Look at the picture, the way her slim arm curves around the small of his back, just the way yours used to. Remember the way your hip slipped so neatly under his? Your bodies always seemed to fit together in every position, like infinitely compatible jigsaw pieces. You wonder if theirs feel the same. She’s taller than you; her head doesn’t fit into his chest like yours did – he said he loved that about you, remember?
She is slim and fit, wearing a baby pink dress that, with her blonde hair, makes her look like a Barbie. You hate pink, but you’re envious that she can wear it. Maybe he likes it now, too.
You can’t deny she looks beautiful in this picture; that bump in her nose has become a flat, perfectly formed little flick. Their smiles match. Look at the way the top of her arm protrudes in a sort of slouchy curve – you hate the way your arms do that too, don’t you? Hers are tanned though, well defined. Maybe yours aren’t so bad either? Your gaze wanders to his face; is he really happy? Might this be a façade? They do look so well suited though. You’re not going to argue with that, are you?
You study the picture further. It has 58 likes. You read your way through the comments and ache and ache and ache.
When Imogen arrives Katharine doesn’t seem to know whether or not to let her in. Imogen hasn’t seen her since school (she hardly spoke to her then). Neither of them can relax until Imogen asks her about the dress.
We had only met the once, when he messaged me to ask if I’d play the role of his lover in a short film. Ruaidhri intrigues me, and I find myself using photography as an excuse to spend more time with him.
One afternoon I ask him if we can recreate a picture of his grandfather that I’ve come across on his Facebook page. That is something he’s always wanted to do, he says.
His grandpa was a handsome man, sat at a kitchen table in Italy in the late 1950s, with light streaming through the plants and onto his breakfast. He hadn’t been permitted to share a bedroom with Ruaidhri’s grandmother at the time. Ruaidhri enjoys the innocent romance of it all.
People commented on the picture, remarked on the resemblance between the two of them.
I see his bedroom for the first time that day. It’s beautifully arranged, almost set-designed, with French novels, oil burners and tin soap dishes dotted around – a careful, curated style I recognise from his blog. I can’t photograph them, he tells me; that is something he wants to do himself. For a moment, we are two artists with hidden, conflicting agendas. I wonder what he wants. If I am not allowed to take photographs of his trinkets, then why am I allowed to turn him into his grandfather?
A few plants and a fortunate shower of sunlight transform his living room, and the shoot begins. But Ruaidhri is tired, hungover, and I am taking too long perfecting the shot. I know when it is my time to leave. I had hoped to be with him longer.
I didn’t see her as much as I’d wanted when she was pregnant: she’d moved away; things seemed so different. I photographed her on three occasions; we both knew it was the only time we were likely to spend together for a long while.
She was abuzz, bobbing from excitement to tearful anxiety at the prospect of the unknown. She’d fall asleep between shots, waking up to pose like a statue, but before long she’d become uncomfortable and get lost in her own conversation with the baby that was to come.
I told her that her pubic hair was exposed. She said it was only natural: it didn’t matter. When she noticed the stain on her pants she asked me if I could Photoshop it out.
Bea had become a dancer; I hadn’t. Hearing her voice again threw me. It was familiar and different, like déjà vu. She’d retired from performing, she told me, but said that she’d still like to put on her leotard and show me some poses.
She stretched in her hallway, complaining about old injuries. You miss this, I thought.
At one point, she fixed her eyes on me through the lens, asking me, theatrically, ‘What’s my story?’
‘Your dog’s just been run over.’
She looked at me harder.
When Rosie began I was spellbound. I’d looked at her pictures, imagined the photographs I might take, but nothing I’d seen online captured this grace and fluidity. I wasn’t sure I could, either.
I’d somehow managed to convince myself that I needed to repair my relationship with her, but now, watching her move, I realised that had just been the lie I’d told myself to get here. I wanted to see her on the pole.
She had made the underwear she was wearing; pole dancing was just a temporary thing, to help her on the way to becoming a lingerie designer. We didn’t talk about it, but I tried to imagine the men leering over her as she performed. I struggled to see her with eyes other than my own.I knew the seediness of strip clubs, the animal urgency, but I couldn’tbelieve that it would be that way for her. I didn’t view her performance as sexual, but the thought struck me that perhaps, by photographing her like this, I was using her too.
I saw a rat run across the room behind her. We didn’t talk about that either.
Miss had sent a student to fetch me from reception. I was convinced she planned on embarrassing me somehow, on throwing me into a sea of teenage faces, watching me drown. As I entered the classroom, she waved, tossed over a smile and carried on teaching. I sat on a chair, faced the class and learned about the amount of protein in cheese.
Photographing him feels completely different now. It’s not tender. I don’t feel like I’m recording anything particularly special. He is more confident, slipping between his model poses and looking straight past me. This isn’t the way it was supposed to be.
I’m not hiding how this makes me feel. I can’t believe he doesn’t see it, doesn’t get what this is about, doesn’t understand why I want to photograph him. We’re here, together in this space, and I’m taking pictures of him listening to the music he sent me when we split up. Why isn’t he asking me why?
“Can you play that song you wrote about me when we broke up?” I ask him. “Now the one you sent the day you left.” And off he skips to put it on, waxing lyrical about what a great track it is, or rattling off facts about the artist. Like that’s what I’m interested in.
I am tired. I sit down, but keep on taking pictures. There’s nothing that matters here to capture. He isn’t responding like he did in my head. I hand him my camera, take his cigarette and ask him to photograph me instead.
I smoke while he takes pictures. They’re not what I want them to be.
Going home, I forget to swipe my Oyster card and miss my Tube stop. When Jo comes in, I show her the pictures and tell her what a horrible waste of time today has been. Look through different eyes, she tells me. I do, and I see that every photograph I have here represents something real, even though they’re nothing like I imagined.
I email him and ask him how he found the shoot. I want to understand it from his perspective.
“I don’t really know what to say.”