Albert moved on to one of the other seats. The chairs weren’t child-sized, but they were small, so when he folded his tall frame into one, his knees bumped against the table.
“This is Corabelle,” Tina said. “She’s joining us today.”
Clementine didn’t look up, snatching at the stack of paper and grabbing two colored pencils, orange and purple. She immediately began scrawling fervently across the page. When I tried to look at her work, she covered it with her arm, eyeing me with suspicion. I looked away.
“What are we doing today, teach?” Albert asked.
Tina passed him a piece of paper. “Yesterday we drew an image of something from our childhood. Today I’d like you to show me a place you’ve been that struck you as interesting. You can use the colored pencils again like yesterday,” she cast a quick glance at Clementine, “or you can use watercolors.”
Albert considered his choices. When he reached for the palette of paints, Tina hurried to the sink to fill a cup with water. As she shut off the faucet, Albert was already poking the still-damp colors with his brush. “Don’t work worth a damn,” he said, making a brown trail across the page.
“Get it wet,” Tina said. “Here you go.” She set the cup in front of him.
I didn’t realize how much his hands were shaking until he aimed his brush for the cup, missed it completely, then knocked it over. I quickly lifted my page as the water trailed across the table.
“I’ll get it!” Tina hopped up again, snatching a handful of paper towels. She sopped up the water, and Albert covered his eyes with his trembling fingers. “I’m sorry, miss. So sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Tina said. “You should have seen the disaster after the little tykes came through.”
He stared at his hands, quivering like flags in the wind. “I once had powerful hands,” he said.
“You still do,” Tina said. “Remember what I told you. Work within your limitation, and set your expectation outside of it.”
Albert stared at the page and the wavering line dissecting it. He stabbed at the water cup again, now holding only a fraction at the bottom, and dipped it in the blue. He closed his eyes a moment, as if willing his hand to still, and then the most remarkable thing happened. His hand still shook, but even so, the brush moved across the page with rapid skill, quickly sketching out an incredibly detailed and realistic ruin of a medieval castle.
I was just wondering why it was blue when he mixed the brush into the gray and began to add shadows and texture. I realized the color was a reflection of the time of day. I looked up at Tina, flabbergasted at the haunting image springing from his page. She watched him too, a small smile crossing her lips, and I knew, really knew, that she was doing the right thing being here. This man needed her. Maybe he was already an artist, maybe he had Parkinson’s or some other illness, and this led him to being here. She was going to show him the way.
She tapped the table above my blank paper. “You haven’t started your assignment,” she whispered.
Next to the amazing painting that was already filling Albert’s page, I felt horribly self-conscious sketching out an image of Gavin, myself, then another woman and a small boy standing by a counter. I sheepishly wrote the words “Testing Clinic” in a rectangle over our heads to signify the location.
As Tina folded her arms to show I wasn’t through yet, assuming a teacher pose that must come naturally to those who were meant for it, I began filling in details. A receptionist, folders on the desk. A little picture showing a happy family like most people had in their workspaces.
Clementine slammed her pencils to the table. “Done,” she said, pushing her paper at Tina, a series of alternating color blocks, like a chessboard. “Can I go back now?”
“You know we have to talk about our work,” Tina said. “Would you like to sculpt while Albert and Corabelle finish theirs?”
Clementine scowled at the table. Tina turned to the long line of counters and pulled out a tub of clay. I focused back on my paper. I didn’t know what else to do to it. I colored in the other woman’s pink skirt, making it a bit longer since I’d spitefully made it so short. I ignored the small figure on the end and focused on turning my dress into one I had worn to the homecoming dance our senior year, before we knew Finn was coming, when our future still spread before us as something simple and easy.
I began to sketch in Gavin’s outfit from that night, gray pants and a blue shirt. I knew it well, as that was one of our last images together before I got pregnant, posed in front of an arch of balloons. We’d missed prom and hadn’t gotten a wedding. That year was such a blur of SATs and studying, then the pregnancy, and moving to our little place. As I filled in the color, I refused to let my memory touch on the harder days, after Finn’s birth. I switched instead to an image of this other woman, pushing alone in a hospital, having a baby with no father. At least for that part, I was surrounded by love and support.
The boy was three, Gavin had said. How had she gone so long without designating someone as the dad? So many questions. I pushed too hard on the pencil and the tip snapped off, leaving a tiny hole in the page. I set it down. “I think I’m done,” I told Tina.
Albert had also finished, dabbing the brush in the gray water, trying to rinse it out.
“I’ll take that,” Tina said, moving the cup to the sink.
Clementine punched at her clay, flattening it out on the table. Her banging fists sent vibrations through the surface. The three of us watched her a moment, intent on her work, until she realized she had our attention and frowned, covering the pink oval with her arms. “What?” she asked.