External Photo Clues:
This is a picture we took of my son Jay while we were moving. I had taken a job in Oklahoma City, so we packed our things and moved Jay away from all his friends and favorite places. He was sullen for weeks before the move, and the day we left his mood had not improved, so we stopped here to cheer him up. We let him pretend he was the Jay after whom the restaurant was named, and the waitress was nice enough to play along with the charade. It cheered him up long enough to smile for this picture.
We moved in next door to George and Harriet Turner and their daughter, Mary, who was a year younger than Jay. My wife Lily always had a bad feeling about George, though I couldn’t for the life me understand why. Call it what you like, but she could always see things like that in people.
Jay and Mary became fast friends, and we grew close to the Turner family over the next few years. By the time our kids were in high school, it was obvious to everyone except Jay and Mary that they were falling in love. Kids always seem to ignore what’s right in front of their noses. But by the time Jay was a senior in high school, even he had realized that he was in love with his next-door neighbor and best friend.
He started the next fall at the University of Oklahoma. He said it was so he could be close to us, but we all knew it was for Mary. They spent every weekend together until December.
That’s when Jay was drafted.
We saw him for a few days after his Basic training, and we said out tearful goodbyes before he shipped out to Vietnam.
Several months later, on July 25, two military servicemen knocked on her door. Somehow, Lily had known they were coming. She just collapsed on the floor, repeating the words, “No, no, no…”
I was still in shock. I couldn’t believe it. Couldn’t accept it. He was gone. My only son. My only child. I would never see him again. Even after they sent back what was left of his body, I couldn’t look at the remains. I couldn’t bear to see the twisted, broken, devastated ruins of my son.
After the servicemen had left and we had cried until there were no more tears, Lily managed to whisper, “Oh God, what about Mary?”
Lily knew. Mary hadn’t told anyone. Not her parents, not her closest friends, not even Jay, but Lily knew. She could always tell with people. Mary was pregnant.
Mary chose not to tell her parents. Perhaps it was at Lily’s suggesting, or maybe Mary could see the same thing in her father that my wife did years before when we moved to Oklahoma.
But you can only hide something like that for so long.
One night in late September, Mary woke us up, knocking on our door. Our porch light revealed a quickly blackening eye and a thin rivulet of blood running from her nose. Her eyes were filled with tears. While my wife brought her inside to clean her up and calm her down, I stormed across the yard.
George Turner answered the door with evil in his eyes and threw a punch at me. Perhaps he was trying to reach my dead son through me, or perhaps whatever evil was inside of him couldn’t be contained anymore. My wife had known from the beginning that he was a monster, even though no one else could have guessed it. She could always see things like that in people.
I had never considered myself a violent man. I had made it through life just fine without it. But as soon as that punch connected with my face, it awoke something within me that I had never known before, and that I have never had the misfortune of seeing again. I can hardly remember what happened after; but I do know that George ended up on the ground, bruised and bleeding, and I remember telling him that I would make sure he never had the chance to hurt his daughter or his grandchild again.
We packed the essentials that night and left. We didn’t know what we were doing or where we were going, but we had to keep Mary away from her father.
I don’t know if we moved far enough away that he could never find us, or if, in my rage, I had managed to beat the very monster out of George Turner, but I know we never heard from him again.
We made a new life for ourselves in Oregon. Mary gave birth to a boy and named him Jay after his father. Lily died a few years ago, and soon after, I voluntarily moved into a nursing home. Mary insisted on taking care of me, but I knew it would have been hard on her. Jay Jr. is now grown and married, but he still visits occasionally and asks to hear stories about his father. He always worries that he is not becoming the man his father would have wanted him to be, but I always assure him that his dad would have been the proudest man alive. He would have loved to see his son grow into a man who more than lived up to his father’s name.
About The Author:
James Yarbrough is a recent graduate working toward a paramedic license, and trying to finish editing his first novel. His love for old family photographs can be traced back to an afternoon spent with his grandmother, going through old photo albums and hearing stories of his grandfather, who died shortly after James was born, and the rest of the family members that he would never know except through old black and white photos.
Authoring For The Imaginary Family Project:
Are you interested in “finding” one of our lost vintage photos by authoring a story?
Please visit this link:
Imaginary Family Project Author Request Form
About The Imaginary Family Project:
The 2011 Imaginary Family Project is a year-long collective art endeavor coordinated by occasional amateur artist Quentin Bomgardner and co-sponsored by The Red Dirt Chronicles. This project is based around “lost” vintage photographs, which have been acquired at flea markets, garage sales, estate sales, and eBay – heirloom collections, with no heir. Every week a different author will “find” one photograph by creating an imagined history around one of its subjects. At the end of the year, the collection will be compiled and presented as a group.