"I am writing a memoir called 'Standing on Broken Glass'. My writing is mainly non-fiction about and for men. This memoir breaks away from that and looks at life events." - Graham Reid Phoenix
He held the painting and wept inside.
As a portrait it was raw and beautiful in its authenticity, its honesty. It captured the pain in the face with such depth it tore him apart. There was an inner beauty in her face, beaten and so debased. It captured the moment with a power that was in contrast to the simplicity of the artist.
It was a full face portrait of her, painted in oils in a rough style that conveyed so much energy. She was looking straight out from the canvas with black eyes and a battered nose. There were butterfly stitches on the nose that appeared to hold it in place. The most haunting part of it was the look she had, the look of despair and the look of acceptance.
Jimmy did not know how to deal with the painting, he did not know what to do with it. He was proud of his son, proud of his directness, proud of his considerable talent. Only he could have painted his mother like this, so direct and so powerful. Jimmy could only guess at why he had done it, at what he was trying to achieve. Maybe nothing, maybe he just wanted to find a way to scream out loud, a way to say to his mother, stop before it’s too late.
She had given the painting to Jimmy, as a reminder, as a memory, even as a warning. It was a loving and a cruel gesture that he felt unable to respond to. He knew that she could not keep it, the pain was too much for her to look at it every day. He could only gaze at the painting and feel the pain he felt the first time Angel had fallen.
He knew what would greet him when he entered the house and he hated it. He took to waiting in the car after he arrived home while he built up the courage to walk in and pretend to be happy to be home. The pretence was pointless because it made no difference. Her pain was so deep that it was not about him any more. She no longer knew what it was about but she knew she did not want to know. So she buried it. She drowned it in the alcohol so it had no chance of jumping out at her, surprising her.
He laughed to himself, waiting in the car, laughed at the irony. Here he was avoiding the drinking. His brother had done the opposite. He used to sit in the car outside home having a last beer before facing his wife.
Angel wanted to be nice to Jimmy, it was not about him, but the alcohol fogged her brain and took over her actions. She thought she could control it and drink just enough to dull the pain but still remain in control. It did not always work, though, the alcohol demanded more and made it difficult to judge. It did not help that he was so demanding, always wanting her to stop, to think of the boys, to think of herself. Did he not realise that it was because of the boys that she felt such pain. Did he not understand that it was herself that she was trying to get away from. Nothing he said would shift the thoughts, shift the blackness.
There was nothing he could do. He was late and he expected a ruined dinner. He had not phoned because it never went well, it made things worse. He sat outside in the car and breathed. He worked to contain himself and calm himself down.
When he felt ready he went through the front door. He went into the kitchen and saw her lying on the floor with blood on her head and her hands. She moved when she saw him, moved and moaned a little.
That was all he got out of her. There was no explanation although it was clear to him that she had fallen, drunk. She had hit her head on the corner of the kitchen top and damaged her face and head. She was conscious and in a lot of pain.
He grabbed a tea towel and put it on her head to stem the flow of blood, then helped her to her feet. He made her come with him to the car. He did not want to wait for an ambulance and thought the quicker he could get her to hospital the better.
Jimmy sat in the waiting room surrounded by the other walking wounded. He felt conspicuous sitting next to his wife with her battered face and bloody head. What would they think of him? It looked like a clear case of wife beating gone wrong. Here he was, the guilty party, the husband, sitting there for everyone to see!
Angel continued to be awkward and Jimmy aggravated her. Everything he did was wrong and not helpful. She did not want to be here, stared at by all the dregs of society. Why the hell couldn’t she just go home, have a drink and go to bed. She would like to forget about tonight and start again tomorrow.
The doctor saw that she was drunk and was not impressed. He did what he had to but he took as little care over it as possible. They sat waiting for a long time, left as they dealt with people with 'genuine' accidents. He needed to stitch the head wound to stop the blood flow. He said that it was not as serious as it looked, head wounds always bled a lot.
They went home and put it behind them. It was just one of the many events that marked the progress of their disintegration. One of the flashes of memory that will not go away. One of the milestones that marked their marriage, or what remained of it.
Later, after he left home, he heard from his son that it happened again. Drunk for no reason, crashing to the kitchen floor. This time she smashed her nose and face leaving black eyes and a flattened nose. She looked like a boxer at the end of his career. The one who had lost his last big fight against the newcomer who wanted to prove himself.
This time her son dealt with her, got her to hospital and cleaned her up. He dealt with the mess, he absorbed the pain and the guilt.
They patched her up and she sobered up for a while and felt that something was wrong. The son wanted to cut the image from his mind and make it others’ problem. He did what he did best, he painted her as she looked with patched up nose, black eyes and vacant stare. She thought it might help him, that it might make amends, draw them together.
It was a haunting image that drew people to it. More than anything it was the vacant stare that was most frightening. There was nothing there, just emptiness. The pain had gone the blackness had gone, there was just emptiness. Although there was a fierce beauty in the painting, there was no beauty left in the face.
Angel could not keep it, it was too blunt. Jimmy did not understand why he had it and did not know what to do with it. For a long time he hid it in a cupboard hoping he could just forget about it. But the energy was there, all the time. The energy of the passion that went into its creation and the energy of that vacant stare.
He gave it back to his son. He told him that it was for him to decide what to do with it. Jimmy could not destroy it even though it was what wanted to do.
Destroy the painting, destroy the memory. But it was his son’s scream.