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Columbia College Chicago
Sketches
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Sketches

By Cutler

Sam and I are the first in the auditorium for Sarah's poetry reading. We sit in the front row, in the corner of the section, so that we can see the stage clearly without having to look up as much. The auditorium is large, with four sections of rows, the rows growing wider as they escalate. The chairs are made out of metal and have violet cushions covering the seat. The air is still. Even though we are the only ones in the room, we feel as if we have to whisper, so as not to disturb the silence.

We talk louder as more people file into the auditorium. Most sit in the back, probably so that they can text without easily being seen. I look around for Lily and Marian. Abby won't be here since she's in charge of tech.

"You're so lucky you get to miss history for this," I tell Sam. "And F Block rotates off tomorrow so you get a full two-day break."

"From Hell," he replies, laughing. AP European History is notoriously the most frightening thing that can ever happen to you at Chesterville High. "What are you missing?"

"Math." I shrug. It's okay. At least I'll get a break from homework.

The poetry reading soon starts. In the center of the stage is a podium, and five chairs sit on either side of it for the ten people selected to read. The readers file in and take their seats. Sarah sits in the sixth seat. She wears a short black dress with heels. The last time she wore this was to Mom's funeral. She's going to read a poem called "Umbrella." I wave at her, and she smiles back. The lights soon go down, and the poetry reading begins.

I can't understand the first poem. Sam can, though, apparently, as he nods after every few lines. I try to understand one part, but the words are all jumbled. The reader finally finishes, and the audience applauds. Next up is a poem entitled "You're There for Me." I hear whispers in the row behind me. People are probably saying the poem sounds adorable.

When the reader reads the first two lines, I immediately realize that the poem rhymes. I try to stop the shaking in my hands by pinching my arms, but it doesn't help. My stomach tightens. I lean back into my chair, but my back hurts from the hard metal. I know that I shouldn't leave in the middle of a reading, but I have no choice. I run to the stairs, thankful that I'm in the front row and don't have to avoid people's feet every step of the way. I race up the stairs and burst open the auditorium door.

I don't make it to the bathroom. Instead, I throw up on the tiled floor of the hallway. I don't want to go back in. It would be too embarrassing. So I sit on the floor and eventually fall asleep.

*

Mom used to write in an ABAB rhyme scheme. She wrote mainly about nature, about rivers and oceans and the beach. Sometimes my paintings complemented her verses. Once she wrote about our family trip to the beach in Destin, Florida, the summer after seventh grade. She wrote about how petting a stingray was like touching silk. When we returned I painted a stingray and tried to capture the smooth texture.

*

After the reading is over, I apologize to Sarah for missing her reading.

"How was it?" I ask Sam, later.

Grinning, he replies, "Momentous."

The day from then proceeds normally. I drive straight from school to art class, where I work on my self-portrait for my final portfolio. I then pick up dinner from Chick Filet--an eight pack of nuggets for myself and a chicken sandwich for Jess. I have an hour less of homework due to missing math, so I get to bed at twelve.

*

When I wake up, I immediately think about the pending journalism deadline. I still need to interview Jess's friend Nick for athlete of the week. Tonight I'll ask Jess to give me a ride to his place. Then I'll stay up all night writing and revise by Wednesday.

I get out of bed and brush my teeth. I turn on the hot water to wash my face. While the water heats I walk to my closet to pick out my clothes for the day. In my closet, my clothes are organized by article. On the left side of the rack against the back wall hang my shirts and blouses. On the right side I hang my jeans, khakis, Capri’s, and shorts. Against the right wall are my dresses, skirts, dress pants, and other professional clothing. I look through that section, as I need to seem somewhat professional for the interview.

As I near the far left of the rack, where the skirts are, a deck of cards on the floor catches my eye. It is the deck of cards that we bought at the airport on the way back from our trip to Georgia. We added card games as an option at family game nights, but that didn't last long. Eventually we got sick of Jess winning every card game, including Crazy Eights, War, and Slap Jack. So we decided not to use the cards anymore. We all had a more equal chance at Monopoly: Jess was good, but he always ended up in jail.

Family game nights were my favorite. Jess sometimes complained that he was missing time to play video games or go to parties with his friends, and Sam thought it was lame, but I enjoyed it.

*

I pick up Sarah on the way to school. She wears a burgundy sweatshirt and jeans. She carries a coffee mug. Yawning, she opens my car door and gets in, slamming it shut. This is the routine every morning: a tired Sarah gets in my car with a mug of coffee. Then she drinks the coffee and becomes loquacious.

About fifteen minutes into the drive, when "My Life Would Suck Without You" plays on the radio, she becomes her energetic self for the day. The change is abrupt: she sits up, looks in my car mirror, and starts doing her make up while talking to me. "I can't wait for this weekend," she begins.

I pull up at a red light. A black Mercedes pulls up to the right of us. Sarah twists the tube of mascara closed as she dances to the song. In the Mercedes beside us is a middle school boy with a buzz cut wearing a black T-shirt. He looks in our direction and dances, bending his arms outward and then back inward. Sarah looks out the window, sees him, and smiles.

She waves her arms at him and moves her head to the beat, snapping her fingers. "Dude, I'm totally having a dance-off with this hot guy," she says.

I look her straight in the eye. "Sarah, I think he's twelve."

"No, he has to be at least thirteen."

"Oh, great. He's thirteen. You're fifteen."

She shrugs. "So? He's adorable."

The car behind us honks. I instantly turn to the front. The light has turned green. I hit the gas and move forward. "Now look what you did," says Sarah.

*

It's six o'clock before Jess gets home. I heated up Lean Cuisine steak meals for each of us. When he sees them, he immediately snatches one and sits down at the kitchen table. I grab us both napkins and silverware and sit down, giving him a napkin, fork, and knife.

"How has your week been?" I ask him.

"Fine. Yours?"

"Fine. I threw up at Sarah's poetry reading yesterday."

He rolls his eyes. "You need to get over it already." Something seems different about the way he says it this time. He seems more frustrated, almost angry.

I shrug. "Sorry. Can't."

After we've eaten for a little, I ask him if he could take me to Nick's later tonight.

"I need to interview him tonight so that I can get done before Wednesday," I explain.

He eats a piece of steak and then looks up at me. "Sorry, can't take you tonight. Nick and I are going to a party at Mike's. He won't even be available."

My muscles tense. I put down my fork. "You're going to a stupid party again? But you just went to one last weekend!"

He sighs. "Katie is going to be there."

I move my hands from the table. "Katie? So you're riding your stupid motorcycle again to impress her?"

He smiles and looks right at me. "Yep."

If someone said make a wish, I would wish for Jess to stop being so stupid. "I can't believe you."

He laughs. "Thanks, Belle. Your anger is a gift."

I finish my last bite of steak and then take my plate to the sink. While I walk I think about motorcycles, and about Mom running away on one, smiling like she's free. I accidentally throw my plate down to the floor, cracking it.

*

My dad wakes me up at one in the morning and tells me to get in the car. Jess was in a motorcycle accident driving home from the party. He has to undergo an emergency surgery. I climb into the car in my pajamas and stare into black through the window until we arrive at the hospital.

I am familiar with the hospital waiting room. It's organized into four sections, each with a table with scattered magazines on the surface surrounded by turquoise leather mini couches. The floor is perfectly clean, just swept; the walls are painted baby blue. Whoever designed the room must've just had a baby boy. In the couch next to me a girl with straight black hair rests against the shoulder of a tall blonde guy, who reads a magazine. In the couch directly across from me an old woman constantly coughs. A girl sits cross-legged with her back against the wall with her eyes closed. The sterile smell of chlorine brings back memories of just a month ago.

*

The day after she left I threw away her portrait. It was going to be a gift for her birthday. I marched all the way to the back of the art studio, to the supplies room. It was darker and colder than the rest of the studio. Six dusty shelves were nailed to each wall. They were messy. The oil and tempera paints were mixed up; the glue was scattered about on different shelves. The room smelled old, like the paint was rotten. The blank canvases were on the third shelf of the back wall. I took an eight-by-eleven and walked back to the front of the studio.

My art class sat around the table. Each student focused heavily on his or her painting. You could see the tenseness in the way they all gripped their paintbrushes. They all sat in light green leather chairs. The leather was old, already cracked and peeling off, exposing white cotton threads. I loved the smell of the new paint.

I took my seat next to Sarah and placed my canvas on the smooth beige table. Sarah was currently painting a portrait of her sister. She put down her paintbrush and turned toward me. "You should've saved the portrait," she said. "You could give it to her when she comes back."

I chose to ignore her. Instead I tried to decide who to paint next. We were supposed to paint a family member. I had painted Dad the previous year, and I hadn't seen my grandmother in two years. I sketched a picture of Jess.

When I found out about the accident a few days later, I ran all the way from the hospital to the art studio and fished through the garbage can. I threw every empty bottle, scrap of paper, piece of plastic, and messed up canvas out of it onto the floor. My canvas was at the bottom, cracked and broken under pressure.

*

Dad went to the cafeteria to eat dinner, so I wait alone for a while. At some point Sam comes. He sits down on the couch beside me with a plate and awkwardly says, "I brought Chinese donuts." I can't eat any. Apparently, he can't either, because he sets the plate down on the table.

I lean back against the couch. As hard as I try to stay awake, I feel the world closing in on me. I dream that I am driving back home but can't find my house.

*

When I found out that Jess wasn't going to quit riding motorcycles, I threw away his portrait, too. The rotten smell of the dumpster gave me a pounding headache.

*

By the time I open my eyes again, the coughing old lady has been replaced by a woman with scraggly brown hair and rectangular black glasses. She hunches her back, studying the screen of her laptop, and types furiously. I look beside me. Sam quietly eats a Chinese donut.

I look at the plate of Chinese donuts, and for some reason, I desperately want to eat one. I want to feel the sugar stick to my teeth, to taste the warm dough melting in my mouth. I am so busy staring at the plate of donuts that I don't notice the doctor in front of me until he speaks.

"Miss Greene?" His voice sounds like wire. I look up at him without saying anything. He's bald and wears big green plastic glasses. "We just performed the surgery, and your brother will be fine. He did break a few ribs and both of his legs, but he should recover by the end of this year."

Sam breathes a sigh of relief. I look at him, and he smiles at me. I stare ahead blankly until everything vanishes to crackling gray, then swimming white. I fantasize about how I'd go about it if I had the opportunity. First I would deflate the black tires with a knife; then I would scratch the metal like a cat at the door. After that I would punch through the lights with my bare fist. I can almost feel the glass shards slicing my fingers.