I can’t count the number of times I’d sat in front of that monstrosity; stared at its features, those lips, that nose, those eyes…those dead, devil eyes. What made that night any different to all the others I can’t tell you, all I know is that on that Friday, it came.
The frame had gathered dust in my grandfather’s study those many years since his passing and whenever we’d visit my grandmother, always the same warning; “Don’t go into your grandfather’s study, he wouldn’t like it.” Why? He was dead and even before that we never saw him; he’d stay for the duration of our visits, holed-up in his dark room, muttering.
I’d hear words, strange words echoing and seeking freedom through the gap below his door. Words would seem to halt at their exit and light from within took on a distinctly shaded tone. We rarely stayed the night, favouring the long drive home, but the storm had other ideas. My father had never liked him, something untold and secretive had passed between them. We finished our dinners and my grandmother put me to bed.
I’d asked more than once over the years about my grandfather, his work, his relationship with my father and never heard a satisfactory answer. I decided to ask again. “Why didn’t they talk? What happened?” My grandmother paused and for a brief moment I hoped for a satisfactory answer. “Sorry honey, not tonight…not this night.”
The storm raged and the power to that aged home crackled and fled. Everyone slept, but the tree’s kept me awake. They creaked and cracked my eyes open. Across the hallway, father and grandmother snored, liker mother like son. Lying there, duvet pulled up to my neck, I heard him. I tip-toed out of that dank room, down the stairs and to his door. It wasn’t locked, there’d never been any need; grandmother’d never go in. For years
I’d snoop, riffling through his collection of books, their ragged edges and faded letters. The room held secrets, it was clear to see, but whenever I’d look, they’d run from me, hiding in the dark corners and steadfastly refusing to say anything. Until that night. I rummaged through grandfather’s top drawer; finding a candle and matches, I struck.
The frame, it’s corners of dated brass that faintly shone, even in the pitch night held mystery, suspicion. I knew those ornate swirls better than I did the image of that grinning face, for I chose to do everything I could to not see it. Haunting memories shuddered at the back of my mind; illusions, delusions, imaginings and hysterias.
The thunder exploded beyond the single paned window and the aged oak thrust its arm through. The candle jumped from my hand and flickered against the canvas. In a flash the face erupted into flame and that voice came forth. Slamming the window shut, I turned to the frame. The grin, so familial.