The Man in the Picture

by Jakob Ivanhoe, Anglican Church Grammar School

Standing silently between the graves, Harvey felt a cool shiver run down his spine.  Alone, if not for the howling wind and approaching darkness, he read the name etched into the crumbing piece of stone that lay before him.  “Richard S. Barnett”.  Each syllable rang hollow, as he spoke the name of his father; the man who had abandoned him twenty years earlier.

Leaning tentatively toward the cracked tombstone, Harvey reached into his jacket, producing a tattered photograph.  He placed it carefully against the moss covered rock, shuddering as he took a penultimate look at the face he had come to despise.

A typical ‘guys’ guy’ stared back at him; six-foot-two with an ever-present growth of stubble adorning his top lip.  The rugby player’s build of his school days had faded, but his broad shoulders still bulged out of the border of the photograph.  It was this man’s muscular arms which had greeted him every day for the first twelve years of his life.  His warmth now seemed faint but the smell of his alcohol-tinted breath remained a vivid memory.  Harvey had come to resent this odour, but it was now more than ever that he longed for the affection of his father.

An icy breeze picked up as the evening’s first stars began to show.  Harvey paused, running his thumb nervously along the scar that lingered on his hand.  A pang cut right through him.  The brilliance of the night sky was as distant as the memory of this father’s embrace.  Indeed, the evening’s clearness was reminiscent of the fateful day Harvey’s world had been shattered.


Harvey arrived late from school, grubby from training and eager to share the news that he had made the run-on side.  His hurried skip to the front door stopped short as the familiar sounds of his parents’ shouts filled his ears.  He took a deep breath, trying to quell the uncertainty which plagued his thoughts.

Fragments of shattered china were chaotically strewn across the wooden boards of the hallway, which echoed with the sounds of his mother’s frantic screams.  He paced slowly toward the kitchen; his father’s drunken slurs growing louder as he came into view.

Harvey recoiled.  His father grasped his mother by the throat.  Her face was desperate and pale, and her arms flailed helplessly trying to loosen his father’s grip.  The man’s eyes were bloodshot and consumed with anger.  He turned, looking at Harvey intensely; finally loosening his hold.  He took a swig of the bourbon bottle which stood at his feet, before speaking in an oddly calm tone.

“Ahh, boy, it’s time you arrived,” he uttered, “You see …your mother isn’t telling the truth.  I was hoping you could fill me in.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Harvey’s mother shrieked bravely.

“Where’s my money, did she take it?”

“Dad, I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about,” Harvey murmured honestly, trying not to let a hint of fear slip into his voice.  “You’re drunk.  Just calm down and let her go.”  The man’s eyes narrowed.  He smashed the bottle on the table sending daggers of broken glass flying across the room.

“Tell me!” he shouted, lifting the jagged bottle to his wife’s quivering neck.

Harvey had to act.  He loved the monster that stood before him, but his mother’s life was in danger.  He clenched his fists, willing his body to stop trembling.  And lunged at his father with all his might.

A searing pain erupted in Harvey’s sweating palm as he twisted the bottle from the man’s determined grip.  It dropped to the floor, landing on blood stained tiles with a sickening clang.  His father’s eyes widened, as he charged violently toward the boy.  Harvey instinctively reached for the metal plated photo-frame which sat on the mantle, and swung it frantically towards his father’s skull.

There was a sharp crack, followed by a dull thud as his unconscious father slumped to the kitchen floor.  Harvey trembled; still overwhelmed by the adrenaline which surged within him.  His mother scrambled anxiously past the man’s body toward the door.  “Come on Harvey,” she cried, holding back tears, “we need to leave.”

“I’ll be there in a minute,” Harvey said blankly, noticing the photo which lay at his feet.  The man in the picture was his father.  He picked it up hurriedly before rushing out the door into the bitter night, which held not a single star.


A tear rolled down Harvey’s cheek as he turned his back on the grave for a final time.  Walking away, the silence of the empty graveyard was interrupted by the chiming of his phone.  He pulled it from his pocket, please to see a photo of his son on the screen.

“Hello,” he answered warmly.

“Hi dad, dinner’s nearly ready.  Will you be home soon?”

“Yeah, I’ll be home,” he replied, a smile coming to his face.  He would always be there for his son; he would never make the same mistakes as his father.


Judge's Report

Garry Collins, President, Australian Association for the Teaching of English (AATE)

I find that the general part of my report is quite similar to what I had to say in the previous two years. There was a healthy crop of short story entries in Section B for Years 9 and 10. Subject matter was varied and the overall quality was pleasingly high with a good number of really quite effective stories having to be relegated to the discard pile even before the final stage of elimination which produced the prize winners.

The vast majority of entrants displayed a very good grasp of the structure of an effective short narrative and understood the potential of the language to bring events, characters and settings to life in the reader’s mind. Again it is gratifying to be able to report that the overall standard of adherence to the conventions of grammar, spelling and punctuation was high and only occasional lapses had managed to slip through the editing process. When work is prepared for any form of publication such as this competition, there should, of course, be no mechanical errors.

The story that I judged to be the winner was entitled “The Man in the Picture”. It thoughtfully explored the theme of family relationships and the problem of domestic violence. The story began in the present with the protagonist visiting his father’s grave. It then had a flashback to a vividly narrated, dramatic event in the past before returning to the present to successfully tie up both plot and theme. And in contrast with the somewhat grim-sounding action that I have briefly outlined, it concluded on an affirming and positive note. The protagonist is determined not to repeat the failings of his own father. All in all, I found this a very effective story that gripped and held my attention from the opening sentence onwards.

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