Family, Fiction, Health and wellbeing, Melbourne, Parenting, Relationship and marriage, Writing

Portrait of Will

The portrait hangs on the wall. A reminder of better times.

Sarah doesn’t notice it most of the time, but today she’s dusting the sideboard underneath it. As she picks up the candle to dust underneath, she looks at him.

His dark chocolate eyes are staring back at her. Such a handsome, symmetrical face. Tears moisten her eyes. She sniffs. Where did it all go wrong? How she had failed! Looking back, it was always her biggest fear. Somehow, she knew it would come. Just a matter of time. She did everything she could for him to prevent it. Doctors, psychologists, medication, mediation, and the smaller acts, the ones that didn’t cost money: hugs, kisses, chats, being there.

It wasn’t enough.

The portrait was painted during a good phase. He was thirteen; happy to sit for hours on end while the painter, Erich, first sketched then coloured in his likeness. Sarah loved watching the old man bring her son’s beauty to life on the canvas.

‘Good looking kid,’ he’d said one afternoon as he was cleaning his brushes. ‘Clever too.’

‘Yes, thanks. He is.’

‘Seems withdrawn though,’ Erich noted.

‘Mmm-hmm,’ she agreed.

A silence filled the space around them. Sarah felt the discomfort and wondered if Erich was bothered by it too. She doubted it.

‘Can chat with him, if you like. Bring him out a bit. Or at least try.’

Sarah nodded. And over time, Erich and Will built a solid connection. It still wasn’t enough. The day it happened, Erich was the first person she phoned. He rushed straight to Sarah’s home and sat quietly next to her while others bustled about, answering the door as friends and family visited to pass on condolences and casseroles.

‘What happens now, Erich?’ she whispered.

‘You put one foot in front of the other. And that’s all.’

‘What if I can’t manage that?’

‘Then you call for help.’

For months after Will’s funeral, Sarah was in a medicated haze. She slept all day and at night, she roamed the rooms of her home, looking for clues that it was just a nightmare. Her mother found her one night in the glow of the refrigerator’s open door. Sarah, on the floor, weeping as she drank Will’s favourite chocolate milk; her T-shirt wet from chocolate milk and tears. Her mother got cross and refused the buy the milk again.

Sarah places the candle back onto the sideboard and rearranges the other trinkets. She straightens the portrait.

‘I’m sorry, Will,’ she says through fresh tears. ‘I’m sorry I couldn’t help you.’

The grief and guilt over his suicide is an unrelenting wave. Its force takes her under again. She stops dusting, crawls into her bed and fishes in her bedside table for the medication. Now out of date, but it will make the pain go away.


Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

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