“In Any Kind of Light” by T.R. Healy

"Sometimes you only realize how much you've lost when it's too late to get it back."

Feiger, startled, turned and looked up at a burly man whose nose was as thick as a butcher's thumb. "Excuse me?"

"The trolley," he said, nodding at the vintage electric streetcar behind Feiger. "I use to love to ride trolley cars when I was a youngster, could travel all over town for a buffalo nickel. Now it costs you an arm and a leg to go anywhere on public transportation. It'd be nice if they could come back but that'll never happen. They're as much relics now as stagecoaches."

"You want your picture taken standing in front of it?" he inquired, fingering the weathered Polaroid in his lap.

Sternly the man shook his head, as if insulted by the question. "What for? As I told you, I can still remember riding the damn things when I was growing up. I don't need any picture to remind me of those days."

"Just asking, mister."

Without replying, the burly man turned and stepped away to watch a loquacious juggler balance the leg of a cardtable on the tip of his chin. Feiger wasn't surprised particularly, the man seemed the sort who visited the Bison Square market without any intention of spending a dime. His wallet was probably coated with dust he so seldom took it out of his pocket. Indifferently Feiger peered at the burly man through the viewfinder of his camera then at others visiting the market, waiting for a customer. He never had too many but, so far, he had not had one who wanted his picture taken in front of the antique trolley. A weekend photographer, he usually managed to make it down to the market a couple of times a month, sometimes more often in the summertime. Besides his camera and film, he always brought along a sackful of caps and scarves and goggles and whistles to make the photographs seem more authentic. A dollar a picture was what he charged. But he was not there to make money so much as to observe all the interesting people who frequented the bustling market that every Saturday occupied an immense parking lot at the edge of the waterfront. Generally it was better than watching television, but not this morning. This morning he barely noticed those who strolled past his booth.

Feiger was sure it was an accident the first time he pressed the shutter button and took his own picture. It was slightly out of focus, making his eyes appear much wider than they were, almost elastic. Frowning, he set the picture on the stool next to him, held the camera directly in front of his face, and snapped another picture. Quickly he looked at it, relieved that it was not blurred. He thought he was in a carefree mood when he took the picture but his face appeared tense and scrunched together, as if he'd anticipated a flashbulb going off in his eyes even though he knew the camera did not require one. He took another picture. His mouth was soft and loose, a pale sliver beneath his bristling russet mustache, but his eyes were sunken and aloof. He pressed the shutter again. Still, his eyes were as inert and vacant as the buttons of his shirt. He was not really surprised, not after what happened yesterday, could not expect them to appear any other way.

He did not earn his living as a photographer but as a concierge at the Bear Mountain Lodge, a popular resort about twenty-five miles north of town. He had been there nearly three years and seldom was able to distinguish one day from the next because the work was so numbingly routine. He found an hour at the market much more interesting than anything that happened at the lodge. Yesterday was different, though, as different as he could ever imagine.

Around ten o'clock in the morning Auerbach, the assistant manager, informed him that a guest at the lodge had reported a body floating in the pool at the base of the twin waterfalls that cascaded above the lodge. Auerbach said that he had asked a groundskeeper to check it out but was sure it was just another mannequin.

"At this time of the year," he told Feiger, "mannequins are almost as common to find in the pool as beer bottles and condoms."

Feiger agreed, mindful of the half dozen or so mannequins shoved over the falls last year by students on spring break.

"It's such a silly joke," Auerbach lamented, "but then I suppose it takes all kinds of people to make up this world of ours."

Other guests reported seeing the body in the water, but they were assured by Feiger and others on the staff that it was nothing more than a display window mannequin. At one point Feiger considered visiting the pool himself but was talked out of it by Auerbach because of the danger of falling rocks. Instead, he got out a pair of binoculars and peered at the ghostly pale figure in the water, and after a couple of minutes decided it was indeed a mannequin.

He was mistaken, however, as he learned a few hours later when one of the guests actually went down to the pool and verified that the body was real. It was a middleaged man who turned out to be a guest at the lodge. He was stunned, furious at himself for not checking out what was in the pool on his own. The fact that he peered through the binoculars at the body and was not able to realize what he was looking at filled him with disgust. He could not believe he could be that dense. He felt foolish, pathetic, thoroughly ashamed of himself.

Ever since his girlfriend moved out of his apartment last month, he had not quite been himself. Increasingly he found it difficult to focus his attention on things, constantly distracted by thoughts about what he could have done differently to have kept Ellen with him. Just the other evening, driving home late from the lodge, he nearly sideswiped a moving van because he was thinking about her and did not notice the traffic light turn red.

"So what do you think?" a plump woman with auburn hair asked Feiger.

"About what?"

"Can I pass for a conductor?"

Regarding her carefully, he leaned back in his canvas chair as the woman lumbered up to the top step of the trolley. She had on one of his black peaked caps, the visor pulled halfway down her forehead, and from her neck hung his clunky ticket counter. Her smile was nearly as bright as the knobs on the machine.

"All you have to do now is shout 'All aboard!'" he cracked.

Her smile then widened as he bent to one knee and snapped her picture.

Quickly, before he handed her the photograph, he glanced at it to see if her eyes were as jubilant as they appeared when he looked at them through the viewfinder. They were, and he was gratified. He just wished the pictures he had taken earlier of himself were as accurate, but they were dour and enigmatic and failed to reveal any of the pleasure he experienced when he attended the market. Incredibly, it seemed as if he could take decent pictures of everyone but himself.

Shortly before the market closed at five, Feiger packed up his gear and started back to his car, which he had parked in a small lot in Chinatown. He had walked only a couple of blocks when he noticed several people gathered in front of the firehouse watching some firefighters practice scaling the north side of the building. He paused to watch the drill for a moment then, on an impulse, asked the woman standing next to him to take his picture.

She agreed, and he handed her his camera. "You a visitor?"

"Excuse me?"

"To our town?"

"Oh, yeah," he lied. "I just got in this morning."

"I figured as much from all the camera equipment you're carrying with you."

He smiled faintly.

"I assume you want the firefighters in the background?"

"Please," he said indifferently.

She peered through the viewfinder and carefully framed him against the men spidering up the firehouse. "Now all you have to do is give me a smile."

Diligently he complied, and she clicked the shutter button and handed him back the camera, and he thanked her and eagerly examined the photograph. The corners of his mouth were curved into a slight, almost diffident smile but his eyes remained as vacant and aloof as they were in his pictures. They looked as if they were through caring anymore, the eyes plainly of someone who would allow a body to float for hours in a pool of water. He was disappointed, scarcely able to recognize the person in the picture. For all he knew, the woman could have taken the picture of someone standing right behind him.

Hurriedly he crossed the street, heading toward Chinatown, his camera bag slung loosely over his left shoulder. He was seething inside, felt a vein pulsing in the middle of his forehead. He knew he was not the person in the picture the woman took, knew it as certainly as he knew anything.

Turning a corner, he saw a stooped Chinese man shuffling toward him, and, at once, he stopped and asked him to take his picture and, grinning nervously, the man did. His eyes appeared as empty as ever, however, and angrily he crumpled up the picture and tossed it into the street. Then he looked at his watch, saw that he had forty minutes of light left, and continued up the street, looking for someone else to take his picture.