Gentle and Fierce is a new book of illustrated memoir essays by Vanessa Berry. 

Mink Coat/ Mirror Photo

Sometimes I call to mind a particular photo that I am sure will unlock some part of the story I am writing. If it is a pre-digital photograph, this means it is somewhere among the few thousand of these I have stored unsystematically in suitcases and tins, so whenever I need one in particular, I have to rely on my memory as to which of these it might be in, or set about looking through them all. Then, when I do find the photograph, it often isn't quite as I remember it, or doesn't hold quite the secret I'd hoped.

This was how it was with the photo of me reflected in the bathroom mirror. What had I wanted the photograph to tell me? How strange that time had been, living alone in what had been my grandparents' house, in the year that it was for sale. It was a small house but big enough to seem empty with just me in it. I missed the brown flocked wallpaper and patterned carpet that had been replaced by neutral substitutes. But unchanged were the pink and black tiles in the bathroom, and the mirror I'd eventually grown tall enough to see my face in, where now an adult looked back at me, holding the camera under her chin, camouflaged against her coat. In the photograph, she didn't tell me more than I remembered, but it was good to see her again.

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