A teenaged Mark Jefferson ran through the front door of his family home, shouting and waving a piece of paper in his hand, a smile from ear to ear.
“Mom, mom! I got an A+ on my photography assignment!”
“That’s amazing,” Mrs. Jefferson replied as she wiped her hands on her apron.
“Go show your father.”
Mark hesitated as his smile disappeared from his face. “He won’t care.”
“Oh don’t say that.” She placed her hands on Mark’s shoulders. “Of course he will. Your father just has a hard time showing how he feels.” She patted him on the head and kissed him on the cheek.
“Go on, and afterwards we can go out and celebrate.”
Mrs. Jefferson then turned back to the sink and continued washing the dishes.
September 21, 1995—
An alarm clock rings. A young man sits up in his bed, rubbing his eyes with one hand. He turns off the alarm and immediately makes the bed.
The room is fairly empty only having a bed, dresser, a night stand with the alarm clock on top and a walk-in closet.
When finished the young man makes his way to the bathroom to take a shower.
The main living space of his apartment is just as bare as his bedroom. Every wall is painted white along with the majority of the furniture. Black and white portraits hang on some of the walls.
In one corner of the apartment a small studio is set-up. Lighting equipment, tripods, cameras and a white backdrop make up the space. A small desk is just off to the side with a computer that’s used for editing.
The bathroom slowly steams up from the heat of the shower. It’s almost like a sauna. It’s hard to breathe, water beading down every surface.
He rests his forehead and hands against the wall, just under the shower head, hot water flowing down his face and back. The entire room clouds up.
“Dad?” Mark slowly walked into the living room of the family home, still holding his assignment in his hand. “Dad?”
Mr. Jefferson was sitting in his favorite armchair, an old dilapidated thing. It was covered in patches and even duct tape. Stains graced almost every part of it. A makeshift lever consisting of a wrench and a few bolts was used to get it to recline.
“Come on!” Mr. Jefferson yelled at the TV. “Stinking team can’t score one damn goal?” He finished off a can of beer he had in his hand, tossed it aside and opened another.
Mr. Jefferson glanced back for a moment before being drawn back to the game. “What is it, what do you want?” He took a sip from the cold can, condensation building up around it. “Can’t you see I’m watching the game?”
“I, umm.” Mark looked down at his assignment, held it in both hands.
“What kind of call was that?!” A hand full of peanuts went flying across the room towards the TV. “Idiot ref must be blind,” Mr. Jefferson yelled with frustration. “This goddamn game is rigged.” He took another sip of his beer.
Mark took a breath and exhaled. “Dad, I got an A+ on my photography assignment,” he said while holding up the photo like a first-place medal. “My teacher says I have a real gift.” He stood there in silence, waiting.
Mr. Jefferson sat up and turned towards his son. “That’s what you’re bothering me for? You think that stupid hobby of yours will take you anywhere?”
Mark lowered his hand and turned the assignment towards himself. He stared at the grade.
“You want to do something useful? Get me another beer,” Mr. Jefferson ordered, motioning the can he was already holding towards his son.
Mark turned and began walking back towards the kitchen.
“He shoots, he scores!!” shouted an announcer over the TV.
“What!?” exclaimed Mr. Jefferson.
The young man steps out of the shower and turns on the fan. He wipes down the mirror but it quickly fogs up again. The counter has everything perfectly organized. His razor, toothbrush, toothpaste and so on, all lined up. Everything had its place and after brushing his teeth, everything was put back exactly the way it was.
The front door opens as a young fashionable woman walks into the apartment. She places her bag on the floor with her umbrella next to it. “Mark?” she calls while removing her coat. “I’m here.”
“Be out in a second,” he replies.
She lays her coat over a chair and leans against the wall with one hand as she removes her shoes with the other. “It’s pouring out today. I don’t think we will be doing any photoshoots outdoors.” She fixes her hair and plops herself onto the couch.
Mark steps out of the bathroom. “Well that’s a shame.” He pauses as he spots the young woman’s bag on the floor with her umbrella and shoes. He begins to walk towards them.
The young woman turns around on the couch, hanging her arms over the back. “Ohhh, I have an idea. Why don’t we have a private photoshoot here?”
Mark picks up the bag and places it on a shelf in a closet next to the front door. “I don’t think so.” He says as he bends down to pick up the wet umbrella.
“Why not?” she eagerly replies, holding herself up with both hands on the back of the couch. “Why can’t we do a shoot here? You have everything set up.”
He grabs the umbrella. “Because I said no.” He places it into an umbrella stand, also in the closet and closes it.
“Well why not?” She presses on.
He grabs the shoes off the floor. “You know this has a place right?”
She smiles. “Sorry,” she says with a chuckle.
He places the shoes onto a shoe rack next to the closet. As he begins to walk towards the kitchen he notices the coat hanging over a chair and before he can say anything, the young woman jumps up off the couch.
“Sorry, sorry,” she says, smiling. “I’ll put it away.” She skips to the chair and grabs her coat, which is still dripping water from the rain. “So…” the young woman began as she placed her coat into the closet. “If we aren’t doing a photoshoot today, what are we doing?”
Mark opens a cabinet and removes a jar of ground coffee beans. He pours some into a coffee machine and places the jar on the counter. He adds some water and turns it on. As he turns to grab the jar of coffee grounds to put away, he accidentally knocks it off the counter.
“Goddammit boy! Look what you did!” Mr. Jefferson shouted as he threw his beer onto the floor. “I watched this entire game just to miss the most important part because of your stupid pictures!”
Mark tightly gripped the assignment in his hands and put it close to his chest, visibly frightened. “I didn’t mean to…I was just…”
Mr. Jefferson stood up out of his chair and made his way towards his son. He grabbed the assignment out of his son’s hands and held it up to his face. “This will get you nowhere!” he shouted at him as he began to tear it apart.
Mrs. Jefferson ran into the living room after hearing the commotion. “What’s going on?” she asked while placing her hands on her son’s shoulders, who was starting to tear up.
Mr. Jefferson held up his fist, still griping some pieces of the torn assignment. “This artsy bull isn’t going to get this boy a real job,” Mr. Jefferson yelled at his wife. He then looked down at his son, holding his fist towards him now. “He needs to toughen up.”
“I’ll get that.” The young woman says as she begins to walk into the kitchen.
“No,” Mark replies forcibly, bending down to clean the mess.
The young woman paused. “It’s really nothing. I can…”
“Sarah.” Mark says with a stern voice, slamming his fist on the counter top while deliberately not looking at her.
She turns and walks back towards the couch and sits down as Mark cleans the mess. The pot slowly begins to fill, steam seeping from the top of the machine. The apartment fills with the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee.
Mark fills two mugs, adding sugar and cream to his. “Black, right?” he asks.
Sarah doesn’t reply. She just sits on the couch quietly, hands folded on her lap.
He looks back at her, noticing the slight unease on her face. She wasn’t used to being talked to in that tone. His annoyance seemed to fade away.
“Sarah, you want it black?” he asks calmly.
She brushes some hair away from her face. “I’ll take one sugar and some milk if you have it.”
“I have it. Changing things up?” he asks while adding the sugar.
“Yeah, I guess so.” She fidgets with her fingers, still a bit uneasy. She looks at the portraits hanging on the walls. “So, when are you going to photograph me like these girls?”s
He grabs the milk from the fridge. “Hmm, you’re not like them.” He pours it into the mug, stirs the coffee and places the milk back.
“Oh really?” she says. “Am I not good enough?”
Mark smirks as he walks over to the couch, holding the two mugs. “Well, you’re innocent.” He holds one of the mugs out to Sarah.
Mr. Jefferson went down to the basement, Mark and Mrs. Jefferson chasing after him.
“What are you doing?” Mrs. Jefferson yelled after her husband.
“I’m ending this crap today,”” Mr. Jefferson shouted back. “No more photos, no more cameras, no more days locked up in this damn room of his.”
“Dad no, please don’t!” Mark shouted as he frantically tried to stop his father from smashing his camera and tearing up all his photos.
Mrs. Jefferson also tried to stop him but was thrown to the floor, followed by their son.
Mr. Jefferson stood over Mark who was laying on the floor, tears streaming down both cheeks. “You want to live in this house? Then you’re going to follow my rules. Starting today you’re going to stop with this photo crap and get a real job.”
Mrs. Jefferson stood up and started yelling at her husband but was quickly smacked across the face.
“You shut your mouth!” Mr. Jefferson shouted, holding an open hand in the air, ready to strike again. “It’s your fault he’s like this.” He looked back at his son. “You don’t like it here, then get the hell out.”
Sarah reaches out for the mug. “Innocent?” She blew onto the hot liquid before taking a sip. It was delicious. She inhaled the rich aroma and took another sip. She crossed her legs and leaned back on the couch. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means I have something special planned for you.”
Mark takes a long sip from his mug. He sits there for a while, not saying a thing. The rain pounded on the windows as it got darker outside. Sara looked over at the droplets streaking down the glass.
“It’s really coming down isn’t it?” she says as her eyelids start to drop. They were getting heavy and she was starting to feel dizzy.
Mark takes another sip. “Yes it is.”
Mr. Jefferson was asleep in his favorite armchair. His arms, spread apart, hung over each side. A burnt out cigarette in one hand and an empty beer can in the other. As he opened his eyes, a hazy black figure was pointed right at his face. As it came into focus he realized it was the barrel of his .38 revolver, held by his son.
“Mark, what are you doing?” Mr. Jefferson asked calmly.
Mark didn’t reply. He just stood there, aiming the gun point-blank at his father. In his other hand he held a small camera.
“What are you doing?” Mr. Jefferson asked again.
Mark pressed the gun up against his father’s temple. The fear on his face becoming more apparent as Mark applied more pressure.
He cocked the hammer and leaned forward. He stared into his father’s eyes and then whispered into his ear.
He stood up straight, gun still pressed to Mr. Jefferson’s temple and took a photo.
Mark stuffed the gun into the back of his pants and grabbed a duffle bag he had laying by the front door. His mother was making her way down the stairs. She noticed her husband bent over in his chair, crying.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“I’m leaving, tonight.”
“What? Leaving?” Mrs. Jefferson’s asked. “What’s going on, what’s wrong with your father?”
Mark hugged his mother. “I’m going to Chicago. You don’t need to worry about me.”
“No, no you’re not. What are you talking about?” She looked over to her husband. “Honey, say something to him.”
“Don’t worry about me.” Mark reaffirmed.
“I’ll be fine.”