Before he knew how to write, Travis Carter drew pictures to record his memories. Travis put a lot of detail into his artwork, getting the colours just right to capture the mood. It was hard work with just a handful of broken crayons.
“That's a beautiful drawing Buddy. You're using so many nice colours.”
Travis looked up at the kindergarten teacher to make sure she was talking to him. Lately, Mrs. Sutherland called everyone in her classroom 'Buddy', even the girls. That way she did not have to stumble over too many names, or sort out 'Jody' from 'Judy' and 'Kevin' from 'Keith'. There were no less than three boys named 'Jimmy' in the class, and a 'Jenny'. Travis was the only 'Travis' though, and he wished his teacher would make the effort once in a while.
“Thank you Mrs. Sutherland,” he mumbled. See how easy it was? He remembered her name. It wasn't that hard, and Travis was just a little kid. The drawing needed more purple and he went back to work.
“Is that a picture of your sister?”
Travis looked up. Mrs. Sutherland was still there, staring down at him. The teacher's thin, tight lips revealed clenched teeth, like she was wearing a pasted on smile but someone forgot to fix her dull grey eyes. Travis wondered if Mrs. Sutherland would make it to the end of the school year. Her eyes had lost their spark well before Christmas break and it was still only March.
Travis glanced back down at the picture in his work book. Of course it was his sister—that was the assignment after all—to draw a picture of someone in your family. Moreover, below the drawing of the girl with orange hair and blue eyes, he had written the word “Lucy” in crooked letters. It was the only word Travis knew how to write other than his own name. His sister had the habit of doodling her name on everything, usually adorned with extra hearts and flowers. Travis had skipped the hearts and flowers, Lucy didn't deserve them. Instead, he gave his sister extra big teeth and ears, but the picture still looked enough like his sister that his teacher should know. Lucy had been in Mrs. Sutherland's class six years ago and the teacher still saw his big sister every day because Lucy was responsible for walking Travis home from school.
Being in grade six put Lucy at the top of the elementary school hierarchy, and at the end of each day she walked into the kindergarten cloakroom as if she owned the place. She would grab Travis' coat without asking and stood in the hallway with her friends while he put on his outdoor runners. No matter how fast Travis tied his laces, Lucy always rolled her eyes and made a huge production about him taking so-o-o long. “Hurry up Twerp,” she called, loud enough to leave no doubt about the awful burden of minding her little brother.
Yesterday after school, Lucy was particularly insufferable because Mike Walker had asked Lucy's friend, Vivian, to be his girl friend. Travis heard all about it while standing in the hallway, waiting to go home. Lucy had held his coat hostage as she whispered and giggled with Vivian and a hanger-on named Caroline. For some reason that only twelve-year-old girls could fathom—Mike and Vivian going steady meant that Mike's friend, Kenny Becker, might ask Lucy to be his girlfriend soon. Then the four of them could go see a Saturday matinee at the Odeon. The girls went on and on about necking and petting and letting the boys get to second base. Travis had not understood any of it. Were they going to the Odeon to see The Reluctant Astronaut with Don Knotts, or to a baseball game?
Finally, Travis got tired of waiting. He really needed to go pee. He had tugged on Lucy's sleeve and shifted back and forth holding his crotch to let his sister know it was serious.
“Lucy, I need to go to the bathroom.”
“Ugh! Go then,” Lucy said. “I'll meet you out at the playground.”
“No, you have to take me,” Travis said, trailing after her. “It's your job.”
Travis knew that if he peed his pants it would be Lucy's fault and she would lose the allowance money she needed to go to the Odeon on Saturday—if Kenny actually asked her—which Travis highly doubted. However, if he took himself to the bathroom then his sister would earn her extra allowance for nothing. Travis followed her down the hall going the wrong way, still holding himself, until finally Lucy stomped back in a huff. She had grabbed Travis so roughly that he almost peed himself on the spot, and this morning he woke up with the blue pattern of Lucy's fingers on his upper arm. He thought about showing the bruises to their mother, but Mama had enough to worry about with work, and bills, and something called migraines. Travis got dressed for school and said nothing.
After Mrs. Sutherland called morning attendance, she handed out plastic cups full of crayon stubs and asked her students to draw in their workbooks. Again. Colouring was their teacher's default assignment lately, something the children could handle on their own while she sat with her head down on her desk until she found enough energy to wander around the tables calling everyone 'buddy'.
Now the teacher stared down at the picture of Lucy grabbing a small boy with brown hair. The boy in the picture wore brown pants and a blue striped shirt—completely accurate, because Travis had checked his laundry basket that morning—and there was a purple and blue bulge on the stick boy's arm.
“Nice colours,” repeated Mrs. Sutherland, before she moved along to the next student.
Travis wrote his own name below the figure of the boy and flipped the page of the workbook to start a new drawing. If he hurried, he could finish another picture before the recess bell. Only time for one more though, so he wanted to make it meaningful. There were just too many people doing bad things to him, and never enough time to draw all of them in his workbook at school. Last night,Travis had wanted to do some drawing at home, but his older brother Cameron appropriated every pencil crayon in the house to colour in maps for a junior high school project. Having Cameron hog all the pencil crayons and markers at home was a crime worth remembering and Travis felt an odd satisfaction as he used broken crayons at school to illustrate the event.
Mrs. Sutherland came with an ink stamp to put the date on everyone's artwork and handed out gold stars. Two stars for Travis. The recess bell rang and Travis tucked his workbook away for safe keeping. He knew that next year, in grade one, he would get proper pencils and learn how to mash together his ABC's to create words and sentences. Oh what evidence he would document when that time came—not just against Lucy and Cameron, but everyone—until then,Travis kept drawing.
copyright © 2014
Hermine Robinson lives in Calgary, AB Canada, where the winters are long and inspiration is plentiful.