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Vignettes Regarding the Artwork of Brendon Kotes

IX: Yesteryears

The house Robbie moved into had a yard the size of a baseball field. While that yard had stood empty, but for an occasional mowing by the realtors, neighborhood kids played pickup games or used the space as a shortcut to access the playground. A path, trudged out by hundreds of small sneakers with light-up heels and swishes and Velcro, grew harder packed and dirt heavy, grass trampled until blades dared not poke free their heads.

Middle schoolers claimed the bulk of the yard, right where the trees began to dot, but before the forest took over. They used a towering oak as first base, those at the plate using one hand to press against the bark, the other tossing acorns at the pitcher. Second base was an old stump, forcibly used as a table, muffin and gummy snack packages wedged between the splintering wood. Third base sat almost outside the foliage-heavy property line; a pair of old desks, one right-handed, one left. The left-handed one was third base since it sat closer in, where the other had branches that hung low, low enough to scrape the head of anyone who sat inside it.

Brendon thought the desks were only used as third base, up until one summer afternoon sent long shadows across the path. Casey had been left back somewhere at the playground, no curfew for dinner calling him home.

The girl made strange sounds. The boy stranger still. Heavy breathing, slight creaking of the rusted metal, leaves shivering, yet not masking a squelching sound.

Brendon held his breath. Held it tight in his chest, lungs closing around the air, refusing to let it rush free.

He drew what he’d seen later. A girl with her head thrown back, short orange-blonde hair hanging so her ear was visible. Boy with his face hidden, but his hand up grasping her shoulder, his dark head bobbing. Under the back of the desks there were slits where bundles of clothing piled, the boy’s jeaned knee making the right-handed desk rock and creak in unharmonious time.

For some reason, Brendon hid the drawing from his parents and showed it to Casey first, along with the tale of what he’d seen. Casey listened wide-eyed and rapt, his tongue still. Then he traced a finger over where the boy’s knee had pressed, then up to the girl’s unflattering neckline because Brendon had yet to understand shading well enough to make two-dimensions appear as three. That didn’t seem to matter to Casey.

“She’s got a mad face.”

“That’s not a mad face. That’s a…focused face.” Like when girls at school bent over projects.

Casey shook his head. “Mad.”

“I drew it,” snapped Brendon, tugging at the paper. “She’s not mad. She wasn’t mad. I watched.”

Casey grabbed the edge of the paper and jabbed a finger at her face. “She looks mad.”

“You’re a horrible drawer. How would you know?” And Brendon yanked. The paper tore at the side where Casey held it, cutting through the desk and the girl, but leaving the boy whole, though his face remained invisible, turned away, his expression unable to reveal his own secrets.

“That was your fault.” Casey crinkled the paper and threw it at Brendon, but it just fluttered in the other direction.

After Casey left, Brendon quietly threw the paper away and pulled out a stub of a pencil to practice faces. He drew the girl’s face over and over, until she showed up in his dreams, her expression morphing from mad to focused, to sorrowful to giddy, her eyes the catalyst for his learning of nuance.

What he didn’t learn that day, what took him much, much longer to learn, was why Casey had been so insistent.


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