Bloody Tessa (Lin Richardson, [contact sheet, Julie Paech and Theresa McDeed], c. 1970, digital scan of silver gelatin print in notebook)

By Samuel Townsend


Julie’s voice snapped down the phone line. ‘I’m not doing it! No bloody way!’

Tessa had pointed her to a notice she found in the university library. Something about a guy wanting to take portraits for his portfolio. He sounded like an old creep.

‘Come on Jules,’ she begged, ‘It’ll be fun! He’s got his own darkroom and everything, and we get to keep a few of the photos. You can give one to Frank.’ She sang this last part, dragging out the name in a playful tease: ‘Fraaank!’ 

Julie was raging inside. She despised having her photo taken and worse still, she loathed Tessa’s tricky manner. The endless plots, schemes and dramas. Bloody Tessa. ‘You’re awful,’ Julie protested as she dropped the receiver back into its cradle.

A deliberate attempt was made to arrive late but as Julie’s bike slowly rolled to a halt in front of a letterbox marked with the number thirty-seven, she saw no sign of Tessa’s wheels. Bloody Tessa. The house was unusual in how ordinary it appeared amongst a street of tightly maintained dwellings. Green squares of lawn. Shiny cars beneath carports. Curtains hanging in windows. In contrast, number thirty-seven appeared bleached and thirsty. Julie reached into her pocket to withdraw the crumpled paper, which held the address, silently hoping she had made a mistake. Scrawled in orange marker were the numbers three followed by seven. No, she wasn’t wrong.

In a sequence of hurried vignettes — door clicking open, shaking of hand, exchange of names and apology for absent friend — Julie found herself inside the living room, alone and waiting for the return of her host. Tightly packed bookshelves kept her busy in the interim. Julie plucked at the faded spines and gently slid out old texts to flip through, consciously attempting to occupy her wandering mind. As pages turned, she tried recalling the image of his face, the face that only left the room moments ago. She failed to remember details, but a lasting impression lingered: his handshake gentle and his smile friendly. Older but not old.

A tarnished platter holding coffee with biscuits and dried apricots sat between them on a crowded table. The concocted image that Julie had created was all but forgotten moments after he took his seat. A week ago she had envisaged an uncomfortable, socially awkward man; darting eyes and words tripping over one another. Instead, he regarded her fondly and listened when she spoke. He shared stories and made jokes. She laughed, not to be polite, but because he was genuinely funny. Julie found herself asking questions, passing comment and sharing thoughts. Julie found herself staring at a stranger, completely transfixed.

After emptying the pot of coffee and taking the last bitter sip, the doorbell rang. Bloody Tessa. Julie flinched at the sound and fixed her eyes on the front door. Her bike rested by the entrance way and behind the tea-stained glass she made out a hovering figure; a muddy cloud shifting back and forth. She looked back at her host who was pushing himself up from the sofa. He stood before her and smiled, ‘That must be your friend.’ Julie pressed her finger to her lips and gently shooshed him. She reached forward and took his hand, ‘Let’s pretend we’re not here.’

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Samuel Townsend

Image maker. Storyteller. Visual arts Educator. Recent exhibitions include I Heart Television (M16), Art of Seduction (CCAS), All the Young Dudes (BAC). Frequent contributor to BMA Magazine and creator of From Sir, With Love (blog). Currently working on a collection of autobiographic tales titled, The Art of Crash Landing, and busy developing new photographic work which explores images of men seen through a porno-prism, or the James Deen 'effect'.