Wednesday, April 22

Uneven Easel Legs

IT IS A BROAD corridor running from the lobby to one of the hotel’s buildings full of rooms where strangers can sleep next door from one another, only saying good-morning. On one side it is glass so that one can see the circle of tarmac where cars turn around and the Florida sky as it washes itself in clouds to come out sunny and humid beyond tolerance. On the other is a coffee shop (popular amongst young ladies in denim hot pants, um’ing and ah’ing over which pastry to order, having their name written on paper cups and the delicate fingering of cash.
I met a young lady there who remembered my name on the second day, asking – in that polite and seemingly genuine friendly way inherent in Americans – how my day was going. She had perfect skin stretched over her buoyant body. She wished me a good-day.)
All day down the corridor do young families and young people go, between their rooms and the orifice of the hotel. Many of them pass by the coffee shop, but many cannot help themselves.
It is mid-evening on a Tuesday and a caricaturist has seated himself in the corridor. He has the tools of his trade: paper, an easel, pens, and – above all – a poster advertising prices:
‘Face only.
Face and body.
Face color.
Face and body color.’
I am in one of the hotel bars with my parents, playing cards and drinking. We are whiling away the hours beneath the Floridian moonset, a tab is going, Ol’ Blue Eyes is playing, we are merry, my father has bought enough snacks to sink a ship and I am nursing sunburn. There is more tobacco in my room, a pouch, so I go there and on my way back I see the caricaturist.
There he is.
Sometimes he draws a crowd. He might work better before a crowd.
This time he has no crowd. As I approach there is a child sitting in front of him.
I see the paper on the easel before I see its subject. The style is cute, typically cartoonish and one that makes everyone a bit more attractive than they are. Firstly, I appreciate the depiction; as not a depiction but a piece pinned in mid-air. Then I look at that child: she is perhaps nine years old. She is nervously twitching on her stool. Her eyes are slanted, beautiful, etched in the charcoal of eyelashes. Her thick lips pout, dripping in saliva, they tremble too over her skinny body, her crossed hands. The whole thing of her twists and shifts uncomfortably as she tries to hold still.
The depiction – the reality; I look at her and smile and after some moments she smiles back at me. I wish to convince her that she looks good and should not be uncomfortable but I cannot say it, because it is a corridor and there is a popular coffee shop across the other side.
Her mother, however, is enjoying it even more. She is a very large woman made not of contours but of huge chunks. She is putting her hand below her chin, nodding and smiling. Her chin is a pebble sticking slightly out of side of a mountain. The daughter is looking to her mother for approval, kindness, some reassurance that she is not being portrayed unfairly, or as anything other than the fantastic, wonderful, young human being she is. The daughter does not say this with her mouth, of course, but she has a dozen facial features for conveying otherwise.
The mother is smiling with me.
‘We are getting this framed!’ she says—‘And it’s going right at home, in the living room!’
The daughter says something in response, timidly. I cannot hear.
‘You gotta frame it so when you’s all grown up and moved out… you can take it with you… show it to your kids.’
Even now (I have written it, after all) I cannot explain why that speech struck me as it did, however it knocked me for six. I absorbed her words and I choked up. I felt tears forming.
Already this life was being summed up and christened. She would have the portrait. She would get used to the portrait – as it hung in her mother’s living room – and then she might put it in the loft of her first house (or in a small box) and then one day she would see it and would stop and stare. Maybe she would remember that small moment (myself incl.) and maybe everything would be very clear to her, and she would show her large mother (who, by now, would be nearing death (heart disease)) and the pair of them would reminisce. And, out of everything, the moments between would be small, would take a fraction of a second, and all that time would be nonsense. She would be a fully-formed woman with a magnificent life and I could imagine that and I could imagine the sorrows – ah, why not – and fled the scene with tears in my eyes.
As I beat back to the card game, I worried about the young girl and I wished to embrace her, reassure her, maybe even do a portrait of her myself. Cherish the fuck-all moments, I might tell her. Or I might buy her a drink and offer her a game of cards.
My parents have that portrait of me. I know they do. It’s in their kitchen, next to the back door. I didn’t take it with me when I moved out, but it stayed with them, in its frame.

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