I AM AN ARTIST, and a remarkably good one considering the conditions under which I’m forced to work. Mostly I create true-to-life drawings of the mountains where I grew up. They say I’m a genius at trees, at faithfully capturing dappled sunlight on their finely veined leaves, and recreating the mysterious dark fingers of lichen that clutch the throats of their craggy trunks. Though, I admit I struggle sometimes with the color of bark. Crayola doesn’t make a precise shade of bark brown, so I’m obliged to meld and merge various colors together until I get it just so.
In addition to my lifelike trees, I regularly draw other not so ordinary things. Things like fire belching Burnt Orange and Radical Red from the cleft between my naked thighs, or self-portraits with railroad spikes hammered into my eyes. I’m accomplished at mixing Mahogany with Scarlet to get a realistic shade of gore. Crayola doesn’t make a true blood red either.
Sitting at the farthest table in the rec room, I array my one hundred and twenty crayons around me in a starburst pattern. I spread my elbows wide and swell myself up so no one will try to sit with me. Most everyone already knows not to come to my table, but occasionally a fogger wanders too near, and I have to call a nurse to escort the intruder away. Foggers are the most pathetic cases here, the ones with oatmeal for brains and no reason to be lingering on this earth.
I have no time for them. Every breath I take is a miracle — a historic milestone, but no one would know it just to look at me. My keepers require me to blend in, and make myself appear to be the lowliest fogger in the place. It’s not easy to do, but it’s my highest form of art, and I am a virtuoso.
The truth is, I’m only here because it’s necessary for me to live in a controlled environment so my keepers can monitor me closely. No one else has an inkling of my actual nature, not even my therapist, Dr. Susan. My job is to maintain the illusion of insanity so I will not be asked to leave. The reason is simple: I’m not real.
I am a completely nanofabricated being. My keepers call me a marvel of human replication. I was crafted as an infant and grew to
adulthood in much the same way an authentic human would. My internal workings have functioned synchronously for decades, and will continue to function for decades more, but from the time I was very young, I knew I wasn’t real.
I grew up in a family of genuine humans. My keepers placed me there as an infant, but I’m almost certain my “father” was aware of my true origins. My otherness didn’t bother him the way it did my “mother.” In fact, he was my protector. But when I was twelve he died. A toxic gray sadness settled like ash inside our house, blotting out color and starving the place of oxygen.
I thought we would all die then, but one day Mother just vacuumed it all up and locked it deep inside. Ten years passed before it finally killed her. That’s when I was relocated here.
I have two older “sisters.” Only one still comes to visit. Her eyes can never make up their mind about me, so I roll over in bed and turn my back to her burying my face in the pillowcase. The chlorine scent reminds me of when Mother enrolled me in swim lessons. I suspect I was not built to withstand a plunge into a pool because I sank like lead. Water went up my nose and down my throat and made me vomit. Mother called me “willful” for refusing to go back. But Father said, “Just let her be.” I wish my sister would follow that advice.
I have no other visitors. The family of my former roommate used to bring me Oreos and fresh Crayolas whenever they came to see Frannie, but eventually my keepers required me to resort to violence in order to secure a room all to myself. Even though Frannie was chronically flatulent and reeked mightily of tooth decay, I felt badly about bashing her in the head with the brass table lamp. I still see the family occasionally. They don’t care what I am. They hate me.
Dr. Susan comes by every two weeks. She’s young with a creamy white complexion and hair the exact shade of Sunglow. I think I love her, but I’m not sure. She asks me questions and listens without interrupting. I know precisely what I’m allowed to tell her and what I am not. She always asks to see my new drawings. I enjoy our sessions and I’m sometimes tempted to tell her the amazing truth about myelf. But I know if I do, I will be forced to leave.
For a while, I had a friend here. Reggie’s soft brown eyes were nestled deep inside mounds of wrinkled skin. His hunched shoulders and droopy jowls reminded me of an aging basset hound. He didn’t say much, but he liked to stand at a distance and watch me draw. One day, after I created an entire twilight canyon using only Purple Mountain’s Majesty, he shuffled to my table and pressed a liver-spotted paw over my hand. A forceful tremor racked my entire body, and I believed it was a sign. A way for Reggie to let me know he wasn’t real either. At last I was not alone.
After that, I allowed Reggie to sit at my table while I worked. We shared juice and cookies, and the nurses said he was my boyfriend.
Then, about a month ago, after returning from a visit with his family, Reggie held out a clenched fist, saying he had a present for me. My heart fluttered wildly, but when he opened his hand three waxy crayons lay bent across his sweaty palm — the type of crayons cheap restaurants give kids to color paper menus; the type of crayons that, no matter how hard you press, barely leave a trace of pigment. All at once, things became clear to me. Reggie was not a kindred soul. Reggie was just another fogger.
I never spoke to him again. He stopped coming to my table, and I rarely saw him in the rec room at all. The nurses seemed disappointed that we were no longer friends. And, late last night, Dr. Susan stopped by my room to tell me Reggie had passed away in his sleep.
I just shrugged. That’s what happens to real people. They die. She shook her head and quietly closed the door.
Today, I sharpened all my crayons and drew a solitary tree in Reggie’s honor. I used his favorite, Mountain Meadow, for the foliage and blended Sepia with Shadow to create a trunk the color of his eyes. I’m saving it to show Dr. Susan so she won’t look at me that way again. She believes I’m only a fogger, but really I am an artist. bp
Vicky Savage calls Tampa, Florida home. She has a BA from the University of Minnesota, a JD from Florida State University College of Law, and a hodgepodge of writing workshops littering her past. Her employment history is checkered to say the least, ranging from flag-woman on a construction crew, to civil trial lawyer, to author and publisher of young adult science fiction novels (The Transcender Trilogy) and short stories.