Fidgeting with the art supplies on my desk, I pondered if I was the only student who did not enjoy art. I was finally beginning to catch up with my classmates after lagging behind in first and second grade, but this assignment distracted me.
Sister Eileen told my mother how proud she was of the progress I had made in the past year. The additional tutoring over the summer had made a noticeable difference. I was proud of myself. However, art made me doubt myself. I was uncomfortable in my desk, my stomach suddenly upset.
We had been instructed to draw a clown. Next to me, my classmate was humming to herself and shaking her shoulders back and forth as she emptied the crayons onto her desk. It was obvious, she was anxious to begin. I, however, slouched my shoulders and slid down in my seat, lowering my eyes and tilting my head to inspect my brown knee socks.
Perhaps, I was distracted for another reason. Sean had been in a hospital after the night by the staircase. We still did not know for certain what was causing his odd behavior.
There were days that the silence was deafening and the darkness inescapable. The majority of my understanding arriving by the manner of osmosis. Closing my eyes at night, I had to sing commercials over and over in my head to keep from worrying about him, “Milk, it does a body good.”
Reaching my hand forward, I slid the crayons closer to me. I raised one to my nose and inhaled the smell of the wax. Closing my eyes, my hand lowered back to my desk. As I opened my eyes, I began to outline the face of my clown.
By the end of the week, Sister Eileen announced that our class would be hosting an art show for our parents to view our work. She had awarded some pieces of art awards that would be presented at the show.
I shrugged my shoulders and continued to work on the cursive penmanship assignment we had been given. I was suddenly more invested in perfecting the capital letter M in cursive than I had been before she made this announcement. I kept my gaze fixed on my desk and smirked.
The following week, we returned to school after dinner for the art show. The cafeteria had been arranged to allow for the display of art along the walls and at tables arranged in the center of the room. My brother and I lagged behind our mother waving to our classmates and giggling. It was not often that we were at school at this time of day and it caused us to be silly.
“Oh, Mary Beth! Look! This one has your name on it and it has a ribbon!” my mother stated scurrying to a drawing displayed at the center tables. I followed, confused. Certainly, it was not mine. My mother had to be mistaken. Her body obscured my view.
“Wow, look at your clown Mary Beth!” my mom continued as she inspected its face.
“Wow,” she whispered as she placed two fingers by the clown’s nose.
She turned so that her eyes met mine, her fingers lingering on the paper.
For the first time, it seemed, I beheld the face of my clown. It was good, especially for a third grader. The curly hair, the red lips, his clown hat…all of it was drawn in considerable detail. But, what was most striking about this clown was that the corners of his lips were turned into a frown and his wide eyes appeared sad. By his nose, one glistening tear fell. Beyond the crayon and the cheap construction paper, this clown had a story to tell.
As we stood for a moment longer, it seemed to also hum, “The tears of a clown when no one is around…”
“Mary Beth, that was amazing.” my mom said more to herself than to me.
A deep sigh exited my lips and I felt a warm rush of blood in my chest as I watched her turn back one more time to view my portrait.
‘Thank you, Mom,’ I thought as we made our way across the cafeteria.