A hand jostles his shoulder, breaking study of the gallery floor. Parquet that’s tan, five panels per square, teams of four, repeated, repeated more. Mrs. Hill leans close.
“The subject is ahead, Richard.”
He lets his head rise, keeps the parquet nearby, and looks wide left.
“Over there, Richard.”
Mrs. Hill points, waves with that hand. She’s been riding his case since the bus rolled out of the school parking lot.
“Richard O’Keefe, what are you staring at?”
Seated alone, favored company since his return, six weeks before.
He’d looked up, ignored sideline snickers, left the rubber floor, dark, ridged, retold. With crafted smile, he looked out the window and counted houses, bungalows and row, brick and frame, recurrent and same.
“Richard?” The fingers dig. “Walk around the subject.”
He hesitates, pauses anew.
“Your grades have plummeted,” Mrs. Hill whispers, the hand presses a ruler into his heart and twists.
Damage already six weeks complete.
“We commiserate your situation, but there’s artistry before you. Walk around, write your essay. Pull inspiration from your senses and consider passing ninth grade.”
The hand pushes, firm and in command. Above the parquet, students flash paper and pen, gaze and slouch, circle and chat.
He moves, eyes on parquet, and bangs against something hard.
“Watch out, freak.” The girl moves away.
His shins sense the subject’s base through dress pants––St. Al’s permits jeans solely on unholy Fridays––and keeps the parquet in sight. He’d expected some dark painting, an old man with cracked oil cheeks, a boat fighting brushed stroke waves, or a simple glazed vase.
“Pull from your senses.”
He strains left, tilts right and voices come clear.
“I liked the red painting better.”
“No, I like this sculpture, LOT’S WIFE.”
“Doesn’t look bronze.”
“The silver shading is cool.”
“How do I describe those bumps?”
“They’re called boobs!”
A fist smacks someone’s sleeve.
“Not those, moron! The lumps and dips added to its arms and legs.”
“Says here, the sculptor, Smith, uses mixed mediums to reimagine the traditional image.”
“I like how straight it stands.”
“That’s because it’s turned into a pile of rock. Haven’t you read the story?”
“I thought it was salt.”
He listens past, but his subject is silent. Bobbing back and forth, faster, he transports to her room and hears a known concert, played with beeping machines, whirring motors, screeching alarms, and frantic footsteps.
He retreats to the tiles. Their sheen, an ocean at dawn. He’s never seen the sea, so Grandma’s apartment pool must suffice. Unit 3D, his back-bedroom view of buses growling downtown. Towards the hospital, uncertain path, unknown return.
A quick inhale, two more. T-shirt damp and thrice worn beneath wrinkled shirt and misplaced tie. His sourness springs him back to the hospital, the bed, her stillness.
Transferring pen from left to right, he reaches out with his preferred. “That leftist lean will last a lifetime,” the nuns had chided. “Richard will write all wrong. His hand will cramp and smudge. He’ll use ‘those’ scissors.” A grim-faced threat. Mom hadn’t caved. “Shake with me, Ricky. Left means luck.”
Fingers without luster trace a curve. Its hip, hard and lean. The word withered is chased by wasted and followed by lost. A tear forms and he blinks it away with help from parquet.
He leans toward his subject with eyes closed, tongue primed and mouth wide. Coppery and something else, a savory zing?
“Ew! What are you doing? Pam, look, Richard’s giving the statue a hickey!”
He jerks back, eyes wide. The sculpture, balanced before him and earthbound on but five toes, stares back over a bronzed shoulder. Spotlight and shadow animate its silvery white face. Eyes and mouth searching? No, waiting.
He fixates, first on the hollow between breast and arm, then stunned by its clenched hands. They echo Mom’s terror when the plunger failed to halt pain.
He retreats, collapses on parquet, and begins. Lefty assaults paper, palm darkens where it meets fresh ink. Jabbing strokes build his assignment, without words but through sketch. Delicate lines add child to hollow and shapes their embrace.
Mrs. Hill hovers, then herds the others away.
Tears spill and his shoulders shake.
He writes atop in big block letters.
I MISS YOU SO MUCH.
A pause, then his left moves up top and adds,
KEEP LOOKING BACK, FOR ME.
Patrick W. Gibson is a Metro Detroit based writer. His short stories and flash fiction pieces favor an urban and working class feel. His work has been published online and in print by The Flexible Persona, Medusa’s Laugh Press, Wraparound South, Dark Ink Press, Fiction Attic Press, ARTIFEX, and the UofM Bear River Review. He has been featured on the Ripples in Space podcast. Patrick is querying his first novel and beginning a second.