I like to take hot baths, the hotter the better. I’ve been that way for years. Once, on our anniversary, Jimmy and I went away to an inn and there was a two-person jacuzzi tub in the room. I filled it up and when it was ready, I called for him to join me. He put one toe in the water, then leapt back and yelled, “Hey, that’s scalding! How can you stand it?!”
I lay there, perfectly comfortable, and laughed. “Well, you don’t jump right in—you have to start with it cool and then keep adding more hot water. That way you get used to it gradually, and eventually you get numb to the heat.”
Jimmy laughed back. “Like cooking a lobster,” he said.
Memories are the same as hot baths. You don’t plunge right into the depths of one; you ease your way into it slowly. For instance, when I remember what happened to me when I was seventeen, I start in the shallow, cool water:
I remember being excited. It’s my first session with a real photographer. I’ve started modelling school, paying for it myself with what I’ve earned at a part-time job, and we’re all told we have to put together a portfolio. I’m a skinny, gawky girl, but if a photographer can make me look even a little bit pretty, it will be worth the money. I’ve picked out some clothes—a skirt, pants, jacket, tank top, and a little off-the-shoulder number that I hope will make me look more mature.
I remember my dad. He drives me to the photography studio. We don’t talk much, which I’ve come to understand is fairly typical between fathers and teenaged daughters. He doesn’t quite get my sudden and intense interest in being a model, but he’s a good dad. When I tell him that I don’t need him to walk in with me, he protests for a second but I can tell he’s OK with it, that he has things to do. I skip out of the car with my bag of clothes for the photo shoot. “I’ll be back at 2:30,” he calls after me. “Have fun!”
At this point, I can turn on the hot tap a little bit, bring the temperature up.
I remember the photography studio. It’s a large room, dimly lit except for an area with a large white backdrop and huge studio lights. There’s no one else here except the photographer—no receptionist or assistant. There’s a space towards the back with a curtain where I can change into my outfits, the ones I’ve carefully picked out. There are no windows.
I remember the photographer. He’s an older man, in his sixties. He’s short and fussy as he directs me to move and pose in certain ways. “Now take off your jacket,” he commands. “Let’s get a shot with you just wearing the tank top. Those bra straps are getting in the way. Go back and take the bra off.” I do as I’m told. He’s the professional, after all. Everyone else at the modelling school has used him. His photographs are on the walls in the room where we practice our catwalks. There’s even one of my friend Michelle up there.
It’s all right. Now that I’m warm, I can put the hot water on full blast.
I remember coming back out from behind the curtain with only the tank top on. He tells me to sit down on a stool, then he comes over and fusses for a second with my hair. Then suddenly his hands are on my shoulders and he pulls the tank top down to my waist. His fingers slide over the side of one of my breasts. His skin feels dry and coarse against mine. I want to slap his hand away, indignant, furious. Except I don’t. I’m frozen and speechless and before I know what’s happening, he’s dashed back and taken a picture with a different camera. It’s a Polaroid. He shakes it for a second and silently puts it in a drawer while I pull my tank top back up. We finish the session and I leave. I don’t tell anyone what happened, especially not my dad.
My blood is the same temperature as the water now, the scalding water that cleanses away the feeling of those fingers on my skin.
I remember a week later, having to go back and pick up the photographs. The photographer hands them to me in a plain white envelope without meeting my eyes. When I get in the car, my dad asks, “Are you happy with them?” I nod and say, “They’re OK” but I don’t show them to him. When I get home, I silently put them in a drawer. I stop going to modelling school because I don’t want to see any of them up on the wall in the room where we practice our catwalks. The last time I’m in that room before I quit, I scrutinize the photo of my friend Michelle, trying to see if her eyes give anything away.
So you see? Remembering is just like taking a hot bath. You don’t plunge in right away and flay the skin off your bones; 35 years later, it’s still a slow boil.
Suzanne Craig-Whytock is a Canadian novelist. Her shorter pieces of writing have been featured in Slippage Lit, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Women Writers Women('s) Books, The Sirens Call, Elephants Never, The Ekphrastic Review, Mineral Lit, and Moria Literary Magazine. She was a nominee for Spillwords 2019 Publication of the Year (non-poetic). Twitter: @scraigwhytock
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