Fiction · 06/13/2018

Scrapbooking at the Valhalla Hills Community Center with Helga Mulholland

  1. Is your workspace clean? Take a moment to tidy. An organized space cleanses your soul!
  2. Open your scrapbook and smell the pages. What does it smell like? Paper can smell like memory, like smoke, like the sun, like morning through the fog. Or even artichoke. I get my scrapbooks at an art school supply store next to an organic pizza place, and they use a lot of artichokes.
  3. Assemble your photos in a progression that makes sense; chronological is my favorite!
  4. Now, take your first picture. Inspect it. What does it tell you?

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Cape May, 1981

See the sisters. See the sisters with the bleached-by-sun hair. They sit on the pier reeking of fish and brine. One is small, the other smaller. Their smiles take up their whole faces, and their teeth are white, even within the sepia tone. The less-small one wears a white one-piece and the more-small one wears a white two-piece that is too mature. In just a few years, that maturity judgment will be all-too-debatable. In the background is their hippie father and straight-laced mother. They do not smile at the sisters.

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  1. Place your first picture on the page and use all the glue you need! More than you think you need.
  2. There are markers beside you. Does the picture require blue? How about gold?
  3. Use the sparkles and beads and decoupage liberally! Make it shiiiiiiiine!
  4. Are you ready for picture two? Touch it to your tongue (it’s not weird). Does it taste like strawberries or your mother’s breast? Maybe it tastes like rum and coke and your abandoned youth.

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Ocean City, NJ, 1986

They smell of suntan lotion — so much lotion — and Juicy Fruit (they snap gum endlessly), but in the frozen moment the sisters taste salt water. They are tall now, much taller, and stand above the jetty. They have switched height ratios with the onset of adolescence. They are not so much smiling the guileless grins of childhood anymore. Blue Bikini’s smoky eyes look off camera, half-lidded. Black One-piece’s makeup-free eyes are hidden by too-large sunglasses. Within those reflective pools, hippie father’s face is haggard, his mustache sparse.

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  1. Are you afraid of using the scissors? Think about not being so. Cut the next picture down to size, maybe fit it over one corner of the first picture. Add other objects: pine cones, movie tickets, your prom corsage, literal garbage, whatever you have!
  2. This is scrapbooking, not boring photo albuming.
  3. Don’t neglect the decoupage, and remember the streamers! Streamers are delightful and make everything that much more fun. Haven’t you been to a birthday party?
  4. Do you have pictures three and four? Let’s double up and start planning! Hold them to your ear (this might sound silly) and try to hear the past. The past speaks in tongues and in clips and phrases of drive-thrus and one-hit wonders you haven’t thought about in a thousand hours.

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Myrtle Beach, 1992

The distance between them is more than the silence on the end of a phone call, more than the absence of their straight-laced mother, their hippie father. A sand dune, a dune buggy, three boys that have names like angry barks and whose relevance fades in the wind. The sisters’ voices, when they say one another’s names, drop. From off camera, there’s only the sound of someone walking down the beach selling over-priced photo viewers that come in the little triangle. Smile, they say to the sisters. Smile.

The Outerbanks, 1993

The sisters do not speak, and the silence is louder than words.

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  1. Okay! Now, you can scrapbook! Go ahead and make your world and recreate your history here. Your history is patchwork, and your memory is malleable like water. Ignore entropy and ennui and embrace the now.
  2. Don’t forget to leave your evaluations on your desk.

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Michael B. Tager is a writer and editor from Baltimore. His work has appeared in Hobart, Barrelhouse, Electric Literature and elsewhere.