I love noticing the way people walk. I like to compare the length of strides, the pendulum frequency of arms swinging, the various orientations spines give to the angles of chests, whether you can hear feet shuffle or not. I like imitating unusual walks sometimes, like a party trick. I couldn’t imitate my own. I don’t know what my own mirror-image walk would look like. Moving is a formula so specific to our bodies we hardly think about its infinite variations. It’s like writing essays or having sex: it’s always a surprise when another person’s worn-in recipe involves a method you’ve never encountered before.
I do have a particular memory of myself walking, the me of primary school, looking at the pavement, watching grey grit in the concrete roll by like thick television static under my shoes. The average time it took to get from school to my house was about 17 minutes, and I knew for some reason that if I arrived home in 15 minutes or 18 minutes or twenty, everything would change. Every second in that little window of transit would mean that every decision after that would be made differently, the span of my life would shorten or lengthen according to the speed of my stride. This was just before Sliding Doors came out, which I later watched like a documentary.
I’d vary the speed of my walk- faster, slower, sometimes I’d skip for a little bit, sometimes I’d just stop for a second, or tie my shoe, and then run to catch up to myself, to where I should have been by now. I watched lines of liquorice tar slicing the pavement into slabs stretching out like frames in a film strip, and somewhere ahead, I could see the ghost of myself trudging along with her knitted library bag (my knitted library bag), the me who’d walked home a bit quicker. I’d wonder what her life would be like, whether she was cursed or happy, and whether those few minutes meant I’d escaped something terrible or missed out on everything great.
I want to describe now the morning of the 24th of August, the white shock of sunlight and the lightning zoom of pupils becoming pinpricks inside my red-rimmed eyes. A headache rumbled like a cannonball inside my skull, the outside of which felt precious and damaged like chipped porcelain. I breathed in the factory smell of fresh merchandise emanating from my new Courtney Love tour t-shirt and breathed out the stale ash-mouth taste of relinquishing all respect for my own health. I felt so wretched I knew I must have had fun, and then a second later, I remembered that I had.
I decided to check on the weather. I reached my arm up to lift my blind, I had a sudden, clear-eyed premonition of the seconds that followed, like seeing myself exactly in the future, like skipping forward. I knew it would happen, but I couldn’t feel it enough to stop it. I didn’t get the message to my hand in time, or maybe my body just wanted to do it anyway, just to teach me a lesson.
So it happened, I pulled the blind up, and the white bar at the bottom of the blind swung forward, knocking over my full-length mirror which was resting precariously on its edge, and my mirror, the prize of weeks of gumtree searching and my partner in fashion crime, fell right on top of my little oil column heater and broke, a brilliant tinkering crash like the end of the world or the beginning or both. Slices of silver littered the floor like sheets of ice around the Titanic and I swore, loudly, and saw seven years of bad luck stretching out ahead of me, just like that old film-strip pavement reaching some fatal horizon.
I got up and examined the wreckage, and I laughed. In each bright sliver, I saw my mascara-streaked face glinting in fractured configurations, hundreds of ghosts spilling out in different directions, all of them, probably, doing something dumb, surely, somewhere, always, and not only for seven years. Pretty wretched and pretty happy, alternately, and together.
Claire Capel-Stanley is a writer and curator based in Canberra. She was until recently the inaugural arts writer in residence at M16 Artspace, and has written for Art Monthly, Fairfax newspapers, BMA, HESTER magazine and Lip among other publications. She used to have a massive crush on Daniel Radcliffe and still thinks he is surprisingly underrated. Claire's blog is www.strangeorigin.wordpress.com and you can follow her on Twitter (but don't get your hopes up) @capelstanley.