Mrs. Periwinkle had cornered yet another member of the Community Ladies Guild to show off her daughter’s latest school pictures.
“Isn’t she adorable? Isn’t this just about the most precious picture you’ve ever seen?”
She never gave anyone time to respond to those questions, she simply moved on to another person, then another, loudly declaring the perfection of the photograph. Her daughter, Penelope, was a kindergartener when that particular picture was taken.
Mrs. Periwinkle loved it so much that she had it enlarged, then had several dozen copies of the photo developed. She glued some onto cardboard boxes, which she positioned throughout the house. One was set on the kitchen table at Penelope’s place. One on her pillow where she usually slept. One on the couch, one on the porch swing, and one in the passenger seat of the family car.
She also glued a flat wooden stir stick on the back of one so that she could carry it with her where ever she went. It was a kind of photograph puppet. In social settings – such as parties or meetings – she included the picture puppet in conversations and soon, people spoke to the puppet, just like Mrs. Periwinkle did.
She even made one of the pictures into a mask and commanded that the little girl wear it at all times. Eventually, Penelope stopped speaking and became as silent as the still photos that surrounded her.
As children will do, the girl grew and changed, but the only “Penelope” her mother and friends saw was the kindergarten schoolgirl in the pictures mounted on boxes, a wooden stick, and a mask. Years came and went. The kindergarten photographs had become cracked, faded, and frayed. Nevertheless, Mrs. Periwinkle ignored the signs that time had passed or that changes were taking place.
One morning, Penelope – who was now a young woman – looked at her mask’s reflection in the bathroom mirror. For quite some time, she had noticed a growing irritation where the mask rubbed against her skin, but she ignored it. But this particular morning, the irritation had become very painful – unbearably painful, in fact. She squirmed her forehead, tightened her eyes and lips, scrunched her nose, and massaged her scalp, hoping to silence the inflammation, but nothing helped.
She became more animated in attempt to find some relief and without thinking, without hearing her mother’s instructions to keep the mask on, she ripped it off on an impulse. She howled with relief, as her face was flooded with air and light. For the first time in over a decade, Penelope wore no mask. No longer was she frozen in a time and space that was no more. She splashed her face with water and then dared to look in the mirror. What she saw took her breath away, because she saw – herself. Changed.
No longer a static being, she was vital and free from that still photo that masked years of growing and becoming. She ran into the kitchen and ripped the still photo from the box, then to her pillow and the couch, the porch swing and the passenger side of her mother’s car. She tore them all to pieces then put them in the trash can.
Somewhere in the yard, she could hear her mother chatting away with someone. Her voice grew louder as she came closer to the house. Closer. Closer. Penelope opened the front door for her mother, who was – at that moment – having a lively conversation with the picture puppet. Mrs. Periwinkle gasped, shocked to see a strange young woman standing in her foyer.
“What are you doing in my house? Who ARE you?” she demanded.
Penelope grabbed the picture puppet from her mother’s hand and tore it to pieces, letting them fall to the floor. She then leaned in close to her mother until their faces almost touched.
“I. Am. Me.”