Steve stared at the image. It had come through as he was catching up on some emails and it had distracted him enough. His pizza was cold and the rest of the house quiet. Now he zoned in.
‘Us in the Royal National Park. So pretty!’
There was Helen in all her glory; big grin, tight T and jeans. Next to her the kids, both predictably also smiling. Her husband looked almost rugged in the photo even though he spent most his life in front of a computer. He had a Clark Kent cowlick. In the background a black lake and a forest of dark Eucalypts disappearing into a cave.
He imagined them lying on the dank cave floor. Wet rocks behind their scuffed faces. Short, sharp breaths. Air thick with sweat and bile. His mouth watching them try to break their bonds.
The photograph irked Steve. It was a lie. It was manufactured and ignored the shitty, boring everyday stuff. It made Steve feel like a crappy father. His kids rarely asked for him anymore. His wife had stopped pretending she wanted him. Guilt followed him everywhere. It hovered around the edges and rapped on his consciousness asking questions he tried to avoid.
The cave was gone, replaced by a kitchen. The family now lay huddled tight in a corner, against the cupboards. Floor slippery with fear. He looked the worst. He was avoiding eye contact and trying to make himself smaller. A dark patch grew on his chinos. The urine thinned the blood spreading across the checkered lino. He sometimes squawked quietly like a half-dead bird.
The family in the picture was showing off. You could hear them.
‘Look at us in this totally amazing forest! We are so at one with nature! Let’s share it with everyone so they’ll know how loving and generous and super-duper our family is!’
Steve hated them.
Now his attention turned to Helen. Her blouse was torn. She was attempting to protect her offspring by placing herself between her kids and him. She was ready to fight. To protect her young. Her face set in defiance. He lurched at her, the knife clumsy in his hands.
What did he really have in common with them anyway? Steve couldn’t remember when he’d last felt close to them. He’d certainly never felt welcomed by them. They were more acquaintances than anything. His finger hovered as he took one final look at the post.
Outside, an early morning garbage truck gurgled down the road.
He brushed the cowlick off his forehead, clicked ‘unfriend’ and left the room.
An ex-actor, Ben Tari now finds his mojo in creating characters on the page rather than the stage. A schoolteacher by day, at night he writes screenplays, fiction and poetry.