The picture was always a strange thing to him. Proof of a life he had no memory of, evidence of people he supposedly once knew but who the shroud of youth’s distant memory now obscured. Other than having been told with enough authority for the truth to stick, that tall and stern man between those two absurdly pampered children could have been anyone. Indeed the small boy could have been anyone, as no hint of that life remained so many years later, little trace of the comfort seen in the picture. Regardless, it was him.
And there on the other side of the affluent though apparently austere father was his sister. This knowledge was gained only through the mother who captured this moment on whichever Sunday it was. She always found it important that he knew. This was his family so long ago before tragedy tore it apart and left her with only a son and such limitations as reduced her to a font of sad, golden stories. Bound to her chair she would endlessly reflect and so passed on a deep and living sense of melancholy that engulfed near every aspect of his being.
There was no levity in his daily existence, and while not to say only misery remained, there was rarely an instance where he was free from an introspection that to others always seemed like a troubled nature. He would deny this of course, and had he ever cultivated a close enough relationship with anyone to inform them, would simply say that he was fine and simply provoked into wandering thoughts by the slightest of things. A daydreamer perhaps. The truth though was more likely somewhere between his and the other’s perception.
Whatever prompted his venture into the recesses of his mind, however innocuous or grand, he would always eventually arrive at the picture and the thought of his mother whose care was his responsibility alone. Every day of his life he could remember, began and ended with this attachment to another life. He was never resentful, but certainly aware that this dedication would be the tune of his being until such a time. He accepted this and knew it was right. In principle, it should be the duty of any son to his mother.
But if there was anything he wished was different, it was undoubtedly that in forever allowing for his mother’s endless reliving of days now long past he was forced to ponder something that was his and yet somehow not. He was a part of those memories but they weren’t his. Without the picture he would have no idea what his father or sister looked like and without his mother’s often repeated tales the picture would have no substance. And so like an amnesiac he was endlessly trying to reconcile what he knew and what he was told was true.
He was not poor, but not wealthy, and with time gradually sapping away at the formality of older times the apparent riches seen in that photo, the house and fine clothes, the poise of it all, were an endless cause for thoughts of what could have been. Where would he be in life now, if that wealth had kept him in a fine school and sent him to a fine university, what company of wealth his father kept could have helped him onto a desirable path in life? Were the father still alive would he with his still hale wife be enjoying their later years in comfort and adventure? Who would his sister be?
It was all pointless, he knew. These fantasies did not at all amount to an insipid torment, as he had not lived those days enough to crave a life now lost but, more akin to a teenager half smiling as he dreamed of taking to a great stage with a sea of adulating fans calling for his wondrous arts, he would indulge these expansive voyages into an alternative life. Yet unlike the teenager it wasn’t idle fancy, but a deep and unforgiving curiosity. Only when withdrawing back into the real world would he perhaps feel a longing for a better sense of focus on his actual life. All those hours lost to helpless imagining.
So much of the present and future given to a single, frozen moment in the past. More than a thousand words, that picture was an endless and recreated vision of many things.