In 1998, this piece was a runner up in the Durham Short Story Competition, being published in the anthology “Practice to Deceive,” with the warning it contained a very strong theme & involved graphic depictions some readers could have found disturbing. I wish it were only fiction…..
The last time Joe’s father beat him up; he was nearly twenty two years old. It was towards the end of his second year at University, when his family, that is mother Anne, father Gerry and younger sister Maria, came up to visit him one Sunday. They were in a Chinese restaurant, early evening, when his dad unleashed a flurry of blows to Joe’s head and solar plexus. Many of the other customers were his friends or acquaintances from the course or Students’ Union Societies. They must have wondered just what exactly he’d done to deserve such a savage assault in a public place, though none of them sought to intervene on his behalf. The truth was his dad didn’t need an excuse to beat the shit out of him. He hated Joe, couldn’t control his temper and felt duty bound to do whatever his wife demanded of him. Less than a year later he was dead, a heart attack whilst installing a power shower above the bath. Maria watched the scene unfolding with the white faced detached control she had adopted for all such occasions from an early age. His mother reacted in her usual way: her breathing became rapid, her gaze fixed, she licked her lips with anticipation, an involuntary whimpering issuing from halfway down her throat. At home, many years earlier, she used to take photographs of her husband working Joe over. In public, she would discreetly rub herself against the backs of chairs or edges of tables, unless it was possible to finger herself there and then. Gerry loved her. All the beatings Joe received were his attempts to keep his wife sexually satisfied.
Anne and Gerry had been married for several years before Joe was born. According to the neighbours, he was a blessed addition to an incomplete family, but to his mother and, after much persuasion, his father, Joe was a despised interloper created to ruin their lifestyle. By the time he was eighteen months old, his mother had taken to regularly pinning him in a corner, face against the wall, and screaming how much she hated him, wished he hadn’t been born and hoped that he would die soon. She would smash ornaments, overturn potted plants and pour a mixture of shampoo and toothpaste on the bathroom floor then blame Joe when his father returned from work, encouraging Gerry to beat him as a punishment. He never enjoyed these assault sessions as much as his wife did, as he was always aware of the fact it was his son on the receiving end, although he went along with them and eventually gained a small degree of pleasure from them, more from a sense of anticipation at what happened afterwards than from any thrill of torturing Joe. Gerry kept it firmly in the back of his mind that, no matter how wrong or unpleasant his task was, it remained true that the best chance of sex with his wife was to arouse her by brutalising his son. He never smacked Joe with the flat of his hand; it was always a punch from a fist the size of a football. Gerry never struck a blow on his son’s face, in case of complaints from teachers or neighbours at obvious bruising. Joe would lie curled up in a ball, silently accepting the torture as his dad buried size nine work boots into his kidneys and groin, whilst his mother moaned with pleasure, entreating him to hit Joe harder. Once Gerry became breathless with exertion and his wife frantic with passion, the beatings would end and they retired to the bedroom to make love.
As the years passed, so their sexual behaviour became more intense. At first they would leave Joe cowering on the floor whilst they headed off to the bedroom. As they fucked, she repeatedly demanded that her husband recount how many times he had hit his son, how hard the punches had been and where the blows landed. In time even this was not enough for Anne. She needed to control Gerry and humiliate Joe yet further. This was when they bought the camera, so she could photograph the assaults her son endured. The films were processed by Gerry’s youngest brother, Pat,who had a darkroom in his house.
Later it emerged that he was Anne’s occasional lover and it did not occur to him that sexual needs were in any way disturbed. In fact, Joe’s mother had been Pat’s first sexual partner, when he was 13 and she 24. The photographs were blown up to 8 by 6 and taped to a sheet of plywood that was suspended above Anne and Gerry’s bed, so she did not have to rely on her imagination or memories for sexual fantasies, either when engaged in intercourse or self-stimulation. Whenever a new film was developed, this heightened the intensity of her arousal to the extent that Joe suffered a second beating so she could have a second fuck.
When Joe was eight, his mother gave birth to his sister, Maria. Whilst they were in hospital, Joe’s father had sex with his son for the only time. After buggering Joe, Gerry began to cry and told him it had been on his wife, Joe’s mother’s instructions to do so. His dad explained all he’d ever wanted was a woman who loved him, as his mother had died when he was seven years old and he was prepared to do anything to keep Anne happy. Gerry sobbed on as he tried to explain to his son how much he loved him and that it had all been his mother’s idea to treat their first born as a sex toy. The guilt Gerry felt at his own subsequent enjoyment of the beatings and humiliation he handed out to Joe touched his son, almost inexplicably. Joe cuddled him with something resembling affection. It was only years later he realised his father had been lying.
Anne and Maria came home after this and, on account of a difficult birth and the presence of a new born child, the cycle of beatings and sex ended for a time. After a while Joe’s bruises faded, cuts healed and he was allowed to go to the swimming baths with the school. When Maria turned two, she was given her own room and a new chapter of sexual behaviour emerged.
The snapshots were old and faded by now and even when Pat ran off some new prints, the physical differences between the photographic image and reality of Joe’s appearance meant that his mother did not sense the same intensity of degradation when looking at them. By this stage beatings were administered without any pretence of parental discipline. Sometimes Joe was knocked about for being cheeky or getting a lousy school report, but mainly it was because she wanted to have sex. After the beating, his dad would drag Joe by the hair, at his wife’s insistence, into their bedroom and force him to watch them having sex .They never sought to involve their son in the actual intercourse. It was enough punishment for him to watch them.
When Joe’s sister turned nine, she was initiated into the family sex games. Anne had often boasted, across the dinner table, how she had seduced her own father before she had reached puberty. She regaled them with tales of following him to the outside toilet and fellating him whilst he crouched to shit. Her proudest boast was that by the age of thirteen, he chose to sleep with her and not his wife or other daughter. He killed himself when Joe was three and thus could not verify the story. Perhaps it was no coincidence that Anne’s mother rarely visited and her sister lived in Cape Town. Joe’s mother taunted Maria for being a virgin and told her that all good girls sleep with their father. Maria loved her dad, who had never been cruel to her. Joe and Maria were not a close brother and sister as he was forbidden to talk to her. In time, Maria began to accept what her mother had to say and took to French kissing Gerry when he returned from work, then casually ,with her mother’s coaching, unbuttoning his trousers and slowly masturbating him as he watched the early evening news. Soon she was engaging in full sexual intercourse with him. Anne needed a new sexual stimulation to replace the beatings Joe had received, as he was soon off to University and would not be available for her pleasure.
When he came home at the end of his first term, Joe argued with his parents about their refusal to make up the shortfall in his grant and Gerry knocked him the length of the sitting room with one blow. As Joe lay there, his head bleeding from a cut sustained falling against the television stand, his dad hit him in the balls with a golf putter. Joe vomited instantly; Gerry pushed his son’s face into the pool of sick on the carpet and rubbed. Then it was over. His dad left Joe and went out of the room. He was no longer their sex toy; Maria had adopted that role. His father seemed happier with this arrangement, as it meant he was able to ejaculate inside two women per day.
Joe had known that they had never loved him, but at least he had felt reassured by the fact that prior to his sister’s initiation, his parents had needed him. Joe went back to University in January and found temporary local work at Easter and for the summer. Thus it was the following Christmas before he returned again. His mother still verbally abused him whenever the opportunity arose and Maria was still forced to ignore Joe, but Gerry had changed. He looked old, tired, and ashamed: he couldn’t perform in the sack anymore. Maria stayed in her room all the time. His dad beat him up once: they all got drunk and argued about politics, until Gerry threw his son out of the house. Joe rang the bell and his dad came out into the garden and caught him with a right hook that broke four teeth and sent Joe sprawling into next door’s garden, knocking the flimsy fence down. As he lay there on the lawn, blood pouring from his mouth, Anne screaming for him to hit Joe harder, Gerry, husband and father, started crying. He walked away from a fight for the only time in his life that night.
The last time Joe saw his dad was the following June for the Chinese meal. Afterwards, Anne and Maria began to head back to their hotel, but Gerry lingered outside the restaurant, pressed a twenty in Joe’s hand and tried to smile. “I don’t expect you to forgive me son, just try to understand. I did everything for your mother. I know it was wrong, but it’s too late to do anything about it now. Look after yourself.”
Almost exactly a year later, Joe was living on black coffee and roll ups, sweating over the results of his finals, when the payphone in the hall rang. It was Joe’s mother to say his father had died the day before and there was a funeral three days later. He went home for it, trailing his B.A. (Honours) along too. Gerry wasn’t religious, so it was a cremation only. The whole extended family came back for some uneasy drinks on a hot July afternoon, and then left as dusk appeared. When her father died, Maria stopped eating and was soon taken to a hospital on the instructions of the family GP. Emerging from the house for the first time since the funeral three months earlier, whilst being helped into a waiting ambulance, the neighbours were almost frightened by her skeletal appearance. She died on Christmas Eve, around three in the afternoon, as Joe, foolishly, travelled by train to see the single remnant of his family. His mother flirted repulsively with him, throughout Christmas Lunch. As Joe lay in bed that night, the door opened and his mother stood framed in the reflected glow of psychedelic fairy lights from the hallway.
“I know we’ve had our differences in the past, but ifs time to put them behind us. We’re all we’ve got now you know. You’ve always been my special little boy. You know that, don’t you?”
Joe turned over and slept. Early Boxing Day morning, he slipped out through the front door unannounced and unmissed. Frost crackled beneath his feet in the half light as he wondered as to the availability of taxis.