It wasn’t going to work without her. She should be smack dab in the middle, or really big, touching everything. I loaded my brush with a washy cerulean blue and wrote CAITLYN, across the canvas. Some of the other words smeared, but it wouldn’t matter. They’d be my secret. This wasn’t part of the assignment, but I needed to do it. I read over the words. Marine Elementary, Shazam, Miller Falls... My childhood and hometown: Nothing left but some primary-colored calligraphy. And Caitlyn. I did a lousy job of painting her name. A trickle of blue ran down from the Y. Blue? Marley, girl, what were you thinking, blue? None of it should be blue, Caitlyn least of all. Caitlyn was deep garnet red, or pine green–colors that weren’t in my jars or tubes. Caitlyn was captain of the ski team. She was homecoming princess. She was save the whales... She wasn’t blue. I scrounged through my paint box. Not purple or turquoise. Magenta? It had been Caitlyn’s favorite color crayon, but it certainly didn’t fit her over all. There! Bronze. That was closer. Harder and stronger than gold, but it sparkled in the light. I squeezed paint from the tube like I was decorating a cake and covered the blue: C-A-I-T-L-Y-N W-A-T-E-R-S. Better, but so undignified–big poops of letters. They’d never dry. I stuck a paper towel over the paint, squishing the letters below, then pulled it off. “Wrong!” The crumpled towel barely made the trash can. “Totally and absolutely wrong!” Caitlyn was mostly unreadable. I growled at the canvas then stood up. Didn’t matter. Nothing seemed to matter anymore. Not classes, not home–actually there wasn’t really a home anymore, was there? But this. As if I didn’t have enough to feel rotten about already. I wheeled the easel aside and kicked away the litter. People were such pigs. The studio was crowded, but there was just enough room between easels to lay the canvas flat. I only had twenty minutes before they locked up the studios, but I wanted to finish so no one would see the words. There wasn’t anyone else in painting, although I could hear the band saw over in the sculpture studio. Just mix up these paints and go home. Maybe Mom would be there. I grabbed a stack of the cat food cans I used for mixing and dropped a blob of paint and a quarter inch of water into each one. I had to mix fast. There. Cadmium red and yellow, sap green, dioxane purple, and black. Here we go. I held the yellow and green tins straight out from my waist over the canvas and only hesitated for a second before I poured. The streams of paint swirled around each other making puddles with splashes the color of lime Kool-Aid. Red and purple next–some very crazy eights over the whole thing. Most of the words were already illegible. Now black. This I dripped off my brush in big glops. “Time to lock up, Marley.” Mr. Vizenor stood in the doorway with his keys. “ You can leave that there. I’ll move it in the morning.” Great. It would have to do. I’d see what I had tomorrow when it was dry.
from Songbook Seven
I reached over to my bookshelf and pulled all my songbooks out. The first ones were so funny! I’d started keeping special notebooks for my songs in third grade. My friends and I would form bands out on the playground with names like “St. Pauli Girls” and “Trax I. X.” We thought we were so cool. We all wrote songs—lyrics, really—but we could sing them and teach them to each other. Then we’d get in big fights over who got to be lead singer or drummer, even though none of us even played instruments, and we’d break up and find a new group to form a band. Ah, the good old days! Anyway, I just kept writing songs and filling up notebooks, even after we’d moved from that school and then to another and another. It was a nice consistent part of me. But this year, since I started to really get serious about it, songs had been getting harder and harder to write. Crap. Mom was home. I heard Danny chattering about the groceries she brought home, and Samson chased off to see what all the commotion was about. I tuned them out and looked at my last notebook--Songbook Six. I had some really cool lyrics in there. Some of them were really sad, but they meant something to me! I opened to a page from when we were living with Mitch:
Lonely weeping Distant dreams Nothing’s ever What it seems
“Rory?” Mom knocked on my door. I quickly closed the notebook and opened my new one to a blank page. I was so not ready to talk to my mother. I had no clue how to approach this. “Come in.” “Hey, hon. Sorry about this morning.” “Whatever.” I glanced up at her. Weird thing is, she looked all normal—happy even. “Did you guys work things out? Can we be our regular happy family again?” “Well, we worked out the plan for the summer. Doug finally understands that I’m serious.” She turned back to yell at Danny in the kitchen. “Don’t open that! I’m bringing those with me tonight!” She faced me again, “That kid!” “So, what is the plan for the summer?” “I told you, we’re going to Carlene’s cabin, and Danny’s going with Mitch. I told you already.” How could I stick to the plan and get mom to see Doug’s good points? “But Doug’s a great guy, Mom. He plays with Danny and he built us this room and he’s teaching me about music stuff. Why not stay here and work things out. It’s pretty hard to talk about stuff if you go away, you know.” “Yes, he’s a great guy to you kids. But I’ve been trying to work things out. It hasn’t worked. So I need a break.” “Well, I don’t need a break. I’m staying here. I shouldn’t have to move because you suck at relationships!” “You watch your mouth, girl. I told you we’re going for the summer and you are old enough to handle that. Don’t make such a big deal about it. Heck, invite Zariah to come visit us, I don’t care.” “If it’s not a big deal, then why do you have to leave?” “Because I do, that’s all. This is not the life I planned—sorry to disappoint you so much.” My shoulders dropped and I think a small sound came out with a breath. “Oh, knock it off, Rory. This place sucks, and Doug and I don’t get along. I can’t take it anymore. So we’re moving, got it? Mitch is picking Danny up after school on the last day and we’re leaving the next morning. You might as well start packing.”
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