Broken Pencil - - Table Of Contents - by Vicky Sav­age

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.