Dad must have kept the picture in his wallet for years, he thought when he found it, folded up, creased, stuffed in behind his AA membership card in the first round of sorting things out.
At first, he thought it was a photograph and for one mad minute, he found myself wondering if this was a moment of truth, some bizarre twist in his fathers’ humdrum, everyday life.
A love affair?
A second family ?
And then he looked around the bedroom, the furniture bought when they married, built to last, his father said, the wallpaper, cabbage roses on an off-white background, his mothers’ hair brushes and perfume bottle still center stage on the dressing table, even though the perfume has long dried out, leaving just the hint of a ghost of a scent.
He shook my head, this was not the bedroom of a bigamist, a philanderer and he looked more carefully, more critically at the little picture, discovering that it wasn’t a snap shot at all, but a postcard,a staged, manufactured image of cuteness, a boy & his dog at prayer.
He turned the postcard over, expecting to see a holiday message, a jokey comment, but there was nothing, the card was blank, not sent then. His father must have bought it and for reasons he cannot grasp, kept it carefully in a lifetimes worth of wallets.
The man, the son, middle aged, busy in this careful sorting, ordering of the remains of his fathers’ life is brought up short. He looks again at the picture, the boy is blond, out doorsey, good at sport, the sort of boy who would run through fields with the dog always at his side.
He catches sight of his own refection in the dressing table mirror.
His hair, thinning, has faded, neither grey nor white, just an indeterminate nothing, his eyes, magnified behind vari-focals are weak, watery, his shoulders slump in a characteristic apologetic shape and his mouth, the lips too thin, falls into its usual unspoken apology. He smiles at himself, teeth barred in an approximation of happiness and then shrugs and returns to his careful internal inventory of his fathers’ possessions.
But later, at home, making himself a cup of tea in the tidy, functional kitchen of this boxy flat, his share from the sale of the marital home, he cannot shake the image of the blond child in the postcard.
He is shaken by a thought so shocking, so dreadful,that he has to sit down and he realizes that now the thought is there that he will never be able to completely shift it.
He has a sudden image of his father, standing on a touchline on a freezing February day watching him, his only son, already plastered in mud, pushed down again onto the pitch by bigger, stronger boys from the other team. He remembers, struggling to his feet, peering through his mud encrusted glasses and discovering that his father had gone, returned in disgust to the car to wait out the match.
He can still remember the hot shame of that failure,the silent journey home, buy now, he has another, a new image to torture himself. He sees his father, sitting in the family car, rain hitting the roof, head bowed while he looks longingly at a picture of someone else s’ son, someone else’s life.