat. He’s such a nice boy, she says, and, well, she hears she’s a nice girl but she’s also heard she’s got a tattoo behind her ear and Father Dan has a word to say about tattoos. Gramma waves a fan by her face like a clock pendulum, slow and sweeping. She says the tattoo is only a hummingbird, though, and isn’t that lovely, at least? It is, says Aunt Mabel, and she swats my hand away from the watermelon. Could be worse, says Uncle Mark. He holds an unopened beer can to his forehead. Gramma asks why I’m not in the water with other gramchildren. I tell her I want to see Adam pull up, and to get out of his car and go ‘round and open the door for his girlfriend and for her to step out like a princess from a pumpkin. Gramma nods and lets me stay and tells me she can’t wait for me to be a princess, too. Aunt Mabel says I am one already. And here they are, and it happens more’less as I imagined. The rusty Mustang pulls up to the picnic clearing, and Adam grins all mad as he jumps out and slides over the hood and whips open the passenger door like a showman. Out comes his girl, and I know right off that she’s too good for him but I also know better than to say that out loud. She’s like the sun on the water as it sets, or the cookie-cutter shapes of the trees on an evening horizon, and she’s the horizon, too. She’s fresh-mowed grass and pine needles in a fire. She’s all that, and Adam is just Adam. I think Aunt Mabel sees it too, because Uncle Mark and Gramma rush over to introduce themselves but Aunt Mabel only waves and cuts watermelon. She looks at me, and she knows I know, because Aunt Mabel and me are alike like that. She forks a cube of melon and hands it to me, for the knowing I assume. Mark and Gramma come back and they’re all smiles, and isn’t she wonderful? Isn’t she just right? And Aunt Mabel nods and I nod. You’re not of our opinion, huh? says Uncle Mark. Aunt Mabel says she doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Quit it, Mabey, says Gramma. Let them alone. And you let your sister alone, Mark. Just saying, says Mark. But he can’t keep his crooked mouth shut and after a moment barely long enough for a grasshopper to jump he says, What is it? Aunt Mabel shushes him, but she’s biting her cheek and she’s like Mark in that she can’t help herself. They’re twins, after all, my Mom always says. Just watch her, says Mabel. A woman knows these things, she says, and I feel a little proud because I knew too and so that must mean I’m a woman. She keeps talking and she says, They seem alright, but watch her during the photo. Mabel! Gramma says. What about a photo? Mark asks, and I want to ask it too but I can tell by the way the talk’s going that if I make myself any more known they’ll make me go swim with the other kids. We take a family photo at the lake every year, but I don’t know what’s ‘sposed to be so special about this one. You can tell a lot by a photo, Aunt Mabel says. Who’s in it. Who’s not. ‘Course she’ll be in it, Mark says. Everyone’s in it. That’s how a family photo works. Why wouldn’t she— But he cuts off and I can see some sort of epiphany take over his face and I so desperately want to know what’s so special about the darn photo, ‘scuse my cursing. But I just sit and steal watermelon cubes. The sun crawls its way across the sky and it scorches just about everything it touches, and Mabel and Mark and Gramma aren’t talking about Adam and his girl anymore so I see fit to jump in the lake, but I can’t stop thinking about his girl. I can see her on the shore from the water. She’s like the lake itself is what she is, and I think I might be in love with her. I just might have to steal her from Adam, I think, and we’ll be princesses together. I lie on my back in the water and think that the only thing better than one princess is two, and that’s when Mom calls us all up to the shore because it’s time for the family photo. I put a towel over my head like a veil and stand near Aunt Mabel as we all line up, because I figure that even if I don’t know anything about a photo, she does, and so maybe I can learn something by being close to her. We’re all in rows and Mom is bringing out the tripod when Adam’s girl raises her hand and jogs out to Mom and says, Oh! I’ll do it! Mom looks at her like she’s funny and tells her it’s on a timer, hon, we can all be in it. But Adam’s girl just smiles and says she’s a photographer and she’ll take the best picture the family’s ever had. I can feel Aunt Mabel shift beside me. She jabs Uncle Mark in the side. Adam says she’s true, she’s a darn good photographer, and he’s just smiling all stupid and I think I might get it now, but I don’t think Adam gets it. Mom says it’s a family photo, the whole family’s in it. Adam’s girl keeps smiling bright as sun and says, Of course, I’ll make sure you all fit, and now I think Mom gets it too and I wonder if the family photo thing is some ‘versal law, like gravity, that all women just know. Adam’s girl takes the picture. We break and set food on the tables and take our places, and I see Aunt Mable jab Uncle Mark again and say something in his ear, and Uncle Mark grumbles and gets up and taps Adam on the shoulder. They disappear somewhere up the road and leave his girl all alone with the rest of the aunts like a canary with a bunch of vultures, so I run up and ask her name. It’s Ruby, she says, and I tell her that name is sweet as watermelon on a hot day, and I run off back to Aunt Mabel because my cheeks are blazing and I don’t know if it’s the sun or Ruby or both. Adam doesn’t propose at dinner. And we don’t see Ruby again, and that’s a shame. Aunt Mabel tells me so, too, because turns out it’s the best darn family photo ever took.
Luke Larkin lives and studies in Missoula, MT, where he pursues an MFA at the University of Montana. His work has appeared in Barren Magazine, Popshot, Firewords, and others. He also lends a hand to the publications Unstamatic, CutBank, and Visual Verse. Twitter: @lukeglarkin.