Friday, December 3, 2010

Family Portrait


There was one man in a room. He sat alone and looked out a dirty window. There was nothing outside besides parked cars lining a quiet street. The stoops in front of the duplexes were all empty. Behind the man, the filter of his nasty aquarium whined while lumps of algae and dead fish floated and twirled in the artificial currents. He poured himself a glass of cheap whiskey and adjusted himself on the couch because his left leg had fallen asleep. The motion sent a spray of dust mites into the air. They twirled in a slant of sunlight like pixies, but they weren’t pixies. It was only dust.


The mother sat at the kitchen table. She pressed her hands against her temples as she stared down at a pile of unpaid bills. Some of the unpaid bills were written in red print. Far too many of the bills were written in red print. She pressed the palms of her hands against her eyes to dam up swelling tears.

In the next room, something crashed to the floor. The sound startled her. The mother looked up and saw that her boy had broken a lamp. His dirty bed sheet was tied roughly around his neck like a cape. He had been pretending to be Superman again. He told the kids at school that Superman was his father. When the other kids asked the boy where his father was, the boy explained that Superman flew away.


There is a picture on a wall showing a happy family. The family is posed in front of a lake, framed by trees, and the sun casts a golden glow as it sets behind them. The mother, the father, and the boy all wear smiles. No one would know it by looking, but the smiles are fake. At least they are for the father and mother. As for the boy, his smile was real enough, just all too fleeting. Shortly after the photograph was taken the mother’s eye would be bruised and black. The father would be drunk and screaming and throwing furniture around. The boy would be cowering under his bed, reading his Superman comics, and thinking about his own father’s strength as furniture crashed against the wall.


The boy is now a man. He sits in a small economy apartment. He sorts through stems and seeds on a dish looking for any decent leaves for his pipe. The pipe is stained with thick resin. The past stains his mind. He wants to fly away like Superman. He looks at the crooked spot on his finger where there had once been a wedding band and thinks about his father. He thinks about his father’s fists. He thinks about his own fists. He really was Superman’s son. He releases a clipped chuckle and throws the glass pipe against the wall. It shatters the framed picture of his family vacation. He looks at the fresh shards of glass and hopes they don’t cut him too badly once he eventually feels motivated enough to pick them up off the floor.


  1. Aww . . . could be worse though.

    I dig your stuff, I really do.

  2. Quite a powerful short story that completes the cycle, violence breeds violence, and abuse breeds abuse. Well written, harsh, and realistic.

  3. Hey! I left a comment here and it got eaten.

    As always, quietly powerful, TJ. Nice.

  4. This is so very sad TJ, and all too real. You did a superb job describing that horrific cycle that is so difficult to break. I've seen this, it's not pretty, and, as I said, you nailed it.

  5. Everyone -- Thanks for your comments! I'm glad so many of you enjoyed this one.

    Yes, abuse is a cycle, it's not pretty, but I really do believe those cycles can get broken. The key, I think, is simply awareness. All too often, people spend so much time looking outward for rationales they fail to look inward for the root causes or fail to even acknowledge that a problem exists within themselves. At least that's been my own experience.

  6. This is so sad, because it's so raw and realistic. I read it knowing that this cycle goes on in the world all the time.

    Very powerful. I'm not sure 'enjoyed' is the right word but it has deeply moved me.

  7. I agree: very moving and sadly, not so shocking. I wasn't sure if the picture on the wall was of him as a child. Sadly, not so. Really well written. A story of desperation and a hopeless existance.