The Signal

Serving the College since 1885

Monday April 15th

OCTOBER SHORT STORY: The Self Portrait of Jack Fitzgerald

<p><em>Drawings from the Rembrandt House Museum, the inspiration for the story&#x27;s prompt (photo courtesy of </em><a href="" target=""><em>Flickr</em></a><em> / Kotomi_ / February 5, 2013).</em></p>

Drawings from the Rembrandt House Museum, the inspiration for the story's prompt (photo courtesy of Flickr / Kotomi_ / February 5, 2013).

By Liz Ciocher
Arts & Entertainment Editor

The prompt that inspired this fictional story was after the self portrait of Rembrandt Van Rijin was shown to the class, and then told to write a story from its inspiration.

I cannot believe the ego my father has. Years, years, and years he’s worked in the painting industry, sometimes costing my mother and I food on our table. He doesn’t bring any money to the table with this profession. He refuses to make any changes, to do anything other than locking himself in a room with nothing but oil pastels and blank canvas’. My mother, too passive to try and convince him to actually do something with his life, has been a supporter of this dream since they were 25. Now, in the ripe sixth decade of their lives, it’s still going on. He paints the same thing every time. What does he paint? Himself.

How could a man who’s made so little of his time on this earth be filled with so much vain he attempts to make a career out of painting himself? I don’t mean to hate on people who are artists. A lot of people can make good money doing this, making something that will bring joy to people or liven up a space in their home, but I’ll tell you one thing— my father’s self portraits will not be doing any of that.

“Yourself? Again?” I ask, after he’s rushed out of the painting den with yet another completed self portrait.

“Yes! It is me and it is magnificent!” He didn’t even take his eyes off the painting to say this. I could be standing there completely ablaze in a sporadic fire and he wouldn’t have noticed.

“It’s wonderful, Jack.” My mother said, stirring a pot of instant rice. Our dinner.

I roll my eyes at the two of them. I can’t wait until the day I turn eighteen, old enough to leave this place with someone, anyone who has more to do with his life than devote it to himself. My mother doesn’t understand why I am so angry. She is so passive and innocent it makes me sick. For years I thought I was demented, like I had some sort of mental problem or anger issues because I could never understand my father like she could. I could never bring myself to be so supportive of him, or be so happy to see paintings of his face. I could hardly bring myself to see his face in real life. 

I was hungry, but I didn’t eat the rice. Instead I rolled my eyes at him, clearly disgusted by both him and his “art”, went to my room, locked the door, and sat facing the window with my back to the door. I’m too angry to really make any choices. So the only choice I make is to sit and watch the birds flutter by me, my eyes completely unbeknownst to them.

I get bored of this after a while. Unfortunately, this is a pretty standard series of events for me. My mother used to race up the stairs behind me, calling ‘Caroline! Caroline!’, trying to talk things out and get an understanding of my anger. But I never let her. I knew her gigantic heart and puny little brain wouldn’t be able to comprehend a sliver of my emotions. 

My gaze drifts from the birds and the trees to the house just down the dirt road that makes up our town. Kennedy’s house. She would know what I’m talking about. She doesn’t have a brain like my mother. Oftentimes, she agrees with me about my father. She hates him too. I want to go see her. I need to go see her.

My room doesn’t have a closet, just a single dresser. I don’t even have enough clothes to fill it up. But it’s chilly outside today, so I go to the top drawer and put on the one coat I have. I open my window, sneak my way through the window, and take off down the road to see Kennedy. 

The climb out the window was an easy feat for me, our ransacked old house doesn’t stand very high above the ground, and I have plenty of experience with making this escape. Whenever I want to see Kennedy I have to make my way to her house by ducking through shadows and . There hasn’t been a lot of exposure to LGBT rights in our impoverished community, but my parents have the suspicion that Kennedy and I are in the minority. 

I’ve never come out and said anything about the two of us, but how often can a person hide that they are in love? There aren’t a lot of boys that I’ve ever really liked, even just as friends, so when I fell for Kennedy I really wasn’t surprised. My parents, on the other hand, are appalled by the thought and chose to ignore it. I never tell them I’m going to see her, just to avoid the rise and aggravation it would bring out of them. 

My crawl through the window and walk down the path to the edge of our town takes me less than ten minutes. In an attempt to be spontaneous and romantic, I tiptoe to the edge of Kennedy’s bedroom window and lightly tap the glass with my fingers. I could just go to the front door, the likelihood of her parents being home were slim to none, but this will provide her with a sense of adventure I know she’d appreciate. 

At first, she looks startled by the sound, but once she sees me I see happiness light up her face. She rushes over to the window to pry it open and let me in.

Her warm embrace is everything I needed. I feel so safe when I’m with her, like nothing could touch me. I know she understands me. I know she will go to the end of the earth at my side, even if she knows I’m wrong. She’s my best friend, and the only person I’ll ever need. With the smell of her perfume I forget about my parents and the frustration of being poor and discriminated against. She makes it all go away.

But then, like always, we’re back to reality.

“What’s going on? Did your dad make a rendition of ‘The Last Supper’, but each apostle is himself?”

She is so funny.

“Pretty much. Not that painting exactly, but don’t bring that idea up around him. He would probably be totally into it.”

We laughed together and spent the afternoon in her room, away from the world, until the sun started to go down. I had no idea what time it was, and for all I know my cover could’ve been blown hours ago.

“I should get home before they notice I’m not actually sulking in my bedroom all day long.” I say to Kennedy, and she looks sad for a moment. Then her face lights up again, but this time with a different look. A look I’ve come to recognize as her ‘brilliant idea’ look.

“Can I come with you? I’ll stay hidden, I just have an idea. But you will have to trust me, I don’t want to tell you the idea until we get there. It’s a surprise.”

Obviously I am physically incapable of telling this beautiful girl no to anything she asks of me. Besides, I am horribly curious about this idea she has. The thought of hiding her around my house while the family is still home also sounds pretty fun, in a mischievous kind of way. I agree to her request, and we make our way back to my bedroom window.

Luckily for us, my parents have given up so long ago on my bitterness that they were convinced I was sulking behind a locked door for all those hours at a time. Kennedy and I climbed in, and once inside, I unlocked the door and took a step out into the living room. She stayed behind in my room.

“What, did you fall asleep in there?” My father asks, and for a moment I think he’s actually worried about me.

“Yeah. I just needed to cool off.” I said back, and he doesn’t bother with any further questioning. Like I said before, this is a normal occurrence. But as he’s looking at me, I see Kennedy tiptoeing out of my bedroom behind him. He doesn’t see her, since he’s facing me, but if he turns back to his original position, he’ll catch her for sure. She has the mischievous look in her eyes again, and brings her finger to her lips. I have to play along.

I was in such a panic I thought of the most appalling thing I could say, the last thing he or my mother would expect to hear from me. I didn’t know how else to make sure they would be entirely focused on me to make sure they wouldn’t turn around. Kennedy creeps into my father’s painting room.

“Yeah, uh, I’m sorry about my reaction to your paintings.”

Both my mother and father stared at me, wide eyed, as I suspected. But this was different than the time I told them I didn’t have a boyfriend, and never planned on getting one. This wasn’t them in confusion or shock, but joy.

“You are?” My mother asks, beaming so much it almost makes me sick.

“So you like them? You like my artistry? I’m so glad to hear you say that!” My father says with so much happiness it’s actually kind of sweet. “This is the most perfect timing! Angelo Juarez, the art distributor, is coming over tonight to check out everything I’ve created! After weeks and months of writing letters, I’ve finally got his attention! Now, you can be my advocate instead of my enemy!”

I really am touched by how happy my support would’ve made my father, but I’m really struggling not to laugh at the news of this. I’ve heard of Angelo Juarez. He works with real, thought provoking, beautiful, actual art. What he could possibly find in my father’s paintings is beyond me.

“Oh, wow, I–” The doorbell stops me short.

“He’s here! He’s here! Oh, the timing is incredible! Thank you, Caroline! Thank you!” He shrieks in happiness as he heads for the door to let Angelo in. This time I don’t even bother to hide my laughter, but my mother and father are both so pleased they don’t even notice.

My father is still shouting when he answers the door.

“Thank you so much for coming, Mr. Juarez. I really appreciate and value your opinion. Please, come with me this way to my gallery!” 

“Of course, Mr. Fitzgerald. I’m sorry I haven’t returned your messages, it’s just that we hardly receive quality art from this, um, type of neighborhood.” He replies to my father taking a step into the shadowing gallery. My father is so brainless he doesn’t even stop to take offense to this comment about our financial class. My mother and I follow them into the gallery just as my father flickers on the lights, revealing the dozens of self portraits he’s painted. Only, they were different.

Each portrait was still dripping in bright colors. They were all a little different, but most were given added details of colorful hair, red noses and clown shoes. Some had sayings and phrases painted into the background, saying things like “FAG” and “I’M GAY AND I’M PROUD”.

I fear all the windows in my house are going to shatter based on the sound of my mother’s scream. But it’s probably the greatest thing I have ever seen, and my father is white as a ghost. I’ve never seen him interact with much emotion, definitely not humiliation at this level.

Angelo turns back at my mother and I to address my mother’s scream. Before either of us can say anything, I come up with an answer.

“Oh, Angelo. Ignore that. In these parts, you know, towns like these, sometimes we get rats. One just scurried behind you, and my mother hasn’t quite gotten used to it yet.” 

Angelo just quietly nods and returns to looking at the paintings. I can’t quite tell if he buys my story, there is just confusion and intrigue sprawled across his face.

“There are no rats! Caroline! What are you talking about?” My mother shouts angrily at me. “What is wrong with you? What is this? It’s, it’s–”

“It’s brilliant!” Angelo shouts over my mother, and she is taken by surprise just as much as the rest of us. “In such a world of poverty, there is no shame! You live like this, and what do you have, yourself! And when all you have is yourself, you have no shame! These paintings deliver more than just artistic talent, Mr. Fitzgerald, they speak for an entire community of impoverished homosexuals! This is incredible brilliance! I’m calling my team right now, we need to get these out for display as soon as possible!”

I don’t know who is more surprised, my parents or myself, but I can hardly contain myself as my parents become frantic, explaining to Angelo that this is not my father’s work. But Angelo simply complimented on his commitment to ‘let the art do the talking’ and there was a crew to collect the paintings on their way to the house. My mother does not stop causing a scene until Angelo pulls out his checkbook and starts writing zeros.

During all the commotion, I feel a tap on my shoulder. 

“Kennedy! What have you done?” I ask her flirtatiously. “You are in some serious trouble.”

“The only thing I’m guilty of is making you rich! Who knew this would happen? I just thought it’d be funny to watch your dad blow a fuse, not to make the whole community think he’s gay! And to get out of poverty from it too!”

She was nearly in tears from her laughter, but I calmed her down with the most passionate and sweetest kiss I ever brought to a pair of lips. She’d saved me again, and the odds of my father ever creating another self portrait were slim to none. 


Most Recent Issue

Issuu Preview

Latest Cartoon