Today we have some short fiction from the fantastic new writer Amber Massie-Blomfield. Say Cheese brings a snapshot of a couple unveiled from both sides of the lens.
He keeps watching her. Her stomach fills with butterflies, because there’s something almost frightening, letting herself be looked at like this. She doesn’t catch his eye. She lets the warm air lift the glowing strands, flying out about her in a halo. It will be a mess.
Read the story after the jump
When she opens her eyes it’s like she sees everything for the very first time. Winter sun streams in and coats things with dust: the overcrowded bookshelf, the piles of CDs, the profusion of bottles and pots and ribbons and brushes, and the clothes, scattered like the aftermath of a disaster. The bedroom belongs to a stranger – someone young and chaotic. Strung above the mirror is a collection of Polaroids: people wearing wigs and smoking roll ups, making the peace sign. There’s a poster on the wall for a film from the 1920s. This is the kind of person that lives here.
She goes and stands underneath the shower for a long time, her heart pounding. The piping hot water runs through her eyelashes, fills her mouth. She spits. She takes her flatmate’s razor blade, shaves her bikini line.
When he wakes first of all he catches her reflected in the mirror. She’s on tiptoes, has her arms lifted above her head and her long red hair caught between her fingers so it’s all fragments of light. Her hip swells in the kind of way you feel you have to touch. The word is Rubenesque.
She knows this because people have said it of her before. Always the arty boys, the bookish ones. It is a generous word for girls who are a bit on the curvy side. She tried several angles in the mirror before she looked at herself and thought: ‘Rubenesque’, then switched the hairdryer on full whack.
He keeps watching her. Her stomach fills with butterflies, because there’s something almost frightening, letting herself be looked at like this. She doesn’t catch his eye. She lets the warm air lift the glowing strands, flying out about her in a halo. It will be a mess. She doesn’t care. He places a pillow behind him, folds his arms behind his head. The sheet falls away from his chest, and it’s partly that he’s so, so beautiful, that she feels so very ordinary.
She turns off the hairdryer, and quiet floods in. She grabs her camera from where it sits on the mantelpiece. ‘Say cheese’, she says. Her voice is too loud. She giggles: ‘Yeah, baby, yeah!’, holding it in front of her face.
He puts his hand out like a celebrity getting papped and dives beneath the covers.
“Not one photo?”
The lump in the bed is silent.
Instead, she turns the lens on herself and pulls a porn star pout, shoots. It isn’t her best angle, and the sun is making her squint. She tries again, bounces on to the bed beside him, finds what she thinks is his arm and shakes it, shows him the screen.
“This one is for you.”
“I’m going to print it out and put it in a heart-shaped frame for you. You can keep it on your desk.”
He rolls his eyes and then he smiles, pulls her on to his shoulder. They gaze at the image on the screen.
“One day it won’t be enough, you know.” She says “You’ll be able to conjure me in 3D at the flick of a switch, airbrushed and with a less annoying laugh, exactly how you want me to be.”
“How about less difficult questions?”
“Whatever you want.”
He lies back and looks up at the ceiling.
“I don’t think I’d like that” he says
“Yes but I’ll give you blow jobs and cups of tea whenever you like” she says
“Still.” He says
She points the camera at him again and he bats it from her hands, grabs her, turns her over and does that thing to the back of her knees.
No one could say he isn’t handsome. He’s got this George Clooney thing about him, a silver fox, tanned skin wrinkled in laughter lines around his eyes, combined with a kind of self-aware academic geekiness, dark rimmed glasses, even a jacket with elbow patches. But most of all it’s the respect he commands, without even trying, he speaks with such clarity and passion, even those who don’t like him have to admit he knows his stuff. So, of course, there must have been others. So many girls in his classes, and many prettier ones than her, naturally. She tells herself this, of course.
Later when he’s dozing she has another go, slipping out from beneath the duvet and trying to snap him while he sleeps.
“There are cultures, you know, where people refuse to have their photos taken. They believe that it will capture their soul. Are you trying to capture my soul?” he asks, with his eyes closed.
She shrugs and smiles, looks down, self-conscious again, standing there, naked, the camera dangling from a black strap between her breasts. He says something about photography being the opposite of life. It’s the kind of thing that makes some of the others think he’s a bit of a knob. But her notebooks are strewn with quotes like this, in red pen, surrounded by stars.
“But… it’s just a photograph.”
“Why does it matter so much? I’m here, aren’t I?”
It is difficult to explain so she just nods, yes, he’s here, he’s here.
“You just have to let some moments be. Not everything has to be recorded. That’s missing the point. You’ll become like a butterfly collector: with a glorious display of dead corpses for company, and a total lack of understanding of what makes butterflies beautiful.”
She thinks about how just a few hours ago she watched him in the slice of street light, searching his face for signs that he was dreaming. In the darkness she held her breath and felt that everything was possible.
“Besides,” he says, “my wife.”
The room is small. She moves to the window, presses her head against the glass. Outside, the day is already getting old, people hurrying about their business. Everyone always has to act like they are in such a rush to get the day out of the way, walking so quickly, keeping their heads down, never stopping to look around them. Sometimes she wonders if it is possible that they are actually making time go faster. She wills someone to look up at her, to see her standing here as naked as the day she was born, to catch her eye.
She turns around and looks at him.
“Just one. Please. I will never ask you again, I promise.”
He sighs and shakes his head.
“Just one,” he says. He lifts his face and bares his teeth at her. “Cheese” he says. The camera clicks.
Amber Massie-Blomfield is a London-based writer and a publicist, particularly for theatre. Though relatively new to writing short fiction, her work has been read as part of White Rabbit’s Are You Sitting Comfortably and Storytails. Her flash fiction piece Beneath the Paving Stones is going to be part of our collection Volumes of Text for A Pigeon, A Kitchen and An Annexe: Sites of Alternative Publishing.
Read more of her work here.