~ A story inspired by my days working at a portrait studio ~
The phone is ringing but I can’t answer it. Ronda is propping an infant in one of the corporate mandated infant poses and can’t answer the phone either. The parents of the infant are hovering over Ronda, making sure that not a single hair on their child is harmed in the making of their photographs, obviously first time parents. The father wipes some drool off the infant’s chin with a little blue towel with puppy paw prints. As soon as Ronda tucks the infant’s hand behind his head it flings right out and his chin rests on his little chest.
The mother I’m talking to looks at the little booklet of collections and rubs her right temple.
“I’ll give you a moment to think,” I tell her.
Her four year old is getting bored and starts trying to climb up onto his mother’s lap.
“Mommy! Mommy!” She picks him up while still looking at the booklet. The boy grabs the extra pen I set on the counter and starts scribbling on the pad I left for the mother to write down who she’d like to give pictures to. He starts scribbling on the blue countertop.
“Oh, let me get that from you” I say as I take away the pen. I smile at them, secretly wishing for the mother to just make her mind and take her annoying child with her. All I got out were a bunch of pictures of him exposing his teeth to pass off as a smile. I explain the benefits of going into the Choice collection again.
“Dylan! Dylan!” Pop! Ronda takes the infant’s first photograph. The flash covers the stage in a bright white light for an instant. The infant begins crying, having gotten startled because of the flash. Customers on their way out from the shopping mall stand by the wall of windows and smile as they see Dylan’s mother picking him up and rubbing his back.
“Mommy! I’m hungry, I’m hungry, Mommy!” The enormous fan overhead makes me get goose bumps. The edge of the customer information card I’m writing on keeps on lifting due to the fan breeze.
“Ok, let’s go with the Classic package” she says. I notice that sweat is pooling on her upper lip. My hands are freezing.
“Great! You’ve got 8 sheets to choose…”
“Mommy!” The little boy is tugging on her white sweater.
“I’ve got some blocks he can play with,” I tell her.
She doesn’t answer and just looks at me with a tired smile. I walk over to the drawer where the blocks box is. The umbrella where the flash is gets caught in my hair, like it always does and I hear the buzzing of the little machine. I take out the blocks and dump them on the floor, my name tag dangling as I lean over. The boy plops down, builds a small tower and yelps when he pushes it over. Ronda is clicking her tongue, trying to get the infant’s wandering gaze on her. She puts her hand on the left side of his face to direct his gaze on her and Dylan’s head goes all the way to the right. A quick adjustment and…
“Oh my gosh!” The parents love the picture.
“Mommy! Look at my castle!”
“That’s nice, honey. What do we have in that pose?”
She touches the computer screen, leaving behind a greasy fingerprint. I’ve got to control the urge to go to the back office, grab a paper towel and wipe that fingerprint off the screen. A woman walks up to the front desk with her receipt in her hand. She looks from Ronda to me, from me to Ronda. I see her out of the corner of my eye; she’s wearing extremely high heels. “We’ll be right with you,” Ronda tells her loudly from the stage. The woman looks around and then at her watch.
“Try it again in color, please.” I put the picture in color, the vibrant colors of the boys’ Halloween costume light up the screen.
“Black and white,” the mother says.
The woman at the desk is staring. I don’t look at her. The phone starts ringing again.
“Dylan!” The infants gaze keeps on going down. “Dylan!” Ronda clicks her tongue and makes kissing noises, while putting her pointer finger under his noise.
“Dylan, Dylan!” Dylan’s father takes out some keys and starts shaking them trying to get his son to look up. What the father doesn’t realize is that he is making it harder for Dylan to concentrate on Ronda.
“He likes it if you make the eating noise,” Dylan’s mother says.
What the hell is the eating noise? I think.
An associate from another store comes into the studio. “Can you speak to this customer I’ve got on the phone?” she asks me, as I’m showing the mother her order for the third time. She looks apologetic.
“They said they tried calling but nobody answers”. I let her know that we are busy and they can leave a message.
“Mommy, I’m hungry!”
“Excuse me, miss? I need to be somewhere and I just need to pick up my pictures.”
“I’ll be right with you,” I tell her.
“Am I all done?” the mother asks me. I let her know she has one sheet left. Her eyes go big. She randomly chooses a picture and I print her receipts, telling her to go pay and come back with her paid receipt. I don’t even ask her if she is happy with her order. The mother thanks me. The little boy starts crying as his mother picks him up and forces him into a stroller.
“No problem,” I tell her. She wheels out of the studio quickly; mothers always seem so stressed when they come here. I look at the ground; building blocks are strewn across the floor. It’s really not fair for the parents to leave the mess for me to pick up. The woman at the desk sighs forcefully.
“Finally!” she says as she shoves the receipt in my hand. “I want my pictures.”
I make sure to take my time getting her pictures, my little act of rebellion.