“Childhood and youth are ends in themselves, not stages.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche
Young Aloysius had no idea what women looked like with their clothes off. Still, his best friend was willing to pay him a whole dollar for a drawing of a naked lady. The fledgling artist toyed with the elusive form for a while, but it was like trying to imagine the anatomy of an alien. The image kept slipping around a dim corner in his mind, and its troubling nature persuaded him to forgo completion of the task.
The friend, however, glimpsed the preliminary, and was not impressed. “It looks nothing like the substitute teacher,” he complained.
“You didn’t say it was supposed to be the substitute teacher.”
The other boy reconsidered. “Give it me to mark up. I will make notes in the margin and you can try again.”
Aloysius rolled his eyes and crumpled the drawing before another syllable could be added, leaving the friend to huff.
It was hot for April—too hot to draw. The jostle of sweaty children made the un-air-conditioned cinderblock schoolroom doubly oppressive, and the perfume of clotted rubber cement was not enough to remove the stagnancy of body odor. Once vibrant crayons were pulverized underfoot, along with bits of bright construction paper. These abused remnants were soon to become childhood memories, but not quite yet.
Aloysius’ young life unfolded with sensations and feelings he barely contained. He squinted out a roll of windows that ran parallel to his desk and tried to pick apart things in the scaffolding of trees, but the blues and green panes little separated heaven from earth.
The boy did not remember the precise moment of his birth, though distinct impressions stretched far into the glare. His path out of them was awash in vague watercolors, from the infant recollection of being overwhelmed by autumn leaves floating into his stroller, to the harrowing discovery of his bulbous knees in short pants around the age of two. In recent immeasurable years, he had only begun to appreciate the improbability of it.
Perhaps the most unlikely of things was Suzanne. She was not only the prettiest girl in class, but also the tallest. Slender limbs and straight dark hair made her willowy, while breezy dresses made her all but spirit. She was cruel to him on occasion, as she was with the other boys, yet she too liked to draw. In fact, she made a point of arguing with Aloysius over which of them was the better artist. Both were passionate and opinionated in the way of fourth graders, but it was perplexing why she should want to make an issue of it.
Suzanne seldom had cause to talk to him, although on this muggy spring day she was on his side of the classroom. A general commotion stirred around them, one associated with the transition from playground back to society. She was unusually docile, sweet. “I have decided you draw better than me,” came her proclamation.
Aloysius did not know how to respond.
“Will you draw me a picture?”
The boy nodded, agreeing to the request, and Suzanne sauntered away.
He had no idea what prompted the classmate to take this action, although she might have heard talk of a dollar, and naked women, in the lunchroom. Still, the boy never before supposed her to take particular interest in his affairs.
Directly Mrs. Wahl told the children it was time for their afternoon nap. This was the part of day where they put their heads down and a large freestanding fan whisked them off for a short rest. Schubert’s C Major Quintet was the feature selection on the record player, and its melodious character quieted their assembly.
Aloysius used this time to examine his desk carefully. Where one side offered hard clamminess, the other was a tactile realm of wooden dowels, screws, and petrified chewing gum. The explorer glanced across the room in his distraction and spied Suzanne staring at him through splayed fingers. She stuck out her tongue and smiled; he returned the gesture.
Inspired, the artist pulled the unfinished drawing from his notebook and wrote the words I Love You under the figure. Missy, who sat across the aisle from him, spied the sketch before it was returned to its hiding place. “God can see you drawing dirty pictures, Aloysius Gauge,” she whispered.
Mrs. Wahl rapped her desk to mark the end of the nap and, on reclaiming everyone’s attention, made an assignment for the weekend: The children, in groups of two, were to create an insect collection.
Touching bugs was a cringe-worthy notion. Aloysius looked over at Suzanne when other students began drawing partners; she was still staring at him. He turned away, even more horrified by the idea of teaming up with a girl. Besides, she would find out about his fear of bugs; and that would be worst of all.
In this tortured hesitancy, his chum tapped his shoulder. “I know a place where we can find dragonflies,” he announced.
Suzanne disappeared into the cloakroom, which was a location of particular dread for Aloysius. Any insect collection would be stored here for show-and-tell; and the collectors, on direction of the teacher, would jointly enter the room to retrieve it. Teasing classmates would surely make kissing noises while the couple was behind the curtain partition together.
The friend intruded on this worsening scenario. “Are you listening?”
“What about dragonflies?” erupted the daydreamer.
“About the dragonflies,” the boasting boy reiterated, “and spiders, too…”
“Spiders aren’t insects,” Aloysius reminded him.
“You can’t spell your Christian name and you’re telling me spiders aren’t insects?”
Aloysius glanced back at Suzanne, but some unanticipated eternity had transpired. The wisp of a girl had teamed up with another female classmate.
Her admirer teamed up with his buddy and moved on as well. He never drew the picture Suzanne requested, though, in a sense, every picture he drew from that day forth was for her.
PART I: Chapter One/ Back/ Contents Page
Copyright © 2007 Michael Teague. All rights reserved.