Self Portrait

I have been told that I have my father’s eyes. I hope they are his kind eyes, with corners that crease with laughter as he spins me in dizzy circles, and irises of silver-blue filled with dreams of aeroplanes diving through the sky, parting the clouds.

I remember evenings spent cross-legged in his high-backed armchair waiting for the clink of his key in the front door, the weight of a book laying open in my lap. My grandmother taught me to read, and I borrowed large hardbacks from her shelves because I liked the way they felt between my hands, and I liked the way they looked on the table beside my bed. Even then, I liked the way I looked with a book in my hands.

I didn’t understand the longer words, but I patiently sounded them out and I liked the way they tasted, hard consonants flicking from the roof of my mouth, long vowels lingering on my tongue. He would nod his approval with a smile that crinkled around his tired eyes like crêpe paper.

I have been told that I have my mother’s hair. Curls that tumble down her back, unwinding like a ream of cotton falling from the table top, as she releases the clip that binds it neatly to her head. It is braided with silver now like ribbons of moonlight trailing through the night.

I remember hours spent cross-legged in front of her dressing table, balancing on the velvet-cushioned stool to see my reflection. Pinning my hair on top of my head with unpracticed hands, whilst beside me she blended glittering gold eyeshadow into her brow line with the tip of her index finger.

I never could perfect her technique, becoming instead a flawed copy; I was a paper doll dancing in the wind, skin snagging on sharp words and pointed looks that tear holes in the thin membrane of myself.

My grandfather taught me to play draughts on quiet afternoons in their living room. I always played with black, lining up circular counters like a double row of unblinking eyes, pupils wide. I liked to build pyramids with the white counters I won, stacking them symmetrically at the edge of the board. It is only now I realise he was letting me win, his slender hands aged copies of my own sliding discs across the board.

I sit cross-legged in my father’s high-backed armchair, the weight of a leather album in my lap; I thumb through old family photographs searching for myself in the faces of strangers. A distant cousin has the curve of my neck, the shadows that settle above my collarbones. A great-great uncle has my shy half-smile, staring out from the corner of the frame.

I am the sum of inherited parts.


(January 2014)