It was a conventional London terraced home, recently renovated for twenty-first century dwellers with an enlarged rear kitchen opening up onto a generous, city-sized garden. The front lounge had an overstuffed sofa and a big screen television, both of which were too large for the room. The rear lounge was typically dark; it could only be used as a playroom for the kids. The whole house had been painted in all the latest trendy tones of grey and white-on-white. I’m sure you’ve seen it.
The woman who lived there led me to the corridor where I was to set up the Family Photo Wall.
‘This is the last thing I have to do before my mother comes to live with me,’ she said showing me the pile of black picture frames on the floor leaning against the wall. ‘I’ll have the whole family up here and then my mother can see them every time she walks through to the kitchen.’
‘Very nice,’ I said. I counted eighteen frames. Most of them were those multi-photo extravaganzas so you can put all of your favourite people in one collection. Other frames were your standard, single-photo ones. ‘How would you like them arranged?’
‘You decide; I’m not really fussed.’
Oh no you don’t, I thought. I’ve heard that before only to be told the job was not to their liking. This is an aesthetic choice, ergo it’s not up to me.
‘I’d just as soon have you decide,’ I said. ‘Just to be sure.’
We spent the next three hours carefully placing the frames in just the right positions on the wall with the most pleasing allocation of sizes, shapes and numbers of photos; each frame evenly spaced from the one next to it.
‘I’m so happy with this,’ she said when we’d finished. ‘I can’t wait for my mother to see the family up here.’
I was pleased too. It looked good; if I’d had the inclination to hang family photos on my corridor wall I might go about it this way. It was easy work too and I was relieved of all decision-making. So when the same woman called me up three months later to do some more jobs for her, I looked forward to another relaxed day in her terraced home.
She offered me tea and as I followed her to the kitchen we passed the Family Photo Wall, hung to perfection exactly as I’d left it months before. I mean exactly. Each frame still contained those perfectly nauseating, black and white, airbrushed model photos that came with the frames; beautiful couples embracing on a beach; children with textbook dimples holding a flower. I swear their eyes followed me as I passed by, whispering in desperation through their perfect teeth, ‘It’s been three months. Get us out of here.’
I didn’t say anything to my employer, but I didn’t have to. She turned to look at me as I passed by and gave an embarrassed smile. I just hoped her elderly mother didn’t think these exquisite people in the frames were her own family.