He found her in Portobello Market in a box of old postcards, between the guy selling antique cameras and the lady selling vegan hot dogs. He bought her for fifty p then took her home and cut a perfect heart around her sweet almond eyes and sepia smile and she sat, decapitated, on the kitchen table until it was time for bed. Then under the pillow on the empty side, he pushed her flat heart face against the sheet and in the morning there she was, stretched along the length of him, wrapped in the old-fashioned flannel nightdress he had dreamed of.
He wanted to show her the world. He introduced her to tempeh and seitan, to his favourite mixologist, to the Whole Foods buffet in a cardboard box eaten in Kensington Park, to Columbian and only Columbian dark roast. When she jumped at the sound of the Tube under the grates, he put his arm around her shaking shoulders and promised to always take taxis. When she admired the slick black pleather trousers in a Chelsea window, he suggested vintage clothes from the Heart Foundation would match her sweet face better.
What he didn’t know is that silver halide is only sensitive to light and, unlike a rosy cheek or the shell-shape curve of small hands, a mind is not something a gelatin imprint can measure.
One day she stumbled onto the British Library. The next day she stumbled on purpose. And soon enough she recognised the difference between his world and the world and that if you descend into the hissing underworld, the one she had once been so afraid of you, can travel all the way to the sea.
And so the other side of his bed is empty again, the sheets stiff and cold as he slides the rest of her portrait under the pillow. He wants her back, dreams he’ll wake again to the woman in the photograph he fell in love with, wrapped in flannel and lace and yielding warm to his touch. But this time, of course, without that heart-shaped face.