"Empty Frames" by Juliet Kinder

They are in a field in one of the two town parks. This is the larger, nicer park, and so this is the park they like to take their children to on the weekends so that they may soak up the things that magazines say they should be soaking up. Children like jumping in colorful leaves, throwing Frisbees, and eating a perfectly arranged picnic off a blanket, the magazines also say. The photographer crouches in front of them. The knees of his pants are stained by the grass.

They have a boy and a girl. Boy has Husband’s eyes. Girl has Wife’s. The children look like them and they look like each other and it is such a brisk, yet sunny, day. Perfect for light, pastel sweaters.

On days that are not weekend days, one of them works and one of them stays at home. You can guess which one does which. There is no tension. They are exactly where they want to be in life. They wear khakis and reading glasses. Much of their life is furnished with Pottery Barn. Sometimes it is hard to see because the stock photo logo obscures their vision, but they manage.

You can use their image. They are for use.

Boy and Husband will play catch after this photo. Or maybe soccer. Whatever is more fashionable for boys and dads to play. Girl will read a book with Wife, flipping the pages with doughy toddler fingers. She will never smear her hand against the ground and bring dirt to her puckered lips. Boy never did that either. Neither of them ever cried. They were spooned mashed up fruit from mason jars on the white couch and never spilled. They were star students at their baby Mommy and Me swing dancing classes. They have the photos to prove it.

Husband majored in finance and found a career just out of college that allows him to be home at five o’clock each day, brown suitcase briefcase swinging from his hand. Sometimes he hums on the way home. Sometimes he listens to the radio. He is an informed man. He reads the newspaper while sipping coffee from a white mug in the mornings. For breakfast he eats an English muffin with jam and a banana. He packs himself a lunch. Hums. Kisses Girl and Boy on the forehead. Kisses Wife on the lips. In his free time, he putters around the house. He does projects with wood. He is not good at projects. Wife has had to replace most of the things he fixed. He has never noticed.

He only fucks his male boss when the stock photo camera is focused on Wife reclining on the white sofa with Boy and Girl reading, reading, reading. Sometimes she feeds them. Sometimes she does yoga with them. Sometimes her smile strains against the sides of her cheeks and she makes fingernail indentations on her palm in the out-of-focus edges of the frame.

Motherhood is a beautiful commodity. She sits with her children coloring beside her while she bakes brownies for the PTA meeting. Her hair is twisted above her head, some strands slipping out for effect. Her children dutifully complete their artwork, never once kicking one another or growing bored. They will color until told to do something else. Boy draws a fire truck. Girl draws a flower. They have only ever seen other white people because that’s just how it is. It’s never occurred to them to think about that.

Yesterday, Wife started her affair with the cameraman just to get him to put down the camera. Still, sometimes he has to do his job. He alternates. Every time he picks it back up, her ribs grind together and she imagines killing him by pressing the camera against his eye until it crushes through.

The cameraman has never been a stock image.

Yesterday she did a do-it-yourself activity with the kids. It was so simple and fun. It took time, yes, but she has time because Husband is at work and the house is always immaculate. Anyone who doesn’t make the time is a bad mother.

Husband is at work fucking his boss in a supply closet. He wrinkles the other man’s suit and leaves splotchy bruises on his neck. He bites. Wife has a magazine open to an article. It is on the benefits of juicing. Maybe her family should start only drinking juice. Maybe they would be healthier and more whole. They can start making arrangements out of the leftover orange peels.

The cameraman touches her softly. He moves hair behind her ear and then lets it fall back. He kisses her temple like a whisper. He would be very surprised if he knew she wanted to scratch down his back until she drew blood. She is so lovely. The sun dances against her face. She has never been in a poorly lit room. He gingerly moves against her. Slowly. She is too delicate to be careless with.

Husband tightens his tie around his neck. His boss is panting against the shelves and Husband turns on his heel. The cameraman is going to visit him at work for his promotion. He is going to shake his boss’s hand with two hands, one on top, to connote intimacy. He and his boss have a positive working relationship. He gets days off for holidays without any interruptions so he can sit by the fireplace with his kids and smile at his lovely Wife.

The cameraman has set up a tripod in front of them in the park that he crouches behind.  They all stand in a field, Wife, Husband, Boy, Girl, and camera. The cameraman wants to be where Husband is. He believes that he is in love with Wife. He says smile. The whole family smiles. Boy and Girl are on their parents’ backs and they are not too heavy. Husband and Wife press their cheeks together. Cameraman doesn’t just want to make love to her anymore. He wants to be Husband and press his cheek into her and play catch with Boy and have a pastel picnic on the grass. He wants to Photoshop his face onto Husband’s body, but already knows without trying that he wouldn’t fit the image.

She wants to fuck him into the picnic blanket. She wants to murder him so graphically it will have to be blurred out in the resulting photos. She wants to crush the stock photo logo between her teeth.

Husband smiles. Wife smiles. Boy and Girl smile. There is a special on families. Buy now.


Juliet Kinder grew up in a small town in New Jersey and recently graduated from Washington University in St Louis with a double major in Psychology and Spanish. She is currently teaching in Spain. Her work has appeared in Duende.

Back To Issue Forty-Three

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.