is Friday: Friday afternoon, to be precise, at approximately half-past five. It's quite an ordinary Friday afternoon for the Andersons, who are themselves quite an ordinary family, and who happen to live in quite an ordinary house. In fact, there's not much that's terribly out of the ordinary, as far as the Andersons are concerned. From their two children, to their cosy cul-de-sac, to their nondescript suburb, they are, statistically speaking, an average family in every sense. At the risk of implying too much, one could even go so far as to label them 'normal'. As though such a thing actually exists.
The Andersons live in a modest house, built mainly of weatherboard but with an authentic brick chimney. They're very proud of the wooden mantelpiece above their fireplace. Mary buys imported Italian polish from the hardware store, and each week she gives that wood a thorough scrubbing, being extra careful to lift up the photos of Matthew and Sophie as she does so. The kids often play with their train set, or listen to Bible stories, next to the fireplace. It's funny that they all seem to gather round it in winter, even though it never gets lit. The last time it had any wood in it was 1947. They also have two front doors: a cracked old thing with an immense silver doorknock, and a sliding door with slightly tinted amber glass.
Mary's in the kitchen, chopping a cucumber and talking on the phone simultaneously, when Doug walks in through the sliding door. Doug's the head of the household: in his early forties, this unpretentious accountant still retains most of his hair; and for many years he's been the one who brings home the dough. Doug's an unnaturally tall guy, well over six foot, and skinny enough to be the mascot for an anorexia awareness campaign. That - plus a set of thick-rimmed square spectacles, just to top it off - makes Doug 'a tad… unappealing' to a magnanimous few, and 'a real freak' to the overwhelming majority. But apart from his appearance, there is very little about Doug that's not to like. Although he is rather a boring man, he's friendly, kind-hearted and affectionate to all who know him well. He strides in holding a suitcase in his right hand, and a bag of groceries in his left. Look what I got! He says to Mary's back, with a face that's positively beaming. Instead of a reply, the chop, chop, chopping continues.
Half an hour? Mary's upper body swivels robotically, the phone still lodged between cheek and shoulder. …Oh, hi Doug! Just dump the shopping over there, will you? She gestures vaguely at the kitchen counter with her knife, then swivels back to her chopping, and the maternal manoeuvre is complete. …Sorry, Mag? No, no, I wouldn't hear of it! This is a special treat - you and Tim are the guests tonight. The cucumber now lies on the chopping board in little green discs, all staring heavenwards. As Mary turns around once more, she covers the speaker end of the phone, and Doug can hear a tinny voice emanating from the earward end. …It's Maggie, Doug. They're coming for dinner tonight. Can you be ready in half an hour? …Well, if you insist, just bring a bottle of red and that'll be fine. Yes, yes, he's here already actually; he's standing right next to me. No, he won't be late like last time. Yes, I must be off too. Ok, bye now! She puts the phone back on its hook. Isn't that wonderful, darling! Mag and Tim are coming for dinner! She bounces over to him, wraps her arms around him and plants a generous kiss on his cheek.
Mary's a few years younger than her husband, and although she was never what men might call 'gorgeous', she is far from unattractive. She's always maintained that they're a compatible couple - though not for the usual reasons, like their star signs; Mary's much too practical for that. Although they're both submissive by nature, she is far more so than Doug, who can be assertive, bossy and pragmatic when he has to. They both possess a certain kind of meekness, the kind that's often interpreted as naÃ¯vetÃ©. Their friends don't gossip; but if they did, they'd have very little to say, except that Doug and Mary have a happy and well-balanced relationship. This, no doubt, is why gossipy folk don't particularly bother with them.
That's great, Doug replies, but… the plan was that tonight would be a quiet night, just us and the kids. The chirpy smile, the one he was wearing only moments ago, is gone. I even brought you some flowers, see? He lifts a modest bunch of roses out from the shopping bag, presenting them proudly.
Oh, how lovely! Mary exclaims. You're so sweet, Dougie, finding the time to get me a little something, even with your busy schedule and whatnot.
It's been a long day, he sighs tiredly. I was looking forward to a cosy family dinner, nice and private -
I'm sorry, Dougie, she says consolingly, as she turns back to the vegies. Mag rang a little while ago, and we were just chatting, and, you know how it is, one thing led to another… she said they weren't doing anything tonight, so I offered to have them over here. We haven't done this for a few weeks, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity -
It's alright, Mary, he interrupts. I'm not going to get mad at you, no need to justify it. Just remember, in the future, that I'd appreciate it if you ask me, before you go off and make arrangements.
I'll remember, she promises. In the meantime, you should go have a little rest, or a shower, or whatever, and let me take care of dinner. You look worn out, after a hard week in the office, but tonight's going to be a well-deserved break.
Doug doesn't look very reassured. But just to humour her, he nods his head weakly, as a token sign of recognition. He then turns around and trudges off down the hallway. Aw, Christ! He swears, as his head skilfully makes contact with the doorframe. He hasn't done that for a long time - not in his own house, anyway. In his head, he thinks: Bloody hell - what in Christ's name is the matter with me? But out loud - loud enough for Mary to hear - he says: Forgive me, L-rd, for taking your name in vain.
Saying this was a wise decision on Doug's part, since Mary insists that religion play an integral role in their family life. Doug and Mary met each other through the church: they would say they fell in love, but their feelings were stirred - quite significantly, even if only indirectly - by the pastor of their congregation. Mary was raised in a good Christian family, where she went to church every Sunday, and where her parents taught her right from wrong in the best way possible: by example. Doug never discusses his childhood, but the Christian way of life is not instinctive to him, so his folks probably weren't all that devout. Mary thinks of their kids as two little angels sent down from heaven: Sophie's almost finished primary school; and Matthew's in year one. Church attendance, grace before meals, and all the other customs are second nature to them. The Andersons are a very happy, and a very pious family: as much so, at least, as any other 'normal' family.
As he makes his way down the hall - rubbing his bruised forehead - Doug stops to look at Sophie's swan, which is perched regally upon a bookshelf in the hallway. Her nest is the topmost shelf, where most who wander by tend to meet her at eye level. Sophie made it at school, and her teacher - recognising the exquisite beauty of the work - chose it to be one of three that would be fired in the kiln. But Sophie was dissatisfied: she took it home and painted it with a soft, feathery white glaze; and then had it fired. She transformed it from a dull, brittle piece of clay into a graceful and feminine work of art. Everyone who sees it praises it not with: 'Isn't it lovely', but always, without fail, with: 'Isn't she lovely'. She has a long, slender neck, so fragile that it seems her head is supported only by way of a miracle. Her wings are tucked into her chest, and she glides effortlessly without even moving. Her eyes are fixed rigidly upon nowhere in particular, but they miss nothing and they smoulder with buried wisdom.
He thinks that swan is the most beautiful thing in the whole house, aside from his loving family. As he has so many times before, he becomes lost in her elegant curves, her serenely folded wings, and her pure, unblemished whiteness. Enraptured, his eyes probe hypnotically into the red, glassy beads that are her eyes. Searching, probing desperately for the truth - he knows with conviction that it's in there, somewhere. He seeks it, but with shrewd subtlety it eludes him - like the one rotten chip at the bottom of every packet. Everyone's had it happen: you start eating, munching and crunching, acutely aware of its presence. Then, as you work your way down, you keep munching and talking, and crunching and burping, and sure enough you forget about it. And finally - crunch, munch, burp, think: Yuk!
It's always in that order, with the thinking occurring after the swallowing, by which time it's too late. Doug's digging deep, determined to find that one morsel of truth - rotten though it may be - which is hidden deep within his own heart. He wants to dispose of it now, of his own accord, rather than bite into it when he least expects to, in which case he'll be left with a very bad taste indeed. But all he can see in the proud swan's eyes is his own face, reflected straight back at him, and he knows that he'll never find the truth by looking there. He'll have to look behind the face, behind all the layers of masks and disguises, if he is to have any hope of confronting the truth.
The Evans family drives a crimson Nimbus, equipped to seat five regularly, but with two extra seats that can fold up into the boot - more than enough space for the five of them. Kevin always jumps in first and hogs the seat on the right, which is the only one in the back with a working seatbelt. Emma, the youngest, inevitably ends up sandwiched between her two older brothers, Kevin and Dean. They only use the very back seats if they have friends in the car. It's one of those family traditions, so important in the early years, when kids are sure that everyone lives as they do, and that life as they know it will stretch eternally into the future.
The Nimbus pulls into the driveway, Mag switches off the ignition, and everyone hops out into the Andersons' front yard. Where's the cake, Mag? Tim shouts, as he makes his way around the car, and starts rummaging around inside the boot. Did you put it under the - oh, here it is. He starts wrestling with the cake tin, attempting to pull it out from beneath a pile of assorted junk. After a particularly hard tug, one of Emma's 'Bob the Builder' books slides down from the top of the heap, and crashes into a cricket bat at the bottom. It's one of those talking books, the ones with buttons that produce various aggravating sounds when pushed. At every birthday party, there's always someone - some evil, sadistic individual - who horrifies parents the world over by bringing such books as presents. After one eight-hour car ride, with Bob and Wendy for sing-along company the entire way, Tim came very close to giving that book a new home: in the rubbish bin. As the book makes contact with the cricket bat, the 'Fix it!' button is bumped, and Tim hears the accursed words: Can we fix it? Yes We Can!
Meanwhile, at the front of the car, Kevin and Dean have their little sister pinioned to the bonnet, and shrieks of laughter are breaking out as they tickle poor Emma mercilessly. Kids! Mag snaps at them, leave each other alone! Tim, what on Earth are you doing back there? Honestly, you really are useless… She strides briskly to the back of the car, where Tim's got his rear end waving around for all the world to see, and where his head's buried amidst month-old poppers, several basketballs, and an assortment of kids' shoes.
Mum! Emma wails. They won't let me go!
Kevin, Dean, let your sister go! She yells at them. And, as an afterthought: And say sorry to her! Look, Tim, it's just here where I put it… She shoves him out the way, where he stands with a resigned look and gives an irritated sigh. Within two seconds, she's extracted the cake tin from its pile. Make yourself useful for once, will you, she grumbles, plonking the tin in his hands. Take that for me, and I - whisking the wrapped-up bottle of wine from an esky in the boot - I will take this. She marches off to the front door of the Anderson house, leaving Tim to shut the boot and lock up. Come on, everyone!
Mag slams the silver doorknock twice, hard enough to measure on the Richter scale. When this happens, Kevin and Dean cease their tickling of Emma, and Tim ceases to stand like a garden gnome with the cake in his hands; everyone jumps up and makes their way to the front door. Tim may be the head of his little congregation, but this authority does not extend to his own family. The door opens, Mary appears, and the usual niceties of welcoming begin.
Oh, yes, and we got you something extra, Mary, apart from the wine…
Oh, Mag, you shouldn't have…
Oh, I like those earrings! Where did you get them…
Oh, Doug got them for me a few weeks ago. Nearby jeweller, fellow we know…
Oh, I can smell that fabulous cooking of yours from here! What have you got for us…
Oh, just some…
Oh, well I thought since…
And so it continues, this tedious ritual of smiling and complimenting, and regular oh-ing. It's funny how we always start a sentence with oh when we're about to say something irrelevant, and how in conversations where everything is irrelevant, the dialogue deteriorates until finally there's nothing left to say, except for a few more drawn-out oh's.
Well, why don't you all come in? Mary suggests, as though she's just realised that there are four other people on her doorstep, and that perhaps they're not terribly thrilled to be left standing there. They amble in one by one, each receiving a warm greeting as they pass through. Hi, Tim. Mary kisses him on the cheek. And who's this big fella? You're taller every time I see you, Dean! Hello, Kevin, just make your way through - Sophie's out the back somewhere, I think. He-llo, my pre-cious li-ttle girl! Does Auntie Mary get a hug? Who's Auntie Mary's favourite girl? Eh? Mary lifts up Emma and gives her a big hug, oblivious to the little girl's frustrated squirming movements. After much effort, Emma eventually manages to wriggle out of Mary's grip, and runs off down the hallway, no doubt in search of Matthew.
D'you need a hand with anything? Mag asks Mary, as the two make their way to the kitchen.
No, no, it should be just about ready by now. A tray of Cajun Chicken is baking in the oven, while on the stove there's a pot of boiled rice, with a pot of steamed vegies cooking beside it. Mary grabs a wooden spoon, bends over the pot of rice and gives it a gentle stir.
This is a lot of work for a busy mother, Mag comments. I hope you got Doug to help with some of it. Mag's pretty certain Doug did nothing, as usual. Why can't Mary be more assertive, instead of making herself a slave to domestic work? She's always got excuses, justifying why she needs to do so much. In all the years they've been friends, she's never once seen Doug lend a helping hand, nor has she ever seen Mary admonish him about it. Things run very differently in her family - if Tim doesn't do his share of the chores, he regrets it.
Well, I was going to, but he's had a busy week at the office. Here we go, Mag thinks to herself, here come the excuses. He comes home looking so weary these days. I just haven't the heart to ask him for a helping hand - it wouldn't be fair.
What makes him so weary that he can't help his own wife?
I don't know! Maybe they're retrenching people on his floor, and he's worried. Maybe he's being forced to do more than he should. I don't ask him what he does all day, that's his business. She gives a sad little sigh, then turns to the vegies and gives them a stir. There's definitely something bothering him - something that's been bothering him for some time - but he won't tell me what it is. You don't think it's anything serious, do you?
Mag puts her hands sternly on her hips, and replies: You know perfectly well what I think, Mary. I think you should stop worrying about Doug, and start worrying about yourself. I think Doug has no reason to feel down, when he has a wife who does everything for him, and a secure job on top of that. I think that instead of giving Doug a break, you should give yourself a break. I think -
Mary spins around suddenly, turning away from the stove to face Mag. Alright, you've made your point! She interrupts, sounding injured. I've heard all that many times before. Just as I've told you, many times before, that you can't expect us to live as you do. Her cheeks are flushed, and her eyes watery. You think we like living like this? You think Doug likes working long hours, and having no time to help around at home? Of course he doesn't! Just because your husband's a pastor, and he only has to work a few hours each day, doesn't make you the norm! Her body is convulsing with sobs, and the words, laced with bitterness and resentment, are struggling to come out. Doug is a good man, a good father, a good husband, and he always does the very best he can for me.
The anguish is now unbearable for Mary, as she literally falls into Mag's arms, sobbing uncontrollably on her chest. Mag has to steady herself to accommodate the unexpected load, and to stop them both from falling. She strokes Mary's thin, mousy hair tenderly, and makes soft, soothing little noises in her ear, as she would for one of her own children. She resents Mary's insulting remark about her husband, but stifles the resentment, telling herself that it was only an emotional outburst, and that a response would be uncalled-for. The tears and the convulsions continue for a few minutes, only subsiding when the oven timer starts shrilly ringing. There, now, Mag whispers reassuringly. I'm sure he's a very good husband, the best anyone could hope for.
She pats Mary's head one more time, before lifting her off her chest, and back up onto her feet. Mary wipes away the last remnants of her tears, takes a few deep breaths, and steadies her balance erratically. She lifts her head up high, and says: I think it's time to serve the dinner. Would you like to help? Mag nods obligingly.
After having deafened every dog in the surrounding area, Mary finally switches off the oven timer. The noise stops, and immediately the entire room becomes permeated with a hollow silence, as does a battlefield when the guns stop firing. But alarm bells are still sounding in Mag's head, and they're not just the echoes of the timer's ring. They're warning bells, shrieking insistently that something's wrong, that perhaps some grenade or landmine is lying dormant nearby, awaiting imminent explosion. Mary's never broken down like that before, at least not in front of her. A few minutes ago she was fully composed, chatting amiably while she prepared dinner. And now she's a nervous wreck!
Mag's confused and worried: confused because she doesn't know why Mary broke down like that; and worried because whatever it is, it must be tearing the poor woman apart. Surely it wasn't what she said: they've had that conversation countless times, but never before has it ended so dramatically, nor so awkwardly. How long have the two been friends? Ten years? At least that long, if not longer. She's known Mary long enough to realise what a weak personality she is, but in all that time, never has she reached such a pitiful state of mind. Something terrible must be happening, under the surface, for it to reach this level. Mag wishes she knew what it was, but she's learnt from experience that it's quite useless asking Mary; even after years of close friendship, she still hasn't found the courage to confide in Mag with her personal problems.
So, how are things these days, my friend? Doug asks, as he and Tim settle into deck chairs on the back verandah.
Things? Same as ever, Tim replies nonchalantly. Out on the lawn, Matthew's showing off his favourite remote-controlled car to Emma. He was racing it round the grass before, but it looks like one of the batteries has fallen out, and he's trying to shove it back in. Just inside, they can hear the TV blaring out some afternoon kids' show that Sophie likes to watch. Dean and Kevin are probably in there with her, unless they've got something better to do. What with the kids and all, everything seems to be perfectly normal - just a typical Friday afternoon.
The two of them sit there for a while, thinking about nothing much in particular, as all men do on occasion. A long silence settles in: not the eerie, unpleasant silence that often haunts a pair of strangers; just a tolerable pause, shallow enough to wade in without floundering. Somehow, although neither has spoken a word, both know that this silence is mutually accepted. Both of them understand that good friends know enough about each other, that they don't need to volley words back and forth, as though they're rivals in a game of tennis. This is why neither of them is particularly concerned about what to say next, if indeed there is anything more that needs saying. It's why they don't bother racking their brains desperately for a new line of conversation, but are instead content to just sit and cogitate. The fact that neither is cogitating about anything is irrelevant: after all, it's Friday afternoon!
Tell me, Doug, Tim says with a yawn, where've you been these past few weeks? You used to pop in and visit me all the time, but I haven't seen you round much. What's keeping you busy? He straightens out his legs and stretches them, wiggling his toes to keep the circulation flowing. Doctor's orders: part of his regime for managing low blood pressure.
It's the work, mate. Hard times we live in - you do what you have to, long as there's bread on the table, end o' the day. My hours are getting longer, the days aren't. What can you do?
Tim straightens up in his armchair, as lethargy gives way to fervour. The transition is barely noticeable, so naturally and so rapidly is it performed. As only the clergy can, he subtly weaves a thread of preaching into his words, breathing life into what Doug hoped would be a calm, sedated little chat. We work because we have to work. We spend up to six days a week working, not because we love it, but because it means we have at least one day to spend with our families. All this he says neutrally, matter-of-factly, while facing the wall. Now, he turns to face Doug directly, and a trickle of assertiveness begins to seep in. I'm sure you've asked your boss to limit your hours? Explained to him that you're not some money-driven yuppie in his twenties, prepared to work twenty-five hours a -
No! Doug retorts, interrupting Tim brashly. I don't think you understand, Tim. In these big companies, it's sink or swim. You can't go around asking for 'limited hours' - say that and you're out, blink of an eye. Trust me, mate, I seen it happen. They got these fancy contracts, they make you sign all sorts 'a things. Puts you right under their thumb, it does. Plus, like you said, there's all those young fellas, hovering round like vultures, waiting for their first chance to get rid 'a you. Doug's wearing a pained expression: he's weary of explaining these tedious facts of modern life, yet again, to Tim. Just as the pastor is used to preaching, so too is the desk man - the accountant - accustomed to dry, mediocre lecturing. Besides, he adds, I think it's better this way, giving Mary and the kids some time to themselves. They need a bit of distance from me. It's healthier.
Healthier! How can you say that? Tim really looks the preacher now, consumed with passion, clearly outraged by what he's hearing. There's nothing more important than your family. You should only be working to support your family, not to get away from them.
Yeah, and that's exactly what I do! Doug protests. I work overtime because I have to, because we need the money. I've never considered anything more important than my family. Especially work, he says with sincerity. It's just so hard to make ends meet for us. Oh, Tim, he sighs, if only I could do it all right, like you do. Ever since I met you, I've looked to you as my inspiration, as my benchmark for living a good life. But I'm just not up there with you, mate. I'm not half the man you are.
Don't say things like that, Tim chides. You're just as good a man as I am. In fact, you're probably better. We've all got our little secrets, Doug, and if you must know, even I am no exception.
What do you mean? Doug asks, bewildered.
Well, if you knew that, it wouldn't be a secret, now, would it? Tim answers smugly.
Doug doesn't want to press Tim any further: he tells himself that this is nothing more than a decent respect for his friend's privacy; although deep down he knows that he's frightened of learning what this secret is. Whatever the true reason, his response is silence - this time, it's the uncomfortable, deathly silence that inevitably falls before a storm.
Much to Doug's despair, Tim proceeds to answer his own rhetoric. I've been meaning to tell you for some time, he begins, but I've put it off until now. I haven't talked to anyone else about it. You're my closest and most dependable friend, Doug: I feel I can share my troubles with you, and I can trust you not to hold them against me.
What is it? What's on your mind? Doug asks, reluctantly, sensing that this is serious, and that hearing it will be far from pleasant.
You see, it's my kids, Tim says. Mag and I have always been strict parents, and we've always believed that parents should do whatever is necessary to keep their kids in line. That doesn't mean we hit them all the time, but we both agree that when the need arises, we should give them a good smack. That's how it's been since Kevin was born, and that's how it stayed for many years.
Doug shifts about in his seat, obviously uncomfortable with more than just the chair. But recently, I find I've been hitting them more and more, Tim continues. I'll hit them for the smallest things, little pranks that really don't deserve more than a harsh verbal reprimand. It's gotten to the point where I'm not just punishing them -
They look alright to me, Doug remarks, trying to sound casual.
You lift their shirts up, and you'll see a different story, Tim says. It's not something I was consciously aware of at first, but it sort of hit me when I saw the scars.
Tell me you're not serious! Doug says half-jokingly. Why would anyone, especially a pastor like you, to go around belting his kids -
It's not just the kids, Doug. Not anymore. Mag's been getting real concerned about what's happening, and she's tried to stop me. She's confronted me on several occasions, and told me plain and simple to keep my hands off 'em. She's even stood in my way when I'm angry, and been a human shield for them. She'll never tell anyone - she's too proud, Mag is - but I've taken it out on her, too, not just the kids.
Doug sits and listens, his mind working overtime, trying and failing to absorb what's being said. You're kidding, right? is all he manages to say. Pastor Tim, my friend and mentor. Perfect life, perfect family. Child basher? Wife basher? He lets out a feeble little laugh. Look around you, Tim. Look at our kids, playing in the dirt. They look pretty happy, don't you think? If Doug's considered for even one second that what Tim's saying could be true, he isn't showing it. I always thought you had a pleasant sense of humour. I don't know what kind of sick, twisted joke this is, but it's not you, and it's not funny, so just stop it.
You're right, Tim sighs.
Doug's in a state of complete denial, and his mind's more tangled than a spaghetti factory hit by a tornado; so without even thinking about what Tim could mean, he immediately says: Yes, I am right! Now will you stop this ridiculous charade and tell me what's -
Doug! Tim shouts at him, with uncanny aggressiveness. Will you let me finish! He stops to calm himself, before continuing. As I was saying… you're right. This isn't a joke, and it's not funny. That's why I'm telling you, Doug! I need your help, whatever advice you can give me; and I thought being a good friend and all, you'd understand and be reasonable with me.
Reasonable! Doug shrieks. How can I be reasonable, when my own pastor - the man I'm supposed to be looking up to - is telling me he's an animal? Why would a man like you do such a thing? This isn't you! I'm not hearing this! Wake me up when you're back in orbit around planet sanity. Or when you've learnt what it means to take a joke too far. Doug knows he's kept that rotten chip buried for so long, that keeping it buried has become second nature to him.
Do you want me to show you, Doug? Tim hisses, bending close to him. I will if I have to.
You can show me whatever you like, Doug replies, but I won't believe it.
Emma! Tim bellows. Come over here! Daddy wants a word with you. Obediently, the little girl abandons Matthew and his toy car, and scuttles across the yard onto the verandah.
Is it just my imagination, Doug thinks to himself, or is she limping? He shakes his head, blinks, the instinctive denial still firmly in control of his thoughts. No, he decides, she's fine.
Look at that, Tim rasps, as he wrenches up her T-shirt and points to her left hip. A large, swollen lump leers out grotesquely, the skin still purple from what could only be a serious bruise. You see that? I gave her that one when she wouldn't share a book with Kevin. Turned out it was Kevin's book, in the end, but I was too infuriated at the time to listen properly. I told the doctor she got hit by a soccer ball, and he just looked at me, didn't say a word. He knew.
Doug knows, too. He knows that if he looks up and actually sees the bruise - instead of burying his head in his hands, as he's doing - his whole world will come crashing in. But Tim's voice is insistent: Are you going to look at it, or should I bring it within smelling distance? Once again, as has happened so many times in his life, Doug has no choice. No choice, but to look up. So he looks.
The image fills his head, every lump and bump, every hue and colour of it. That awful, ugly bruise, inflicted by Tim. Pastor Tim: his role model, his guiding light; without Tim, he'd never have been able to leave his own past behind. But now, this very same man is bringing that past back, forcing him to confront the terrible bruises that no amount of time could ever heal. The man who set the example for how to be a good Christian, how to live a good life and raise a good family, is now revealed to be just as sinful as Doug, if not worse.
At that moment, the world Doug has lived in for so many years - the world of white picket fences, white-collar jobs, wife and two kids - all that comes to an abrupt end, and the foul, rotten chip at the bottom of his heart finally resurfaces. He accepts the reality of the situation, that Tim is no better than him. He realises, now, that ever since he met Tim all those years ago, his entire life has been one big lie. And as this new realisation becomes increasingly clear, he ponders out loud: What is the point?
Sorry? Tim asks, uncertain whether Doug's talking to himself or not.
What is the point, Doug repeats, of pretending to be… what you're not? He rises from his chair, scratches his chin, and gazes at the stucco tiling, a faraway look in his eyes. By this stage Emma, who's been feeling scared and vulnerable as she exhibits her bruises, sneaks away and runs back to join Matthew.
What is the point, he says once again, of changing your name, moving to a new city, making new friends, and starting a new family, just so you can fit in? All that effort, he cries, all that forgery! Doug's face contorts into that of an angry monster, as he realises just how foolish he's been. With a howl of rage, he stampedes into the house, bursting in on Sophie and the boys who are still watching TV. From outside, Tim hears Sophie scream, he hears swearing and cursing intermixed with sobs of pain. After a while, there are some loud cracking noises as wooden pieces of furniture are hurled around inside. Tim sees his own boys, Dean and Kevin, rush outside to escape the carnage.
Tim stays outside, listening, as stunned now as Doug had been just a little while earlier. Wasn't it he who was talking to Doug about his problems? Not the other way round? Why is Doug inside, apparently attacking his kids, when it's he who should be out of control? And how could his confession, or the sight of one little bruise, cause such an unexpected change? Tim's afraid: he's petrified that he's let the cat out of the bag, intentionally or not; petrified, because he doesn't even know how big this cat is. And somehow, by some undeserved happenstance of fate, it's all his fault.
It is this sense of guilt that eventually compels Tim to go inside. He steps into the living room, and sees Sophie lying on the couch, her arms swollen with bruises. He feels sick, as he notices how similar they are to the bruises he inflicted on his own kids. In a sense, he inflicted these ones too. On the TV, an old movie is reaching its end. The characters are huddled together, looking sad about something that happened earlier. One of them says to the others: is there in truth no beauty?
Tim steps into the kitchen, sees Mary cowering in a corner, nursing an injured thigh. Drawers and cupboards have been wrenched open, pots and pans are everywhere. His own wife is nowhere to be seen. He can only hope that Doug hasn't taken a knife. He runs off down the hallway in search of Doug, using the trail of destruction as his lead.
Doug's crouching down in the middle of the hallway, his head bent over something on the floor. Tim kneels down opposite him, and sees that it's the remains of Sophie's swan. Doug's holding a broken fragment of it in his hands, turning it over and over, peering intently at it. One side is still smooth and white, but the other side - the inside - is dark and crusty.
From the kitchen, they can hear Mary shrieking into the phone: It's my husband! He's gone mad, and he's trying to kill us! Please, send someone fast! The words are easily loud enough for Doug to hear, but he doesn't seem to notice them.
I'm sorry, Tim says pleadingly. This is all my fault, Doug. If I hadn't let you down, if I hadn't been such a hypocrite, none of this would have happened. I had a duty to set the standard, and I've failed.
Doug holds up the fragment of the swan, showing Tim the ugly, black interior. I shouldn't have followed you in the first place. Pointing at the white side, he says, it was never more than a façade, this life of mine. It was only a matter of time before it collapsed. Only now do I realise that there's no point trying to be what you're not.
But is this who you truly are? Tim asks. Is there in truth no beauty?
Sometimes, Doug replies. But the truth is never easy.