The following short story was first published in July 2017 in Vault magazine, Issue 19. It was part of a photo essay curated by Neha Kale, in which three authors—Miles Allinson, Max Olijnk and myself—responded to Larry Sultan’s incredible photographic memoir Pictures from Home. The specific photo on which this story centres is ‘Practicing Golf Swing’ (1986).
My son is forty and a hotshot photographer. He wants to shoot me.
He invites me to his warehouse studio. In the studio, he’s built a horizontal line of rooms – a one-storey cross-section.
‘I’ve reconstructed every room we’ve ever lived in,’ he says, ‘in chronological order. Do you like it?’
‘Six years I haven’t heard from you,’ I tell him, ‘and now you want me for one of your damn photos.’
He walks me down the line. It’s long. There’s the wallpapered kitchen, his mother’s favourite bathroom, the dining room with the macrame owl. We arrive at the last room. It has a television and green carpet, and a white curtain lit up from behind.
‘What do you think, Dad?’
‘Are you suggesting this is my final living room? I’m retired, not dying.’
He sets up his camera and light, and gives me instructions. Cross your arms. Tilt your head. Read the newspaper. Fix this vacuum cleaner.
He hands me a golf club and tells me to demonstrate my swing.
‘Dad,’ he says, ‘I want you to imagine that elusive hole in one. That perfect shot you never got.’
But when I stand on the carpet and do the swing, it doesn’t turn out right.
‘Not like that,’ he says. ‘What are you doing?’
He checks my alignment, bends my knees, adjusts my grip. As he walks back to his tripod, I lose my balance.
When he turns to see his work undone, his eyes are sour but his voice is smooth.
‘That’s fine,’ he says, ‘I’ve got all day.’
‘I’m doing you the favour.’
‘You never trust what I tell you. I’m not an idiot.’
I swing and swing, over and over. Nothing satisfies him.
‘Okay,’ he says finally. ‘We’re done.’
He begins to pack up his equipment.
‘Wait.’ I drop the club. ‘I want a portrait of my photographer.’
I walk him back past the macrame owl, his mother’s favourite bathroom, the wallpapered kitchen.
We arrive at the start of the row.
‘Your first room,’ I say, ‘but not mine.’
I stand facing him. He’s a head taller than me. I peel off his clothes, layer by layer. I wrap him in a nappy and pin it in place. I push a dummy into his mouth. I put him in the cot in the corner and I tuck him in and I kiss him on the forehead.
‘You were my perfect shot,’ I tell him, as he begins to cry.