An almost empty waiting room of oncoming diabetes patients, suffering from symptoms of the temptations of neon smiles at 3 a.m. and smells of home and satisfaction, left the girl behind the ice cream counter with time to think. This was the first time she’d had 20 minutes to herself in a long while, which was a little too long for her own comfort.
She started to wonder why she’d taken so many photos of him last night.
All of them were hard-light photos, as if she’d tried to put more beauty and love into him than he really had. She must’ve burned through three rolls of film, toying with exposure and brightness, trying to get her Ikea lamp to light up the flat crop of hay he called hair. The square curves of his clunky, heavy hands, permanently tanned, reflected in the light she gave it. “This is stupid, Sally,” he’d groan and groan with every click of her shutter button. Bradley was never one for photos of himself, not unless he was taking them.
She hated that name. He knew it. He was trying to make her stop.
But she pushed on, until he got a hold of it. To be honest, he didn’t get a hold of it really. He just broke down after the photo and went to his normal method of stress relief. The three rolls of Ilford stock quality film weren’t worth the bruises on her wrists from when he started, or the ache he left in her sides when he was through.
Somehow, she didn’t think of him when the Wendy’s lights lit up the marks he’d left on her. The only thing she could remember was one particular memory of her mother, and how one night she had shared her grandmother’s handmade ice pack for the same reason. She and her mother passed it back and forth. It was one of those very old ones; the dulled white cloth had been printed with apron-material flowers whose petals puckered perfectly at the baby-blue plastic opening. She must’ve been six or seven and that was the only time she’d ever mirror her mother in that situation.
What surprised her was that she had told herself she couldn’t end up here. She had broken that promise to herself, which often hurt more than the bruises, scrapes, and scratches that he gave her.
At least she had the capacity to fix herself. Maybe, someday.
The one photograph that really mattered in all of this was burned around the edges from nights that it had slipped off its nest over her stove, and the edges had caught. But it was safe now, at the bottom of an antique drawer that Bradley never paid any attention to. The photograph wasn’t originally a sepia print; the colour version was lost. She could barely make out the face that had been laid across the photo paper, and its memory was still fuzzy in her mind. But it was there, and that was all that really mattered to her. It was still there.