She hadn’t known Stephen long; he’d come into their lives a few months ago. He had emerged from that mental twilight that always separates the us from the others and had joined their friend group with all the ease of a cat settling onto its perch. Even though he was the youngest of them – only seventeen – sometimes he seemed as though he were the most adult, the only one among them fully formed and ready to take on the world.
He had always been so comfortable with himself. It was what made the funeral so strange – the stiffness and awkwardness with which he lay in the coffin. He seemed ready to leap up at any moment, straighten his tux, and go play the part of best man for some older friend’s wedding.
Did he really look so solemn in life? she wondered as her hand skated across the page. Should she look just as solemn? Most others did. Anna was seated across the room, sobbing into a black lace handkerchief. Then again, that numb and callous part of her brain reminded her, Anna had a flair for drama. She was probably the only person in the city who even had a black lace handkerchief.
Anna had also been Stephen’s girlfriend.
She hated funerals. She hated the way that no one seemed comfortable in their grief, and that no one seemed to know what to say. And she was no better than anyone else. She only knew how to talk with her hands, and she did so now, sketching without really thinking. Because thinking would make her just as uncomfortable as the rest of them.
No one noticed her as she sat with her open pad. Or if they did, they pretended not to. They wanted their time alone with him to seem real, perhaps – as though they were in a little bubble around the sarcophagus, and only they could speak, and only he could listen. They murmured and they cried, and they said goodbye. And as they left the church, she heard many of them say, “why?”
As if the corpse would sit up and reply, or the church would split and some angel would emerge from the steeple to tell them. Maybe they wanted reassurance, that this death had some grand significance and the young, brilliant man had been taken for a reason. Whether the reason was there or not, it was an answer they would never get. And if they could, she wondered as she drew, would they have been able to handle the answer they got? Would they even have been able to understand it?
Drawing was the one thing she had really shared with Stephen. She was always a little too quiet, a little too off to the sidelines while he seemed caught in the spotlight on a regular basis. But they were in art class together, and it was the one place in which she seemed to outshine him. He wasn’t jealous of her talent, just admiring. He’d asked her once to make a portrait of him.
“If you don’t think it’s too weird,” he’d said with the half-smile that seemed to get him anything.
Well, she was making his portrait now.
She became aware, suddenly, of a presence just above and behind her. She picked up her pencil and half turned to see who it was, and found herself staring into the red-rimmed eyes of Anna. She still held that ridiculous lace handkerchief and she leaned over to scrutinize the sketch. Her eyes wandered over the shape of his head, his eyes, the bridge of his nose. Then she hissed with all the venom of a rattlesnake, “It looks nothing like him.”
Anna stalked up to the coffin, looked down for a moment on the last expression of her beloved, and burst into a loud wail, throwing herself down over the upper half of his body. The artist held up her sketch and compared it to the corpse that was now being given the extra burden of his former girlfriend, who didn’t seem inclined to let go or even muffle her shrieking.
Anna was right. It looked nothing like he did now.
It looked the way he used to, when they sat together in art class. Pensive, focused, iconic. And with a strength hidden in him that couldn’t be expressed through that stiff stillness.
The artist closed her sketch pad and stood. The others could mourn their dead comrade in his wooden box. She, at least, would leave with something living.
Thanks to cabecada for the inspirational piece of art, which was originally brought to my attention by bwthoughts. I wish I could have done it better justice but sometimes I guess you just have to put out what’s on your mind.
If you’re interested in getting some of your own art exhibited on this page, why not send it on over, or link me to its location? Visit the Call for Art page for more information. And, of course, comments and constructive criticisms are always welcome.