Theme X: Family, “Uncle Jim”

By Sebastian Muriel

A father and his daughter wait for an elevator in the lobby of an apartment. The father just got out of work and is exhausted. The daughter just got out of school is is elated. Her colorful backpack radiates with a joy that is truly reflective of her unwavering smile. “Daddy, what are you getting for your birthday?”she asks her father. Something about the question strikes the father deep within the fabric of his memories. He longingly remembers how he once felt joy and wonder, but now his daughter’s inquiry reminds him of his confinement to stress and anxiety. “Nothing sweetie, money’s kinda tight right now.” the father lovingly responds, effectively repressing all sorrow and anguish behind the brutal fact of his starvation of joy.

The daughter looks up at him with a gaze so endearing, so innocently reassuring, the father cannot help but to smile while sharing with her their current financial situation. She produces a worn out doll, a doll that seems to have been part of her childhood for as long as she can remember. Holding out the doll towards her father, she says, “Well, I got you something.” The father sees the doll and is lovingly caressed by a distant time of prosperity and wonder when he and his wife were first learning how to be parents, and the only thing they could really afford to buy their daughter was this doll. The enigmatic thing, though, is how his daughter managed to preserve her joy even in the midst of a deprivation of what kids her age find joy in—toys, mountains of dolls, amusement parks, loads of candy. His daughter seems to have attained a joy that is beyond the economy they live in, for this doll was the only symbol of material joy in her life–and she is willing to give it up in a heartbeat. Speechlessly receiving the doll, the father utters a ‘thank you’ and lets himself be clothed in this joy.

BUZZ-BUZZ! The father’s phone is ringing. It’s his wife. He hands the doll to his daughter and walks away to take the call. His wife needs groceries, so he writes the list on the back of a flier hanging on the wall. Curiously, he turns the flier around to see what it says: “BEWARE OF LOCAL KIDNAPPER. DO NOT LEAVE CHILDREN UNATTENDED.” The wife’s voice is gradually blotted out by the rumbling pulse of fear, as the father looks over to where he left his daughter. She’s in the elevator. A man in a black hooded sweatshirt stands behind her. The doors close, effectively piercing his heart with a ruthless blade of remorse. He runs to the stairwell.

Running up the stairwell is a merciless reminder of his physical ineptitude, as he struggles to maintain a sprint—even when the life of his beloved daughter is at stake. He feels vulnerable, because he is completely at the whim of his circumstances, and his physical incapacity could potentially be the barrier between him and saving his daughter. The ominous thought of failure elicits a surge of motivation within him, and he painfully increases his pace. He gets off on the fifth floor to check if his daughter is there. He sees the doll on the ground, in the middle of the hallway. He runs over to it, picks it up, and holds it with a childish fear of possession and attachment to something far deeper than a mere doll. It is an embodiment of the remains of his daughter, and he’s holding her as she slowly crumbles away as her kidnapper gets further away. He sees the elevator signage display that the elevator is still going up—to his floor. He runs back to the stairwell.

While running, he hears his daughter’s voice cry out his name in a sing-song, playful manner. He runs even faster. Even if her tone of voice was still the precious joy of a child, the father knew that she did not know the grave danger that she was in. Her joy was not going to be shattered by this unknown perpetrator of fear and terror. He was going to deliver her from the tyranny of reality and human brutality. He ran with more alacrity than ever, effectively rendering his physical ineptitude nonexistent as he flew up the stairs like a hero.

He barges into his hallway. He sees the hooded man standing beside his daughter at the front of his door at the other end of the hallway. With the doll in his hand, the father marches down the hallway towards the kidnapper and mercilessly beats him with his daughter’s doll, preaching his face off with a sermon of joy that will not be shaken from his daughter’s life. The kidnapper is knocked out by the father’s relentless beating, and the daughter stands in sheer terror of what she had just witnessed. “UNCLE JIM!” the daughter shouts. The father curiously looks at his daughter then fearfully examines the body and sees that… it is in fact, Uncle Jim. A wave of immense guilt comes over him. His front door opens. Slowly, the father looks up from the body and sees his family and friends. They’re crowded in his living room, dressed in party attire, ready to surprise him. They all stare at him in disbelief and fear. The father cannot believe what he has just done. He drops the doll, and faithfully surrenders to the favor the world does have for him.

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