On reflection, the camera seldom lies.
“Time was I was a pretty good looking guy, clear skin, no pot marks, good colour skin, a little stubble, nice jaw line and a nose that was straight and precise as a pencil. Eyes bright like brown headlamps, no bags, no drooping. Teeth all pearly white and no furry tongue. I’d thick hair in those days, under control, not like now, bald where I don’t want it, sprouting from places I never knew it grew, black eyebrows, hair like fuse wire, Jesus, I’m out of breath describing my features. I look and I don’t recognise myself. Inside I’m still that kid, nineteen and I didn’t have to try, it all came easy. I just looked, made a little contact, a little smile, cheeky maybe, then look away, then look back, then look away, then stare and …hold. In a snap I’d caught me a fine slim, sliver fish of some girl. Too many now. I can’t recall their names, well some, some just blur into one another. It’s how it is until you find that right one. Swimming in that shoal, all looking the same from a distance but up close, you can tell the one. Yes I was a catch and so was she. A catch catches a catch. That’s how it should be, that’s how you find happiness, in equals and balance. Yeah, she was a pretty fine girl. Then of course I had to chase her down, talk a little, look a little, maybe run a little. It was the funniest game and you know we both knew that, whatever it was it was inevitable, like science or maths or something. It just clicked and we knew what we knew. She didn’t want to let on about that anyway, see that’s not how you play. You play smart and long, even if you’re really going in a circle. It’s all circular movements, to get to the place that you want to get to. Circles.”
“So, well right now I’m no catch, I’m in no shape to be caught. I look at this old face and all the damage me and my friend time did. We put this thing through it’s paces, now it’s pretty tired, worn out, beat up and weather beaten. It’s as if the scaffolding underneath it all just has some serious kind of fatigue. It’s shaky…and the fabric, it’s stretched out, too dry, too much extreme. Like an old motor that can’t quite rev up to places it used to rev up to. There’s a clear drop in performance. Hey but maybe that’s no everything, ‘cos now that she’s well…gone, what’s a fellow like me got to look good for? Why should I try? I’m not some silver fish that any crazy girl’s gonna want to hook, look at me.”
“Yes, time was that I could make things happen, a razor, a tack, a stiletto; sharp as they come, that was me. I could fight. I fought for her, oh yes, there were others. Keen as the mustard in a street vendor’s hog dog. They slipped and slid and there was a little blood, a few words…but she was mine, I never was a quitter. Better guys than me too, I knew that, I see what I see and I saw that. They had me all measured up but I surprised them, I punched above my weight. Nobody really expects that, nobody expects that sharp, quick punch. I fought for her all right, won her fair and square and now…it’s all some kind of history that nobody else can really remember. Only my version of events. What I saw and did and now, the little of that that I can remember. That’s all I have left, this fragile thing inside my head that plays all those tricks, this memory. I swear some days I cant figure where the lines cross and where they bend. I think I remember things, clear as ten crystal bells ringing on a snowy night. Then I remember nothing, that’s when I get the chills, the frustration. Beating myself up because you see, I can’t quite picture her face. All those years together, those things, sunny days and lollipops and I’m such a dead man now. I can’t tell what she was like. Ok I have photos, paper with ink, running colours and blacks and whites. Get togethers and beaches and weddings and monkey suits and families. I look at her in those pictures, she’s so young and so am I, well younger. She’s there on the paper but it kind of makes no sense. It’s paper, it’s a fucking piece of paper. What’s that to have at the end of your life?”
“So doctor, you can see I’m an agitated man, my face, my memory, my head, what can you do for me? I need a package, a package to get me back there, into the stream, I need to live just a little more. Get the taste and colour, the appetite. She gave me so much. I want to get my hands on those things underground, grasp them again. I need to make some sense of this life before it all just trickles away. They say that’s how it is. You go on for years, you’re proud and caught up with yourself. You don’t look up or down, you miss the detail, the little things, they just kind of evaporated like the steam out of a kettle or the flavour from a pan. Those things that made the difference, well right now they’re eluding me, I can’t get them, can’t get back there. In my mind it’s like a conspiracy is afoot. Conspiring against myself. My mind and body have their own bloody minded agenda. They had it all the time, they played at that and they just didn’t let on, didn’t let me know that all the time that I was trusting and relying and using them they were on a whole different thing. They were real busy, running down the clock, running it down.”
The doctor sat back, elbows on the chair arm, his fingers knitted together as trying to form the roof of a tiny log cabin. He was staring at the finger pattern. The silence lasted. Neither man spoke. The doctor breathed heavily but Michael just sat quiet. Confessing his primal fears and shifted perceptions had exhausted him, he’d spent his vocabulary, pushed it all out with much of a pause for breath or thought and now his mouth was dry and he felt older but no wiser.
The doctor spoke. “Well Michael, you’re in a better place than you might think. You see you came to me looking for a cure for a problem that everybody has but no one can fix. Getting older and losing that little bit grip, friction, traction whatever that holds you onto the path of…forgive me sounding pretentious here…life. You have, momentarily lost that grip you once had. Quite a common occurrence and there is no cure…except…acceptance.”
The doctor pulled out a smart phone and clicked the camera on. “Smile please!” Automatically Michael smiled and the photo was taken. Across the room a printer kicked into life and pushed the printed picture out from it’s grey plastic innards with a whir and a few mechanical noises as if giving birth. The doctor walked across to the machine and picked up a sheet of paper. “Just stay there on the couch, I’ll get this,” said the doctor.
“Michael, do you recognise this man?” Michael looked at the print and then looked at the doctor. “Well it’s a lot like a guy I used to know…” the doctor looked again at the print then at his phone. The image was not what he expected. There on both the paper and on the phone screen was a young man, maybe nineteen, dark and animal, jet black greased hair, in his prime. Beside him on the couch was a slim, smiling girl, sitting right next to him, pretty eyes staring out into the lens. They were holding hands. In the background the doctor could make out every detail in is surgery. It was a pretty good camera phone.