Tonight I am sitting alone in my favourite restaurant and asking every passing stranger to take a photo of me. I want to know what I look like to them. I want to know whether the camera will capture what’s inside of me. I want to know how long I will stay this lonely. Last night I thought about how much of my life I have already wasted by wishing someone was here. How many mornings spent missing company, how many nights spent touching my shoulders and ignoring the identity of my own hands.
Tonight I am sitting alone in my favourite restaurant. Pink walls lead me to believe that the painter hated flowers. Why else would you replicate something subtle with such force? A shade that was once gentle begins screaming, while the tablecloths smirk and pretend they do not understand. Every object here is intricate, but speaking with the loudest voice possible. See how the pot plants on the table are so obviously fake, yet watered every day. See the teacups, fine china with a sticker that reads microwave safe. See the artwork, surely a framed cross stitch, until you look closer and see that woven threads are merely well drawn lines, overlapping.
Delicious, isn’t it? The way we convince ourselves otherwise? We see what is easiest to see, we notice what demands to be noticed, but only from our own perspectives.
‘Will you take a photo of me?’
My voice is quiet beside the paintwork, my skin pale against pink walls.
The customer is a middle aged gentleman, wearing a tweed jacket. I think of all the University lecturers I once had teenage crushes on.
‘Could you please take a photo of me here?’
Unlike many of the others before him, he does not ask why. Takes the disposable camera from me. His hands are large and chubby. Almost swallow the camera entirely.
‘Is this okay?’ he asks, positioning the lens so I will be featured in the corner of the frame. Everyone I ask has different ideas of how much space I should occupy in their depiction.
‘Are you ready?’
‘Three, two, one’
He doesn’t say ‘cheese’ and I am grateful. I don’t want to smile for the camera, I don’t want to smile for anyone.
The next customer I ask is a child, perhaps eight years old. I have to show her how to use the camera and which button to press, making sure her fingers don’t slip in front of the lens. She takes the photo without any warning. I am caught off guard, my accidental truth trapped somewhere inside the film, unable to be seen or removed.
As she hands the camera back to me she pauses, looks at me with the curiosity that only children can be praised for and asks,
‘Where is he, your husband?’
My breath is a china cup, slippery in my grasp. My lungs are concrete floors waiting to collect the shattered pieces.
‘Are you sending him this photo of you?’
Her innocence is a free mint given after a meal. The kind that nobody really enjoys, but some sense of tradition convinces you to take it.
‘Yes’, I reply. The lie sticks to my teeth. ‘He will love it, thank you’.
As she grins, her mouth is wider than the Grand Canyon on a good day. She leaves without saying goodbye, does not yet know the necessity of farewells.
Tonight I sit alone in my favourite restaurant, trying to remember what happened in the moments before. I feel I am forgetting faster than usual. Lately every day has felt like a perpetual retracing of the steps I took to reach where I am currently standing. I cannot recall the name of the street I grew up on. I feel I am forgetting faster than usual. But with the newspaper ink becoming slightly more smudged each day, this might be a good thing.
Once, I loved someone who always had ink stained hands. His top pocket was home to a spiral notebook, usually stolen from a newsagency. He worked in a bar where every surface felt sticky, ignoring customer’s drink orders and sketching their profiles instead. The first night we met he served me a rum and coke on a napkin made of notepaper. The first sketch was of my face. It featured hundreds of overlapping lines, yet still my expression emerged, more honest than any photograph. Beneath the sketch were others; illustrations of fruits with no explanation, a flower drawn using geometric shapes. I tried to pay for the drink and he refused my money, simply stared at my cheek for a moment before placing his pen between his teeth and turning away.
Four months later he told me that he wanted to paint the walls of our house bright pink. Ten months later his bicycle returned to me in bits and pieces. Eleven months later, strangers started visiting the restaurant. They bring me food regularly. They know me so well now, I do not even have to order. I wait for someone to pass me a rum and coke. I wait for someone to sketch me. Nobody stares at my cheeks.
Soon I will have enough photographs to preserve all of my memories. I will remember how I arrived here, I will remember how to leave.
‘Hello, will you take a photo of me?
Do you know what this paint colour is called? It feels so familiar, doesn’t it?’
Maddie Godfrey is a writer, poet and educator who aims to facilitate compassionate conversations about social issues. At 23, they have performed poetry at The Sydney Opera House, The Royal Albert Hall, St Paul’s Cathedral (London) and Glastonbury Festival 2017. Maddie’s publishing highlights include Westerly Magazine, Button Poetry, Scum Mag and Cordite Poetry Review. In 2018 Maddie’s debut poetry collection, titled ‘How To Be Held’ was released by Burning Eye Books (UK). Maddie recently completed a contract with Propel Youth Arts WA as the Creative Coordinator of Youth Week WA 2019. Maddie is also an editor with Voiceworks Magazine, a freelance workshop facilitator with various schools and organisations, an Associate Producer with Express Media and a PhD student at Curtin University. Maddie is not a morning person.