That was the good news, I told myself – out of a thousand pictures there’s got to be good one, right? Even the Fascist would look good in one out of a thousand, especially shot by (supposedly) the best photographer in all of New York City.
The bad news was pretty much everything else. Apparently the girl who was there just before me was much better. She really knew how to do it, according to Filonia. She had so much energy, that other girl; she was alive in every picture. I, obviously, was dead. The girl Friday afternoon, Filonia called to Seven and Nico – what was her name? Siddhartha. She was wild. They all exchanged knowing glances, and murmured things like “accessories” and “spicy” and then laughed happily together while I shrunk on the stool.
But that’s not all. Apparently the spaces between my fingers are frighteningly pale. Filonia needed Seven to put makeup on them because they were wrecking the pictures. Oh, joy, the one aspect of myself I had never thought of obsessing over, the spaces between my fingers and their pallor. Also my knuckles were red. (You’d think they could get together with the spaces right there beside them and do a little pigment barter, but no.)
“Your hair looked better a minute ago,” Filonia said at one point. Seven didn’t come to fix it and I didn’t know how my hair had changed in the past minute so I smooshed it, trying to get it to revert to whatever it had just stopped doing, but then Filonia said, “No, you’re making it worse. Why didn’t they tell you to get highlights? Dull, dull, dull. Now, try not to blink so much.”
I became a blinking machine. I had never before in my life been so aware of my blinking and suddenly I couldn’t keep my eyes open for more than three seconds at a go. It gave the room a strobe effect and I started to run a serious risk of falling off the stool.
“Why are you moving that way?”
“Can I stand up?” I asked.
“Just try to smile naturally,” she instructed.
I could not summon a single muscle memory of how my face normally smiled. Had I ever smiled normally in my life? Filonia sighed and stepped away from her cameras.
“Let’s try something else,” she said. She set up a chair with a table in front, hoisted my backpack on top, and told me to sit down and lean forward over it. I didn’t know exactly what she meant to do but I tried and, shockingly, did not succeed.
“Look a little more left and a little more right,” she said.
So I crossed my eyes. She snapped the picture.
“Can you do something more fun with your left hand?” she asked, causing my left hand to feel as if it had magically grown to twenty times its normal size and weight. I could barely lift it. The one fun thing I could think of to do with it would have been rude. I splayed the fingers on it out, which caused a whole pale spaces emergency again.
When that was resolved, I propped my head on top of my backpack. Filonia snapped a few half-hearted frames. “Turn.” I turned. “No, the other way. Your nose starts right up by your forehead on that side.”
I didn’t ask where it started on the other side, just turned my head and tried in vain to stop blinking.
“Don’t do so much of that,” Filonia instructed. “What you were doing just now. Maybe a little more something else. Now you’re blinking again.”
“I can’t…” I started and then stopped and tried to smile naturally.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I don’t know how to do this,” I said.
“Do what? Just relax.”
“I’m not sure why I’m here. I don’t even like to have my picture taken and I am obviously bad at it and I should be in math class and my mother is going to kill me.”
All three of them started reassuring me that I was doing a great job. Which made it that much worse.
“No, I’m not,” I insisted. “It’s okay, I’m not as spicy and not as energetic, not as alive as those other girls. Fine, I get it. I have pale spaces and red knuckles and too dark hair and nose that starts in the wrong place and an oddly unwitty left hand.”