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The Kiss

by Donna Gagnon

They’ve all come to celebrate surrender. In the heat of an August morning, the sun rises over a wild America. Alfred stands sweating in Times Square. He watches crowds of sailors dressed in damp cotton and dark-suited soldiers throwing hard caps in the air. Women with shining red lips smile indulgently at their exuberant men in uniform. A little fellow, Alfred stands unobtrusively, watching quietly through his camera, knowing that many here are remembering black-edged telegrams, sweet voices and warm fingers they will never touch again.

A slim youth runs by and yells at Alfred: ‘Which one ya gonna kiss?’

Alfred smiles. ‘I’m working, buddy. They’re all yours.’ His finger clicks calmly as men grab stout grandmothers, shy school teachers and young girls. Later, one black and white image of this day will become eternally famous, but Alfred’s not thinking about tomorrow. He’s seeing lightness and dark, gleeful movement and hearing unleashed happiness for the first time in years. Strangers touching strangers and smiling, laughing outrageously, cheering their country’s victory.

Spontaneity. This is what he hopes to capture, to see growing out of a water bath in a darkroom in the afternoon. These few seconds in America’s life when no one else is paying attention to the cost or the sadness of loss. This is his job, his passion. To stand, unobserved, observing and preserving. His camera will remember this day in ways that will be understood by humans who haven’t even been born yet.

Alfred holds his Leica over his shoulder and runs ahead of the young soldier chasing women up the street. Then suddenly, in a flash, he sees something white being grabbed. A sailor bends a nurse steeply backwards. Alfred turns and snaps, and keeps clicking in the Square until there are no frames left on the film.

He stops before re-loading and lights up a Lucky Strike. Blowing smoke into the newly invigorated New York air, he wipes his damp forehead with the back of his hand and becomes, just for a second, just another person in the crowd. He thinks about a large cloud that obliterated an entire city and many of its people across the ocean. He thinks about asking a soft-haired woman to marry him.

In a few days, he will write a date on an envelope — August 14, 1945 — and meet his editor to hand over hundreds of photographs in the LIFE offices in Rockefeller Square. And his life will be changed by a kiss, forever.

Copyright © 2006 by Donna Gagnon

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