According to Esther

March 17, 2013 at 9:48 pm (Uncategorized)

I’ve been carrying a photo around in my notebook for months.

It’s a black and white portrait of a woman, sitting on the doorstep of a log cabin. She’s wearing wide legged pants and a dark blouse, her blonde hair tied back from her face. She’s holding a cigarette and smiling, and I imagine her lipstick is bright red. There’s no name on the back, just a date: 1928. And on the front, someone’s written in thick black ink the word Mother.

I have no idea who she is, but she comes everywhere with me.

I found her in a box of old photos on the counter top of Schwab’s Dry Goods Store in Beale Street, Memphis.  It was a beautiful redbrick building, the oldest store in the Mid-South, filled with picked cotton and voodoo charms to bless the hands of musicians. But it was the box of vintage photographs that caught my attention, and I rolled my sleeves up straight away.

Writers never have to be asked twice to explore other people’s lives, after all.

There were so many stories sitting in that box that I lost complete track of time. I forgot that I had cinnamon whiskey and a platter of ribs and corn bread waiting across the street for me.  It slipped my mind that just that morning I’d stood in Elvis’ jungle room, marvelling at the green shag carpet on the ceiling. For that indulgent stretch of a summer afternoon it was just me, sifting through other people’s special moments and making up character names for each and every face.

A family gathered around a steaming samovar, two laughing women in cloche hats in a sunny garden, a sinister looking man with his arms outstretched and scribbled words on the back: outside church, Miami. People wanted to remember each and every one of those moments; all special for a reason.

And decades later they fall into the hands of a redheaded writer who pays fifty cents for each one, slips them into her notebook, and takes them halfway around the world to Australia.

I like The Mother, very much. I think she had a dirty laugh and drank black coffee.  When I write her into a story, her name will be Esther. And you know, if a random image of me ever ends up in a box in a drugstore for fifty cents, I’d be delighted.

Even if it’s this one.

Because there was a story to that, too…but isn’t there always?

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