the photograph.


I survey the room I sleep—once slept—in, surprised by how small my belongings look removed from their rightful places. A haphazard pile of things that are mine and are me: fake plants, tattered fiction, bags of clothing. It is the beginning of the new year, and my closest friend and I are moving from our tiny, terrible apartment to a spacious semi-detached house.

I am calm, steady, as I fill my friend’s car with my history. The pile dwindles as I cradle bags and boxes up and down the stairs. In the days leading to this moment, I have shed myself; yesterday I left several stuffed bags at the local op-shop, and it brought me a savage satisfaction. When the car is full, I stand there for a moment, feeling the sun on my back and the breeze in the hollow of my throat.

I will not miss this place, I think, peering up at the apartments crammed into a single block; small windows, narrow staircases, loud neighbours. My time here was liminal, a blank page between the chapters of my life; nights spent recuperating, replanning, reassessing.

Upstairs, my friend is doing a final check for any left-behinds, peering into closets and kitchen drawers.

“I found something!”

Coming down the stairs, she offers the something to me.

“It was in the back of your wardrobe,” she says, and her smile—kind, knowing, rueful—makes my breath catch. Even before I look at it, I know what it is.

The first photograph of me and him. He looks at me fondly as I laugh at something long-forgotten, both of us five years younger and foolish. I have not seen him for over a year, have not touched him for over a year. I look at his face, a sight I knew so well and intimately, and consider how my recollection of it is now out-of-date.

“We better get going,” my friend says, watching me carefully.


“You okay?”

“I’m fine.”

It’s not a lie, but it’s not the truth, either. I roughly stow the photograph in my pocket and turn my attention to the move, forget about it forcefully and entirely. Clothes go on hangers, plants are awarded a place in the sun, and our cat gallops up and down the hall. Together, we turn a house into a home full of bright, welcoming corners.

Later, I wait for the shower to warm, cradled in my own arms. He will never get the chance to hold me in these walls. This bathroom is significantly larger, more open than the apartment’s, with a tall ceiling and a large mirror. I look across at my reflection as I wash the day’s work from my skin, and my face is smeared languid in the misted glass. The past feels far, far away. I can’t remember what he smelt like. I suddenly remember: six years. We are six years younger in the photograph, not five.

I turn off the shower, feel the cool here-and-now of the tiles beneath my feet, heart shuddering. Minutes later, I lay boxes bare, rifling through bags of myself, where is it, where is it—but I can’t find the photo. Sitting on the bed, I close my eyes, head in my hands. My new bedroom smells of fresh carpet and paint—so different to the musty, well-lived apartment—and I need to decorate the walls, and I can’t find the photo.

It isn’t in my pants’ pocket; I must have taken it out during the day to save it from being crumpled by carelessness. But where, I begin to think, and then remember the colourful wooden box that keeps my heart’s sentimentalities. The box, thank God, is sitting peaceful and quiet beneath my bed. Opening it, the photograph of us sits on top of old birthday cards and knick-knacks; the catch in my lungs releases as I examine the two of us, projecting knowledge onto image. I remember how his body felt on my skin and how his laughter felt against my mouth and how his heart felt beneath my fingers and—it’s too much to bear, so I peer at my own face instead. Several versions removed from me here-and-now, but if I look carefully, I can see traces of who I will become: more bold, more thoughtful, more kind. So much of who I am is thanks to the man in this photograph, his arm cradling my waist with thoughtless love. I am confronted with the truth in its bittersweet entirety: I will bear the imprints of this person on my skin for the rest of my life.

There’s nothing to do but move forward.

I close the lid.

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