Wednesday, October 21, 2009


"Drawings" was written in early 2007, one of the sudden burst of short stories I wrote at the turn of the year. All comments are welcome!



If she could imagine it, she could draw it.

That’s the way it was with Ronda Melbourne. Anything she could conceive of in her mind, she could get on paper with every detail where it was supposed to be. So great was her skill with the pencil that she had illustrated almost a dozen novels by the time she became a teenager. It didn’t take much for her to completely visualize anything, either. But getting it onto paper was a different story. Once a drawing was in her head, she would stop at nothing to get it down. Homework, tests, conversations, meals– all of that would be forgotten if a picture came to her. Her sketchbook and pencils were never far from her– in fact, they were the two things she would remember even if she forgot everything else.

She never drew her friends or family, never sketched landscapes as she looked at them, never penciled still life set up before her; everything she drew came out of her head, but there were times when someone would see a portrait she did of a character and would promptly ask how she knew so-and-so, since she had drawn him, or remark that they had seen that wooden bridge on a hike in the woods at such-and-such a location, and they would not be convinced that Ronda had made up that person or that location in her mind. But almost every picture she showed people would have a remark or two like that made by somebody.

She was gripped in the throes of a sketching in the middle of an algebra test now, her work forgotten, her teacher forgotten; only her pencil strokes meant anything to her now. It was a person– a young man– her own age: sixteen. He was a character of her own design– not belonging to any book or story in particular, but a normal young man, who could very well fit into her normal high school in her normal city. He was handsome, though not gorgeous– she doubted any of her classmates would make so much as a remark of his looks. If she showed this picture to them, that was. Even before her pencil first touched the paper to begin this portrait, Ronda had decided no one would ever see this drawing except her. Ever.

The teacher called for the tests to be turned in, but Ronda heard nothing. She didn’t even notice when the girl who sat in front of her grabbed her blank paper and turned it in for her. The bell rang a few minutes later, ending school, but Ronda didn’t move from her seat to catch the bus. His face wasn’t finished yet.

The teacher had nothing but patience for Ronda’s gift. He saw a talent in her, and he knew she was a good student who understood what it meant to work diligently, so he allowed her to remain in her seat to draw after the rest of the students were long gone. After a few minutes, he got up, left the room, and called Ronda’s parents, explaining to them why she wasn’t on the bus. He would call them again when Ronda was ready to come home, and by the way, she got an A on the test they had today. He reentered the classroom and began to grade the tests.

It got late. It got dark. Ronda finished the portrait as the sun disappeared, and she nearly jumped out of her seat when she looked out the window and saw darkness. Her algebra teacher was reading silently at his desk at the front of the room, and he looked up and smiled when he heard her move.

“Have you finished?”

Ronda blushed and nodded.

“I’ll call your parents to pick you up.”


Ronda didn’t sleep that night. She dug out her seldom-used colored pencils and began to add color to her portrait. The boy– she never named her characters or places– had charcoal black hair, deep grey-blue eyes, and fair skin. His hair came partway down his forehead in disheveled little locks that permanently looked wet, though the rest of his hair was well-tamed and appeared dry. His eyes were neither small nor large for his face, and though his cheekbones were a little high and his chin stuck out a bit, they suited him. He sat at a desk, his elbows rested atop it, his hands clasped at a level with this neck. His slightly-stuck-out chin rested lightly on his hands, and his face was tilted upward, his deep grey-blue eyes gazing intently at the space just over Ronda’s shoulder when she just held the paper. He was not looking at her, even when she was looking at him.

His T-shirt went from pencil grey to maroon next, and his grey pencil pants
became dark khakis as the sun began to rise. Brown shoes covered his feet, and Ronda closed her sketchbook and hurried out of the house just in time to catch the bus.


Ronda finished her pencil sketch of the boy and closed her sketchbook. She looked around, surprised to fins herself in a classroom again. Her algebra teacher called her parents to pick her up.


He was sitting at a table this time, talking to someone off the page to his left. His mouth was open partway, and he was leaning on the table, gesturing with one hand as the other sat on the table before him. He was wearing a brown leather jacket over a blue polo shirt this time, and the khakis had become blue jeans. He was wearing sneakers.


The school bell rang. Ronda stood, handed in her test, and left the room. Three weeks had passed since she drew the second portrait of the boy, and she had not picked up her pencils since. Her sketchbook she picked up every day– at least once every half-hour– and stared at both portraits for a few timeless minutes. She couldn’t stop looking at him.

A month passed. Two. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years... all passed slowly for Ronda, and she didn’t draw another line. Her pencils began to be left home in their case, and the case began to gather dust. Her sketchbook still went everywhere with her, but only because she didn’t dare remove the two portraits from it for fear of damaging them. She never touched them with her fingers, though she still stared at them fixedly for eternal seconds every few minutes.


The spring semester began. Ronda walked into her end-of-the-day algebra class and felt her heart rise to her throat. Sitting in the center row was... him.

He was wearing a maroon T-shirt, khakis, and brown shoes, but he was writing something on a spiral notebook on the desk in front of him. He suddenly looked up, resting his chin on one hand, tapping his pencil on the desk with the other, as he thought. He smiled faintly and began to write again.

Ronda managed to walk to her seat on legs that seemed made of rubber. She sank into her chair, not bothering to open her sketchbook and look at the portrait to compare. There was no reason. She knew what she had drawn. It was him. Zale Egerton, according to the teacher’s roll-call.

If he didn’t notice her staring at him, others did. Rumors began to circulate about Ronda’s crush on the new boy, but he seemed oblivious to both the rumors and her stares. And Ronda didn’t care about the rumors. She didn’t know what had made her draw him, or why she couldn’t keep her eyes from him, but as she watched him, she grew more and more attracted to him. She had never felt attracted to the figure in the portraits, but those were just pencil marks on paper. This was a real human being, her age, in her class.

And she couldn’t keep him from her thoughts.


Ronda drew furiously. It had been almost four months since she had picked up a pencil for the purpose of drawing, but that did nothing to curb her ability. She drew a picture of herself in a prom dress she had seen in a catalogue, and Zale was next to her in a tuxedo. His vest and tie matched the exact shade of midnight blue her dress was. In a split second, she found she had colored it, as well. She had never sketched herself before, and it frightened her. The drawing was perfect, right down to the tiny childhood scar that marked the right side of her chin. And Zale... of course he looked just like himself. She had drawn him twice before, and she knew every detail of his face from the hours staring at him.

Almost the second she finished the prom portrait, Ronda ripped it from her sketchbook and tore it to pieces.



The voice came from behind her, but she didn’t need to see the owner of the voice to know who it was. No one else at school had that accent.

“Do you mind if I sit here?”

Zale was wearing his trademark brown leather jacket over a blue polo shirt. He set his lunch tray on the table and sat in the empty chair on Ronda’s right. There was hardly anything on his tray– just a bowl of fruit salad and a carton of orange juice. And the yellow spiral notebook he never seemed to be without.

“Ronda, I was wondering... do you have a date for prom yet?”

She had never spoken to him before.


“Well then, I... uh...was wondering if you’d... perhaps... like to go with me?”

Ronda went pale and blushed at the same time. Her voice seemed to have disappeared for the moment, so she just nodded.


The rumors came true, and frightened, Ronda put away her pencils and her sketchbook. She didn’t draw a single curve or line for days, then for weeks, then months. The months became years, and Zale asked Ronda to marry him. She couldn’t refuse.

Months more passed, and Ronda was suddenly overcome with the need to draw. She spent hours searching for her sketchbook and pencils before she found them again, and she spent the rest of the day drawing a little boy with sandy blonde hair and stone-colored eyes. She drew four portraits of him before she put the pencils away again.


Miles was born three years after his parents were married. He had a tiny tuft of dark blonde hair in the middle of his head when he was born, and he had grey eyes that looked up intelligently, even as an infant and toddler.

Miles was never lucky enough to have a younger brother or sister. But his father read countless bedtime stories for him, most of them read out of the tattered yellow spiral notebooks he kept in a drawer with his socks. Miles loved them.

He grew to look exactly like the portraits Ronda drew, and she didn’t have to look at them to know it.


“Mom, what’s this?”

Miles, seventeen and handsome, was looking around in the attic, sorting through old clothes and other things to get rid of, when he uncovered an old sketchbook in a box of his baby clothes.

Before Ronda could stop him, he had opened it and was looking at the drawings.

“Wow... Mom, who did these? They’re amazing! Is that... Dad?”

Ronda’s mouth felt cemented shut and dry as the desert.

“This one... is that me? This one, too! And this one! Mom, did you draw these?”

It was all she could do to nod. His stony eyes were able to pierce through her with amazing swiftness.

“These are really good. Why did you stop drawing?” He flipped through the last half of the sketchbook– all blank pages.

A shrug was all she could manage.

“You should take it up again, Mom. You’ve got a great talent. Do you think you can still do it? I’d like to see how well you draw me now, and not as a baby.”

Ronda resisted with every ounce of strength she had. But Miles pressed the sketchbook into her hands, and it seemed immediately to fall to the next blank page. In the same box of baby clothes, Miles found a dusty pencil case and pressed it into her hands, as well.


Ronda drew for hours with Miles sitting, not really posing, before her. When he realized she didn’t need to look at him to draw him, he walked behind her and watched over her shoulder. She didn’t seem to mind.

In plain grey pencil, she drew Miles as he was at the moment: sweaty and covered with dust, wearing an old T-shirt that was a little too small and blue jeans with a hole in the left knee. Ratty old sneakers were on his feet. He stood with both hands slightly raised from their natural hanging positions, as if he were reaching out to touch something just before him. His mouth was slightly open, and his eyes had a hint of confusion and wonder in them.

“That’s amazing, Mom,” came a whisper from Miles’s lips.

Ronda continued to draw. A tall oval surrounded the portrait of Miles. A few reflective strokes made it glass. Petal-like protrusions came from the bottom of the glass oval, closing upward, encasing the pencil figure.


Miles’s vision distorted, like he was looking through a curved glass bottle, or through the hazy heat of a bonfire. Something was between him and his mother, who continued to draw like there was nothing in the world but her, the paper, and the pencil.

He no longer felt the gritty dust of the attic under his feet. He was standing on a smooth surface that curved upward slightly. His hands came up, his jaw dropped a bit, and his head turned around and upward as he looked at his glass prison. More shells of glass, each layer more opaque than the one before, closed upward, blocking his view of his mother.

Miles began to scream. He pounded on the walls of the glass prison with his fists, but the layers of glass closed on him. He was in darkness and could see and hear nothing. He felt himself fell upward and felt as though he were being ripped to pieces, though he remained whole.


Ronda continued to draw on the next page. It was Zale, her husband, in this one, the man she had only drawn three times as a boy, though one portrait she had torn up upon completion. He stood in the doorway of the attic room, the half-open door partially obscuring him. He was still in his work clothes, though his tie was now loosened, and the collar of his shirt was unbuttoned. The coat of his suit was draped over the top of his briefcase, which he still held in one hand.


Zale came home from work and called for his wife and son. He slung his recently-removed coat jacket over his briefcase and loosened his tie as he walked up the stairs to the second-floor bedroom he shared with his wife. He was turning to go to the bedroom when he saw the attic door at the top of the stairs cracked open. The sound of writing came from up there, loud in the silence of the big house.

“Ronda? Miles? What are you doing in the attic?”

He turned and began to climb the stairs.


Ronda was sitting, facing the door of the attic when Zale half-appeared in the door. She was bent over a thick sketchbook, drawing fiercely on a page he couldn’t see. She didn’t look up when he walked in.

“Ronda, what are you doing up...”

Something prevented him from stepping forward. His foot hit a clear barrier that sloped slightly upward. A slightly distorted Ronda sat drawing before him now, on the other side of what appeared to be glass. Zale dropped his briefcase and coat and pressed at the glass before him with both hands, but it did not give way. Segments of glass like flower petals closed in on the glass barrier surrounding him, making his small glass cell darker with each closing layer. With all his strength, Zale pushed at the darkening wall in front of him.

Darkness closed him into his prison, and Zale felt himself falling forward, backward, downward– in all directions at once. Unseen blades cut him to bits, but he remained in one piece.


Ronda closed her sketchbook. Her pencil fell limply from her hand and clattered to the floor, breaking at the tip. The girl who sat in front of her nicely picked up the dropped writing utensil and handed it back to her. She turned around and resumed working on her test.

Ronda put her sketchbook in her backpack and looked at the paper on her desk covered with algebra equations. She wrote her name at the top of the page without glancing at the problems. Instead, she looked down at her open backpack and the sketchbook inside.

If she could imagine it, she could draw it.

That was the way it was with Ronda Melbourne.

1 comment:

  1. oh, this story is very cool. I love it, reminds me of a movie I used to watch as a kid about a magic paintbrush.