Sunday, October 14

Photographs For Sale

[PROLOGUE:big bardot eyes

a portrait of a girl I
ain’t yet met

oh there, stares a front

from this photograph
in un derwear
medusa hair


not post love
you’n tell

black and white

With an hour to kill before class in my nineteenth year I visited a local market that was near the university. All the stalls had their own awning; blue and white; shades of seaside hallucinating in the dull city centre. I looked around the stalls but they mostly sold shit. There was a good discount on some scourers that I could use for getting the dried curry off my dishes. There was a stuffed fox. There was a rack of bread that was staling in the midday air. Laid out on a chequered tea-towel were old cameras. Each one of them was caked in greasy dust and had something-or-other wrong with it. I studied them. Some out-of-date film. A couple of schoolgirls were looking at the cameras, too, and enquiring – ‘How much?’ ‘I’ll do you forty for that.’ A fat uninterested man in a flat cap and two-day stubble stood behind some books on 80s popstars, old comic annuals, a couple of ‘art’ magazines and a few wooden boxes of photographs.

tacky corners
black or burned
or fingered

icy caps of mountains
rows n rows

fuji kodak ilford
the outstood polaroid

edges fingered; left in the sun
and’s I the last least

I very quickly developed a set of hand movements for flicking through the photographs efficiently. It was important to be efficient. As a child I had flicked similarly through somebody else’s stickers of football players, noting aloud – ‘Got’ or – ‘Need’. So it was with these photographs by strangers of places I had not been or people I did not know. The fat uninterested man in a flat cap and two-day stubble looked at me. Less concerned with the prospect that I might make a purchase, I suppose he was more worried about how my set of hand movements might damage his photographs. They were fine and regular hand movements and I assured him, in my confidence, that nothing would be damaged.
There was a photograph of a family next to a murky river. It was amateur and therein laid its appeal to me. One could quite safely assume from the unsteady horizon that the camera, with its self-timer, had been steadied upon the branch of a nearby tree. Four of them

father in black braces
a pomade hair

softed mother blinking

and a better son & daughter
presumed navy & beige

so wonderful that I stare for some time, then, eventually, put it aside for further consideration. Another potential customer arrives and flicks through a Bundy Anuual, nineteen-ninety-two. ‘Just six quid for that,’ he says. How long till class begins? With one box gone through and a photograph set aside, I begin on the next. This is an activity of leisure. The second holds nothing interesting, nothing special. I feel guilty for not finding anything of interest in this box of strangers, dozens of them, maybe a hundred, varying sizes, colour and monochrome, whole lives lived, chaptered by birthdays & romances, most of them no doubt elderly by now, or dead. The bell-tower informs me in century-old harmonics that it is a half-hour before class.
In the last box there is a blonde boy sat on a big pink spacehopper. This, too, is an attractive photograph. His cheeks are infantly plump and I like its angle. I am like a god looking at the child. I place it carefully on the family of four. He introduces himself to them straight away and they get on very well.
There is the last box. I go through the photographs again. By now, I may boast, that I have perfected the set of hand movements that allow me to flick through the photographs. I have also perfected quick appraisals of the photographs, pausing at the good ones, ignoring the bad.
A photograph leaps out at me.
She is lying on a bed in her underwear and I feel a little embarrassed to be staring at her, let alone holding her in my hand. She, clouded by a duvet and flesh that is without underwear, leaps out at me. The fat uninterested man in the flat-cap and two-day stubble looks at me looking at the photograph and says – ‘Ah, that photograph!’ I smile very politely, sheepishly too. ‘There is a story to that photograph.’ And he tells me the story

a man submit
to that me

bout two years
ago in a foggy boot sale

his wife caught it in his
all a’frayed

[it was somewhat frayed]

and to me she
made him give it

he’s in love a course

n you too i see

she’s sank else
young little thing
probly in love

I couldn’t tell if she was in love or not because she wasn’t staring at the photographer or the camera but was absent-mindedly banging her Bardot eyes elsewhere. What was behind the camera that so stole her attention? He went on

‘says t’me
“found on the
pavement outside
a medical exhibition”

& t’me the oddest
fuckin place

but there she is
just eight quid

two for the story
call it ten’

A tenner is more than I planned to spend. I still had to get groceries and tobacco and some red wine but you can understand, by now, that I would hand over a lot of money for that photograph. If you don’t understand why, maybe you can plant some flowers then get back to me.
I put the family of four and the spacehopper kid back into the first box – knowing the spacehopper came from the last.
I put the photograph of the girl into my wallet, where the tenner had been. She stared up at me because my wallet faced the other direction and she was not looking at the camera. She was so pretty that I forgot to look for traffic when I crossed the road. It was surely her fault. I survived. In class that afternoon I thought about her and, making sure no one could see over my shoulder, I looked at her. Her Bardot eyes were still so astounding. Her black hair. Her pale skin in that black lace. I still have the photograph somewhere. Soon after I bought the photograph I became entranced by the form of her fingers underneath her chin, as they held her head aloft. The sheets look so warm. I visited the stall often after that but never found anything quite like that photograph.

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