Family Picture

Fiction by | February 16, 2014

The floor needs sweeping. That was the first thing I thought when I opened my eyes and saw the floor, its cold hardness slowly waking me from sleep. I continued to stare at the dust that accumulated under our bed, forcing my brain to work and commanding my body not to move. The tambis tree outside our window already cast shadows on the walls. It must have been five-thirty in the afternoon. I could already hear the sizzling of Aling Elsa’s pans and the grating sound her spatula made as it caught its bottom. Berto had turned on the garden hose and started with the watering. Children’s laughter and chatter filled the street as they made their way towards our house that our neighbors envied. Somewhere down the same street, my children were making their way home to me. My angels, my two beautiful boys, my world. Nothing in this world would keep me from giving them the best. They deserved nothing less but the best home, the best food, the best clothes, and the best memories. These things could only be given to them by the best family. Nothing would keep me from giving them these things I never had. Not even the pain that prevented me from standing.

“I’m sorry,” he sobbed at the corner, on the couch where we had made quick love a few times.

Bracing myself, I stood up and felt the world spin. I looked up. Everything swirled around me. The wedding picture on the wall, a painting from the living room hall, a cross hanging by a nail, the stack of bills from yesterday’s mail, the ruffled blanket spread out on the bed, his favorite undies that came by set, two pillows, shards of glass, the torn curtain that hung by its line, the broken bottle of perfume he bought me for Christmas. So many things whirled and marred my vision, it left me nauseous.

Then my eyes settled on the faces that gave me the strength to stand up on mornings when I know that I have a swollen eye or made me climb back up to bed with a missing tooth. The reason why I go to a room that smells of baby powder and story books at nights when Riko, my husband, came home drunk. From the broken glass that kept our family picture frame in place, my sons’ bright eyes peered right at me. Somehow, the hope I saw in them made the nausea disappear.

With small shaky steps that magnified the pain in my stomach as I moved, I made my way towards the frame. With trembling hands, I swept the shards from the floor. I took the picture and held it. The chill I felt slowly started to disappear.

“Honey, I’m sorry.” His voice cracked as he cried. He buried his face in his hands and let out a sigh of exhaustion. I knew. I was exhausted too.

I walked to my dresser. Riko and I found it at a thrift store at Piapi and we spent one sunny afternoon painting the furniture my favorite shade of pink. The news of Atty. Riko Natividad painting his furniture in a pink apron was a hot topic among the gossiping neighbors for a while. They envied how he took care of and provided for his family. They were jealous about how he’d do anything for his lovely wife, who made use of her college degree and got herself a job at a leading advertising company. They just didn’t have an idea how much he’s willing to do to me for me.

I placed the picture on the dresser that was already starting to chip off, the paint starting to fade. I reached for my bottom drawer and got the spare picture frame Mama brought for me. Mama. It’s been a while since I’ve seen her. I’m sure she’s missing the boys.

I’ve been wanting to visit her. But every time I decide to drop by, I always change my mind when I see my face in the mirror when I prepare for the visit. I always tell myself to wait until the blackening in my eye is completely gone, or to touch up the bruises on my shoulders first before I go. But days before they’re almost gone, some more appear. I want to see Mama. To hear her voice, to hug her tight. To feel her warmth and hear her telling me it’s going to be alright.

But Mama’s an exceptional observer. If she sees me, she’ll know. She’ll know what my husband does to me at home. She’ll go on about separation, of moving his grandsons to a healthier environment. She’ll tell me never to speak to my husband again. She’ll mean well, but in the process I know that she’ll rob my kids of their father. I know. I once had a Lola, a mother, and a father who treated his wife like a punching bag.

“It’s just that I told you not to meet Patrick again, didn’t I?” I twitched at the anger slowly coming back to his voice.

Patrick. My co-worker. Gay co-worker. I wanted to tell him, but what was the use? He’ll never listen. He’ll only get angry and he’d just throw a puch or two. Again. Ever since I got the job, this phase started. He was suspicious of everything and everyone. Some occasions, he got off work just to spy on me at the office. The first time he laid his hands on me when he was angry, he knocked me unconscious. I woke up with him crying at my bedside, promising never to do it again.

I busied myself with placing the family picture back to its frame. That was when I was jolted by the smell of blood. Then, I realized it was coming from my nose. No matter how many times you’ve seen or smelt it, the stinging sensation will always be new and threatening. Blood isn’t something that should be out of your body system after all. I hurriedly grabbed a box of tissues nearby.

Riko, seeing the state I was in, walked to my side, and grabbed my hand that was stopping my bleeding nose. I shuddered at his touch. When he saw how I reacted, regret and pain laced his face. He slowed his movements, held my hand gently and guided it to my bleeding nose.

“If only you listened to me, this wouldn’t have happened.”

He was right. It’s my fault. I never learn. Why do I allow myself to be abused by this animal? I know that I am smarter than this. I know I am capable of so much more than being a rank-and-file employee. I know that I deserve to be treated better. So why am I forced to believe that I am less than what I know I am? Why does the person I love hurt me like he doesn’t love me back? Why did my life turn out like this? What’s wrong with me? All I wanted was a complete family. Why can’t I have that? Why? Why can’t I fight back?

Why not?

The school bus honked. I hear the laughing of my sons. I look at their father. His eyes, threatening, capable of the most horrifying thing that can be done to me, one of which is taking my sons away from me.

Then, hopelessness, dark and absolute, forced me back to a tunnel with no end. And there I wallowed, walking, enduring, gripping in my hand the family picture I so earnestly put back to its frame.

I held Riko’s hand to my cheek and pain dissolved to bitter tears of helplessness. He wiped a tear from my right cheek.

I peered into his cold eyes and said, “Let’s greet the kids.”

Madel is finishing her BS Education degree at Ateneo de Davao University.

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