A photograph, 10cm square with rounded corners. An interior scene. In the dim background, an oval coffee table in front of a blue floral loveseat, both adjacent to a bookcase and a wooden cradle.
The painted edging on the table and the gold embossed text on the spines of the encyclopedias gleam in the shine of the flash cube fired from the top of a Kodak Instamatic.
A man sits on the floor wearing summer pajamas. Between his legs sits an infant, its arms and legs so chubby with baby fat that it has creases mid-forearm. A toy bear sits in front of both of them, and a black-haired dog reclines behind.
Long after the baby has grown into a man, he sits on a bench in a park in Japan, ten thousand kilometers and thirty-nine years from Lubbock. A warm summer evening. He is thinking about life and the shape it takes, his own path, and where to go next.
At about eight thirty, another man arrives at the park on a bicycle with his daughter, age three. They play together on the nearby play structure. He catches her, bubbling with laughter, at the bottom of the slide. She chases him around the fiberglass hippopotamus, then hides in its cavernous mouth, failing completely to stifle her laughter.
It is late for her, and so they do not stay for long, but as long as they are there, they are fully saturated with joy and sprinkled liberally with sincere affection. One would be hard pressed to find a better example of a father and child who clearly love each other.
Having watched all this, the man on the bench removes the small square photograph from inside the back cover of his journal and looks at it somberly. In it, he is the child, but more than anything, he wants to have a photo like this of his own, in which he is the father.
It feels so far away, though. Almost impossible with his circumstances. She’s getting older, too. They don’t have all the time in the world. All of it makes him feel hollow and sad.
At very least, though, he knows that if ever there was a good reason to work hard, improve his employment, and get his life in order, this is it. Do it for the sake of the family he longs to have.