Now well into her 'schooling,' Melanie, having been reintroduced to all her teachers, was settling into the new routine. Her classes were as varied as the personalities of those who taught them, ranging from the challenging intensity of Julian's, to the sweet nebulosity of Mr. Jimmy's. Theirs were her favorites, oddly. In between were Sister Dana's Bible Studies—simply a continuation of the evening readings (which, after being tacitly curtailed, had now resumed), Drawing with Sister Morgan—a birdlike nun with a passionate love of nature, Math from Mrs. Lowry—who really was a math teacher so she knew what she was doing (though she had a knack for making it uninteresting), Psychology from Sister Deborah—whose choosing to teach by lecture was unfortunate—she had a speech defect that made the most serious things she said sound funny, and finally English from Mrs. Soames—a stickler for proper grammar with a dogged faith in composition-writing as the key to mastering language. Few of the courses were likely to rate college accreditation, but they provided stimulus enough to keep the young girl's mind alert.

"That's the chess player, isn't it?"

"Uh huh."

"Your drawing skills are very well developed, Melanie. This is excellent. Where did you learn?"

"Don't know."

"May I see your other sketches?"

She handed over the pad she had been given the previous week.

"Sister Dana… Sister Zoe… The chess player again. What's his name?"

"Julian Papp."

"Ah, yes. Here's another of him… And another. Mr. Papp seems to be a favorite subject."

"He holds still a lot. It's easy to see him in my head."

"All of these are from memory?"

"Uh huh."

She turned another page. Julian's livid spectacles glared out from the paper, enlarged, distorted, the charcoal used to render them ground in savagely. Blind yet seeing, the dominating lenses seemed to emanate a miscreant emotion. They attacked and at the same time lured—a dramatic combination.

"This one 's very different from the rest."

The girl glanced up, noting the drawing to which the nun referred, then continued with her work.

"I was mad at him that day. He can be mean sometimes."

"He looks positively ferocious here. What did he do to make you draw him like this?"

"He said something nasty about a friend of mine."

"I'll have to watch my tongue."

The next page was blank, though the shadow of another sketch showed through. Sister Morgan turned the page. The shadow darkened. Another turn revealed a strange looking man with exaggerated hands, and an even more extravagant right eye. He sat amid a fantastic assortment of stuff, holding what looked like a tiny wooden man.

"And this?"

Melanie looked.

"Benjamin."

"I don't recognize the name. Or the face. Is he a patient?"

"No. He's somebody I know, or used to."

Melanie suddenly remembered the drawings she had done at the back of the pad. She blushed. She did not want the nun to see them. Pretending to continue with her work, she listened while the pages rustled, hoping with all her might that the nun would stop before the last few were turned.

Finding a long succession of empty pages, Sister Morgan flipped the covers closed, replacing the pad at the foot of Melanie's chair.

"Have you shown your work to Sister Zoe?"

"I haven't shown anybody. Except you."

"I think you should. You're very talented, Melanie."

The nun watched as slender fingers guided the charcoal. They moved with a confidence unusual for a teenager. The rigidity, the awkward allegiance to representational form typical of adolescent art were nowhere evident. Melanie's images were bold and expressive, imbued with a candid energy that captured essences. Crude, of course. Na�ve. But tapping levels well beneath the superficial.

With a piece of chalk Melanie colored the pallor of Julian's face and hands.

"If you try to imagine your strokes beginning behind the form, then wrapping around out front, you'll enhance the sense of depth."

"Like this?"

"That's it. And don't forget that negative shapes create positive shapes outside of them. It's like that checkerboard you've sketched. Are those squares black on a field of white, or white on a field of black? Understand what I mean?"

"I think so. I sometimes look at Julian that way. Everything outside of him has shape and color, and he's just this blank white space.

"Judging from your work, it seems you feel a lot of things about Julian. That one you have there is very sympathetic."

The girl considered the pasty flesh, the masked eyes looking out through lines and smudges. She had made him sad this time.

"He can be nice, too. I think I draw him so much because I'm trying to figure him out. Mostly I feel sorry for him."

"Because he looks so odd?"

"No. Because he's so lonely."

 

Julian considered...

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