It started as art.
It ended twenty years, two divorces, three estranged children and a house full of whitewashed walls later.
It started at Art College, as a project for Bulgy Eye Bob the Chain Smoker -her favourite tutor. He reminded her of someone but she could never remember who.
“I shall photograph flaws,” Sandra announced.
“Life is art is life,” he said.
She used Polaroid, taking over a hundred pictures. She showed them to her mother.
“They’re all of our house,” Sandra said. Her mother held up an image, a panel from her living room door.
“It’s just a door.”
“Ah but spot the flaw.” Sandra pointed out the tiny scratch, peach matt under the cream gloss.
“Oh yes, lovely.”
For a while her family found it funny. He He He. But after Sandra’s degree show, her mother told her she’d been mortified - all those people staring and whispering.
“Did you see the teapot with the cracked spout?”
“There was peach matt under the gloss you know.”
“I don’t want to stop,” Sandra told the smoky cloud shrouding Bulgy Eye Bob.
“Life is art is life,” he drawled, “it never ends.”
So she continued. She married a man called Alex, had two children and bought a dog but she still took photographs. She saw flaws everywhere…
Doors with flaws. Floors with flaws.
Paws with flaws. A spaniel sent whimpering back to the kennels.
“Just what exactly was wrong with the dog Sandra?”
“She had a flaw in her paws Alex.”
Alex eventually cracked.
I’ve gone. The six by four foot picture of my fractionally smaller left testicle was the last straw. When did you take it? After Eddie’s party? Did you drug me you psychotic bitch? The kids are with me. Ciara’s getting help for the anorexia and I’ve found a therapist who might get David to write again. Once we’re settled we’ll be getting another puppy. Divorce papers enclosed. Photograph that.
She checked said divorce papers. Checked and rechecked and checked again…
‘Visitation rights will be …blah blah blah…..48 HOURS NOTICE.’
She snapped the absent apostrophe. Then the hairy razor Alex had abandoned in the bathroom sink. Then she removed two photographs from the children’s walls - one of Ciara’s concave stomach, another of David’s crooked joined up. She put them in an envelope with their title - ‘IMPERFECT DEPARTURE’ - and sent them off to the usual place.
She married again. She moved into a new house with her new man and decided they had to redecorate.
“Bring down the ceiling,” she screamed, “look at that Artex swirl, all broken, a cripple amongst icing peaks. Bring it down.”
Husband number two, crazed by the craziness he’d found briefly endearing, lifted up his sledgehammer.
“WAIT,” she shouted, ‘I have to photograph it first.”
Uneven walls replastered and painted white. Scratched floors smothered with varnish.
She smoothed over every crack until it all fell apart.
“No more,” he wailed, running into the night, leaving a baby inside her.
Seven months later, Sandra completed the inevitably titled ‘IMPERFECT DEPARTURE 2’. A single Polaroid of a white, woollen bundle outside a charity shop. White woollen bundle, all gurgly breathing, a Polaroid of his tiny pigeon chest pinned onto him by way of explanation. She put it in an envelope, wrote the usual address on the front and posted it. She had a new idea to explore.
It began to end.
“Who let you in?” barked Bulgy Eye Bob. He’d smoked his right leg off six years ago and now wasted his days squished down in a stinky armchair.
“I thought I’d run out of flaws but I’ve cracked it…look.” She handed him piles of polaroids. All self-portraits.
“See, my eyes are uneven, my nostrils are too wide and as for my chins…”
Bob returned her imperfections, his right hand creeping breathless towards the phone.
“I’m saving up for surgery,” said Sandra, scanning the walls. She saw flaws galore. Walls with paper peeling, blotches of damp.
“Bob, you have picture free walls.”
“I threw them all out.”
“They were my life’s work.”
Bob grabbed the phone.
“Get out or I’ll call the police.”
Sandra opened her bag and took out her Polaroid camera.
“You said it never ends.”
“Get off me.” Bob sweated and squirmed, pressing random buttons.
“Hold still,” Sandra ordered. The flash blinded Bob in his bulgy eye.
“Gotcha.” The camera delivered the photograph into her waiting hand.
Bob’s leg shook. Sandra stared at the developing image.
“You remind me of the rabbit in Watership Down,” she said calmly, “the big black scary one.”