AN OLD PHOTOGRAPH • by Wayne Scheer

I brought my father’s picture with me so I’d recognize him. The photo showed him with both arms draped around my mom’s shoulders as if he were protecting her from some unseen foe. I guess that’s what my high school English teacher would call irony.

My mother told me he once tried to choke her. They were fighting over one thing or another when he grabbed her around her neck and squeezed until she fell to her knees. He said he was kidding.

Mom was so thin and young in the photo, you’d never know she was pregnant with me. He didn’t know either. Mom said he took off as soon as she told him, a few days after the picture was taken. The bastard gave her money for an abortion. That and a broken nose.

She saw him by accident one more time after that. She was seven months pregnant. He said she owed him the money he had given her for the abortion.

I grew up with these stories. My mother would tell them, usually when she was drinking, and then apologize, saying she shouldn’t talk about my father like that. When I was about twelve, she married a man who called himself Doc. She and Doc divorced a few years later. As Doc packed, he told me my father had ruined her.

“She’ll never be happy,” he said.

Mom’s drinking got worse after that. She’d drink, cry and talk about my father. Never by name. He was always “him.”

They met in high school. After school, he worked construction and she cleaned houses, and they moved in together. They were still together when her older sister died in a car wreck.

He wouldn’t let her cry. She said he shook her whenever she got emotional. I put my arms around her and told her it was okay to cry. I promised myself I’d never be like him.

I was about sixteen when my mother gave me the picture of the two of them. She said she was cleaning out an old desk drawer and found it stuck in the back. I had never seen him before. It surprised me how ordinary he looked. I guess I expected to see some wild-eyed monster. His hair was dark, like mine, his nose flat and he had the same crooked smile and thin lips I have. That really pissed me off.

I knew his name was Frank, but I never knew his last name. When I asked my mother, she looked at me like I had slapped her. Later that day, she said it was Frank Pollet.

“I don’t want to ever hear his name in my house again.”

I kept his picture in a shoebox in the back of my closet along with nude Polaroids of a girl I had been dating. I’d look at her pictures now and then after we broke up, but I’d see his picture, too. The older I got, the more I resembled him. Once when Mom and I fought about something, she said I scared her because I reminded her so much of him. That hurt me more than anything anyone had ever said to me.

Before I left for college, I cleaned out my closet and found the shoebox. I took a long look at Cameron’s photos before throwing them away. I put the shot of my father and mother in my wallet.

I tried forgetting him, but I kept the photo. I even stuck it on the mirror of my dorm room as if to give the impression I had a normal childhood.

One day, instead of reading Hamlet, I did a Google search for Frank Pollet. I found a Franklin Pollet living in Albany, about fifty miles from where I was going to school. He owned a roofing company and had won a bid for some local restoration project. The article included his bio and the dates seemed right. I hated to learn he was successful.

Buying a gun was easy. I learned to use it by going to a shooting range every day after my last class and working with an instructor. Every time I aimed the pistol at a target, I thought of him standing on a roof and me shooting him down, blood spurting from his head.

But that was fantasy. I knew I wasn’t that good a shot. Instead, I went to his office, with the gun in my pocket, and asked his secretary if Frank was in. The way she looked at me I knew she saw the resemblance. I could feel the blood rushing to my head. My hands shook. I kept them in my pockets and felt the gun.

She told me he was estimating a job and would be back in a little while.

“I’ll wait,” I said.

I looked around the dingy office, the dark paneled walls filled with awards from the Better Business Bureau and and Kiwanis Club, even a framed picture of the article I had read online. My rage grew.

Then I saw a photo of twin boys, about ten, in Little League uniforms. They looked like me when I was their age. I thought of what I had missed not having a father.

His desk was in the back. I asked if I could look at the photos he had hanging on the wall and on his desk. They were of him and his family. He was older, his hair grayer, but there was no doubt he was the man in my photo. He looked happy and so did his wife. I even saw baby pictures of the twins.

My hands stopped shaking and I took them out of my pockets.

“You Frank’s sister’s boy?” the secretary asked.

“No,” I said. “No relation.”

I handed her the photograph I had been carrying around far too long and left without saying another word.

Wayne Scheer has been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net. He’s published numerous stories, poems and essays in print and online, including Revealing Moments, a collection of flash stories. His short story “Zen and the Art of House Painting” has been made into a short film.

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