Drawing From Life by Jess Mowry: all rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work by any means except short excerpts for use in reviews. The Kindle edition, to date, is the only legally authorized ebook or web-accessible edition of this work. If you find this book being offered anywhere else, either as a download or to be read online, it is there without the author's permission and in violation of copyright law.

Drawing From Life

© 2013 Jess Mowry


       Jerry Mathers stood at the bottom of the stairs and wondered why, after all the years of climbing them, he never felt like he’d reached the top. ...And why should he still be climbing them? The school had installed an elevator several years ago to comply with State regulations regarding rights of the handicapped... though there had never been handicapped students in the fifteen years that Jerry had taught here.

       Unless a kid could be handicapped by being born with too much money.
       Most of the kids used the stairs, even the fat or chubby kids, though probably not for exercise; likely it had more to do with the prominent blue-and-white handicapped sign beside the elevator door, as if that might associate them with being less than superior. Most of the younger health-conscious staff members also used the stairs, but Jerry was neither especially health-conscious, nor could he call himself young anymore.
       He recalled his mother reminiscing about the Jack Benny Show, and the comedian’s life-long assertion that he was 39... until he’d died at 80. Jack’s explanation had been that there was nothing funny about 40, and these days Jerry could relate. Looking back on 39 years from the bottom of these steps again, he admitted he’d never been as Bohemian as he’d once imagined he’d be. Or as artful at dodging time.
       Or as successful in life.
       Toting his leather portfolio case, a present from his mother in his optimistic days at college, those days when time had been on his side, he started up the stairway to begin yet another -- perhaps wasted -- year at Morrison Academy. He’d painted all summer as always, even though sadly distracted by his mother’s rapidly failing health, but had still managed time for daily walks along the shore of Lake Merritt, so it was with some surprise -- and maybe a little foreboding -- when he found himself a bit short of breath upon reaching the upper landing. The words of a Pink Floyd song came to mind, but he told himself to stop being morbid... wasn’t 40 now called “The New 30?” And didn’t that give him a whole decade to live all over again... and this time with the wisdom to not make the same mistakes?
       If only he could be certain of what those mistakes had been.
       Pausing for a minute -- to reflect, he told himself, not to catch his middle-aged breath -- he remembered once enjoying this job. But that was back when he’d still believed that he could teach Art. Or maybe that Art could be taught... which may have been a major mistake. He was realistic enough -- by this time in life, anyhow -- to know that his class was only offered because proper private schools had Art... even if not taken seriously. Most of his students took his class either at their parents’ insistence because it might look good on their records, and/or in hope of an easy A -- which would also look good on their records -- though Jerry was far from easy with A’s. Though many, like most kids, did posses some instinctive talent -- perhaps like rudimentary tails or hints of web between fingers and toes -- few took Art very seriously and none, so far as Jerry knew, had ever gone on to become a success.
       At least in the way he still defined it.
       Which may have been another mistake.
       The logical question, he supposed, was why not get another job? He could certainly teach at a college, maybe Mills or even Berkeley -- he’d had enough minor successes to qualify for such a position -- but this was the first job he’d been offered when fresh out of college himself, a job he’d dutifully taken to pay room and board to his mother until the world recognized his talent.
       Morrison Academy was housed in a huge Victorian horror that resembled the Munster mansion, three stories tall plus a lofty tower that made no pretense of symmetry, and was perched on the rising slope of a hill, its front doors reached by a grand staircase, and bequeathed for the education of youth by a plump and prim-faced little old lady -- Miss Minerva Morrison -- who did somewhat resemble that queen and whose indifferently-rendered portrait by some obscure artist now long-forgotten hung in the shadowy foyer and watched everyone with suspicious eyes as if doubting that any who entered were worthy.
       Most of the younger staff members called the house The Haunted Mansion, probably thanks to Disney. Of course there were rumors that Morrison’s ghost haunted the shadowy halls at night, and there had been occasional “sightings” by individuals working late... though such reports were discouraged for obvious publicity reasons and were generally attributed by the Director to immoderate consumption of energy drinks.
       Elwood Stone, the custodian, whose father might have seen her alive -- having been, it was said, her gardener -- had readied the building for opening day and the spirits of Pine-Sol haunted the hall as Jerry climbed to the second floor, though reminding him more of boys rooms in underfunded public schools than a place of superior education. Morrison Academy wasn’t cheap, but neither was it an overpriced scam: not only did every teacher possess the proper credentials to teach in their fields but were actually qualified to teach. And those such as Jerry had also proven that they could actually do what they taught... the Writing teacher had three published novels; the Drama teacher had two produced plays, and Jerry had sold a few of his paintings. 
       He was early and the vast house was silent, and all the more spooky because of it, most of the other staff not yet arrived. Elwood, almost a caricature of an early 20th century Negro, slender though perpetually slouching, and black as an old-fashioned telephone in clownishly baggy blue coveralls with a huge brass ring of skeleton keys, an archaic-looking leather tool belt bristling with obviously antique tools, a Bull Durham string hanging out of a pocket, and crowned with a battered newsboy cap like a prop from a Little Rascals movie, was watering a rubber tree -- itself a kind of requisite prop -- that stood near Jerry’s office door. Elwood actually tipped his cap, the gesture probably deeply ingrained from all the years it been required, though he spoke Standard English without a drawl and never used black expressions. “Welcome back, Mr. Mathers.”
       Jerry thought of a ‘70s TV show. “Good to see you again, Elwood.” He really did like the old man, who could fix anything from one of the ancient high-tank toilets to a crashed PC in Computer Lab -- whose teacher had once worked for Dell -- but supposed because of the gulf of race, would never actually know him. On his first day here, fifteen years ago, he’d addressed him respectfully as Mr. Stone, but the man had looked disapproving, as if someone should remember their place. Elwood’s smile, always warm -- since first putting Jerry in his place -- seemed even more welcoming today, though three months had passed since Jerry had seen it, and smiles in his life had been few in that time.
       “All ready for you, Mr. Mathers,” said Elwood with a sweep of a hand toward Jerry’s door. Then his ebony eyes showed concern. “How’s your mother these days?”
       Jerry suppressed a sigh. “As well as can be expected, I guess.” He caught himself before adding, “at her age,” in deference to Elwood’s. It was also rumored, at least by a few of the younger staff who, like many twenty-somethings, didn’t seem to do math very well, that Elwood had been a young boy helping his father maintain the grounds during Miss Morrison’s time... which of course was impossible since that would have made him well over a hundred and he didn’t look much over seventy.
       “Hope she’s better soon, Mr. Mathers.”
       “Thank you, Elwood.”
       The house, appropriately, was heavily shrouded with ivy, and leaf-dappled light filtered softly though the room’s pair of tall, narrow windows, which were open to admit a faint Bay breeze that had managed to reach the Oakland foothills despite crossing over the flatlands below with their teeming exhaust-reeking freeways and the subtle but all the more depressing scents of hopelessness and decay -- a kind of second-hand store miasma of discarded dreams and abandoned plans rusting, rotting and falling to dust -- in what it was now politically-correct to call “low-income neighborhoods.” Still, there was that ghost of Pine-Sol, haunting Jerry with his own lost youth, which, though he’d gone to one of the better -- defined as being mostly white -- public elementary schools, had not been totally halcyon years for a somewhat shy and bespectacled boy who didn’t give a damn about sports or competing for a higher place in the juvenile pecking-order.
       Gazing out one of the ivy-draped windows, inhaling the hint of oncoming Autumn heralding the death of another year, seeing the early morning sun glaring off thousands of windows and windshields in the seemingly desperate and -- in the end -- futile struggle for life below, Jerry wondered if he’d really risen very far above it all. Few down there would be remembered for contributing anything good to the world, but notwithstanding a few of his works displayed in mid-range galleries, would he be remembered for anything?
       Releasing the sigh he’d kept from Elwood, he glanced around the high-ceilinged room, its wainscotted walls adorned with his paintings,  several seascapes he’d done of the coast between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay, though he preferred portraiture -- his class was called Drawing From Life -- including one of his mother painted a decade before, cradling her cat, now long-deceased and buried in her flower garden despite city law forbidding interments. They were there, of course, to impress the parents, as were a few of his students’ best works; enough to imply there were many more... even though there weren’t.
       The room, like many in Morrison Mansion, had probably been a bedroom, and he turned to study himself in a slightly de-silvering beveled glass mirror on the door of a former closet now used as storage for stacks of childish, crude, and utterly hopeless art -- to even dignify it as such -- by fifteen years of junior-high cretins... though they were called middle-schoolers these days. He seldom opened that door, except to add more wasted paper and defiled canvas at the end of each quarter, as if many skeletons lurked within.
       What he saw in the rose Victorian glass wasn’t as grim as he’d almost expected, though the leafy light was kind: he didn’t quite look middle-aged, though of middle height, about 5’ 11”, and, by current “health-nazi” standards, “irresponsibly overweight.” Considering a sedentary childhood of reading or drawing alone in his room -- he hadn’t had his own television -- he might have gotten quite fat as a boy and consequently “obese” by now... not the stereotype of an artist often portrayed as psychotically thin. But though, like most normal kids of his time, he’d regarded McDonalds as the absolute zenith of fine dining out, and still often lunched at the one down the street, he’d never been very much overweight... whatever that weight was supposed to be. He’d never paid any attention to that because the youth of his generation had not been plagued with priests of “health” beating their bibles of BMIs, and “fatties” were only persecuted if they were otherwise uncool.
        The few extra pounds he’d had and did carry had always been soft and loose on his frame like many present-day “gamer kids,” though he’d never been shy about his body and had often gone shirtless on hot summer days, though usually either alone in his room or with Trevor, his best and only real friend since they had met in second grade.
       That hadn’t changed much in almost four decades -- god, had it really been that long! -- and for that he could probably thank his mother whose meals, though nutritional enough to ward off most of the childhood diseases democratically shared at school, had never been lavish or large. Nor, due to her widow’s pension, a pittance from a government that had sent her husband to Vietnam to die for a democratic cause, had she been affluent enough to make McDonalds or other fast-food more than a special-occasion treat or provide her son with much snacking money.
       Jerry turned to her smiling portrait, decidedly done in Victorian style, which befitted her as a woman born many decades after her time. Though from a formerly well-to-do family -- her mother had known Gertrude Stein, and she often spoke fondly of their “colored maid” -- whose women weren’t brought up to work, she’d endured many years as a Woolworth’s clerk until that, too, had failed her, victim of another lost war, enabling Jerry to go to college and fulfill his dreams of being an artist.
       At least, so far, sufficient enough to still believe in them.
       It wasn’t until those college years that he’d realized he’d grown up poor despite a nice house in a nice neighborhood -- defined as being mostly white -- and his mother, not knowing how to be poor, had probably worked much harder for less than her old beloved “colored maid.” She had known nothing of “poor food,” how amply available it was -- at least to America’s indigents -- would have been ashamed to apply for Assistance, humiliated to use Food Stamps, and would shop at nothing less than Safeway, the reason his meals had always been small, scaled-down versions of those she recalled; and so despite being a physical sloth he’d never gained a lot of weight.
       Though blue-jeaned and T-shirted during his youth, these days, as today, he wore tan Dockers, brown leather sneaks of the type called “deck shoes” by people possessed of ponies and boats, along with a pale-blue button-down shirt. Of course the dress-code for teachers and staff also required a tie. His mother had bought him a jacket when he’d first begun this job, tweed with leather elbow patches, more suited to an English professor, at least the stereotype of one, though he’d always worn it leaving the house as well as when returning home -- and now when visiting her in a home -- though he kept a brown leather coat, his sole attempt at Bohemian flair, in his car for public appearance. He’d met several counterparts over the years who actually affected berets, and not only did he think them absurd but suspected their students thought so as well. He’d decided long ago that he would never own a beret, even if he felt he’d earned one.
       Which didn’t seem likely from where he stood now.
       Looking at the man in the glass, blue-eyed of Anglo-Saxon descent, with a boyish mop of sandy hair -- and all of it still, thank god, with only a ghost of gray at the sides -- reasonably handsome, he supposed, at least by Caucasian standards, his rather archaic steel-framed glasses still looking too old for his yet-unlined face -- one benefit of chubbiness -- he couldn’t see any stereotype of either art teacher or artist, though he admitted he probably was in several less visible ways.
       Topping the list was being 39, unmarried and living with his mother... at least until halfway through this summer. Each year there were rumors among the students, as well as occasional new staff members, that he was gay or perhaps in the closet -- assuming they weren’t simultaneously possible -- but though at 13 he’d had what nowadays would be called a “gay relationship,” however brief, with Trevor, he’d always regarded their passionate sessions of hugging and, yes, even kissing, as either purely hormonal or perhaps nature’s way of preparing them for future success with the opposite sex and thus survival of the species.
       Trevor’s parents had moved to Santa Cruz a few months into that phase of their friendship, though probably not because of it -- surely they couldn’t have known -- ending what, whether for good or ill, had been Jerry’s best relationship, and at a time when he’d most needed one. Trevor, now in retrospect, freely confessed to feeling the same but had married a nice, intelligent woman during his middle twenties and was now an apparently straight and happy father of three chubby boys.
       And possibly more Bohemian than Jerry since he and his wife owned The Book Of The Dead, a little book store and coffee house that catered to elderly hippies and youthful UCSC students. He and Jerry still kept in touch, though mostly through email these days -- the price of gas being prohibitive to driving down to Santa Cruz and/or for capturing seascapes -- and though neither felt uncomfortable with memories of their final summer, neither had ever expressed a desire to try to resurrect the corpse of something young and innocent that had died with its boots on and rested in peace.
       Would they, or could they, have become gay -- disregarding most current theories -- had Trevor remained in Oakland? Jerry supposed he might have been happy spending his life with the Trevor he’d known sharing his bed in those long-ago days, though his mother would never have understood a love that dared not speak its name... if that was the right allusion. But, that was a road not taken, unless, as some physicists proposed -- including the school’s science teacher -- there were alternate universes and therefore alternate futures. But, Jerry was stuck in this universe and maybe digging a grave for his future by slowly burying dreams of the past.
       Maybe giving up Trevor had been a mistake... though of course he’d had no choice in a time when long-distance calls were expensive and there had been no Internet. They had written letters for the first few months, but adolescent relationships require a physical form to survive.
       UCSC, Jerry supposed, was another place of higher learning where his talent -- such as it seemed -- might be put to better use if this year’s crop at Morrison again turned out to be nothing but weeds. And soon, according to the doctor, there would be nothing to hold him in Oakland... which might be either the sign he needed to take a few chances while he still had the time...
       Or just the opportunity to make more self-defeating mistakes.
       As to his own relationships with the opposite sex, and though there had been a few, Jerry had found, and in a very Victorian sense -- perhaps in the way of Sherlock Holmes as well as many artists, writers, philosophers and religious men -- that, though he liked and respected women, the road to romance, apparently, was either closed by a fallen bridge, or perhaps he’d missed the turnoff. A few years ago he still might have said that Art was his sustaining love, though today that sounded suspect by modern American standards which seemed to deny that being a bachelor could possibly be normal, and artists, like male ballet dancers, tended toward the lavender. Probably better to tolerate the occasional sophomoric student smirk or infantile locker room innuendo that he was gay and/or in a closet than to appear absurd... or possibly in denial.
       He’d left the office door ajar, and during these mirrored meditations had been aware that Elwood still seemed to be working in the hall. A rubber tree didn’t need much sustaining, so it may have been one of the ancient light fixtures, ornate brass scones along the walls like vases for flowers in mausoleums, though these held low-wattage candle-shaped bulbs -- the wiring couldn’t sustain any more -- which only seemed to enhance the shadows and were often shorting out, along with the equally aged switches of the late 19th-century rotary type. One of the conditions of the late Miss Morrison’s will, was to preserve the gloomy old house in all its outdated, inconvenient, energy-wasting, hazardous, and spooky former glory, as if she might return some day. To do so much as replace a light switch required the Administrator’s approval -- a shockingly aged and skeletal lawyer who could have starred as the Crypt Keeper -- though Elwood kept an ample stock of Period replacements, resurrected from demolition sites, and often made repairs on his own, which saved the Director a lot of bother, and no doubt money as well. The elevator would have never been approved, but the State was mightier than the estate on the issue of handicapped rights; but even then the Crypt Keeper had insisted it must look Period with cast-iron grilles and brass-bound features, though the modern signs were still required -- including two more on the boys and girls rooms where Elwood had modified one of their stalls according to more regulations -- which probably angered the old woman’s ghost if she still made inspections at night.
       Besides Elwood in the hall, Jerry heard other staff arriving, going to the teachers lounge, where Elwood -- though it wasn’t his job -- would have made supernatural coffee in the Great Brass Gas-Fired Urn, itself a Victorian Age antique that only he could operate. It occurred to Jerry that with Elwood’s passing -- either in retirement or in the grimly literal sense -- the whole place might come crashing down like the House Of Usher.
       He glanced at his watch, a middle-priced Bulova, also a present from his mother and engraved as such. The students would soon be invading, disrupting the albeit gloomy peace, and he found he rather dreaded confronting another roomful of bestial young faces; the boys these days looking ferally thuggish as if they’d all “come up in the ‘hood,” the girls looking cynically whoreish with carnal knowledge beyond their years -- even if lacking experience -- except for the ones who drew horses; and most of the faces would challenge him, daring him to teach them something they couldn’t find on the Internet and which required an attention span.
       Funny to think he’d once looked forward to accepting that challenge... probably another mistake.
       There would, of course, be the Disruptor, distinct from the Clown, who wasn’t malicious, along with the Bully and Alpha Male... the former kept leashed or allowed to attack depending upon the latter’s beneficence. There would be a Neurotic or two... often Emos these days, and sometimes Cutters as well. Perhaps there would be a Sociopath using Punk or Goth for cover -- though usually unaware of it -- and possibly a budding Lolita of either or indeterminate sex who would try to hone their skills on Jerry; and the rest would be Sheep who would follow the Judas whose bell of the moment was sounding.
       Sighing again he sat down at his desk, a mammoth mahogany claw-footed thing with an equally massive mahogany chair which might have seemed sinfully comfortable to a Dickens-era counting-house clerk. There was a stack of manila folders off to one side of the fresh green blotter -- were blotters even made anymore, or had Elwood kept a reserve? -- though records were also computerized. Along with the archaic blotter was an eldritch bottle of iron gall ink and a steel-nib pen in a heavy brass holder... which he’d never used. There was also an antique bronze ashtray -- a fat little cherub holding a bowl -- and though Jerry had cut down this summer, it prompted him to search a desk drawer. He found a hard pack of Malboro “red” -- once the only type of Marlboro -- he’d left there in June, with three cigarettes. There was also a disposable lighter with still a few drops of fuel. He lit up and sighed out a ghost, then turned his attention to the folders. The Director had probably asked Elwood to bring them in this morning... there must have been a Custodian’s Union but Elwood didn’t seem to mind.
       He switched on his computer, almost the only thing in the room -- besides himself, of course -- that wasn’t at least a hundred years old, in case he wanted to make any notes, then took the top folder and opened it, shifting his glasses low on his nose and peering over the frame: he didn’t need bifocals... yet.
       Official student I.D. photos were taken each year by the school -- touted as being for safety in this age of predators -- so pictures weren’t required for these folders, though Jerry had suggested them... he could usually spot all the typical types and forewarned was forearmed. This one included a picture, a standard head-and-shoulders shot, probably from his previous school, of Walter Wadsworth Wainwright III, whose face, though rather handsome, had that pudgy, pear-shaped look and vacant open-mouthed expression of kids who stared at screens all day.
       Jerry had also suggested that applicants include a few samples of their recent work -- if any were actually serious they would be submitting portfolios to colleges in the future -- and Walter, though having some talent, was being corrupted by anime like so many kids of his generation. Not that anime wasn’t Art, but cartooning, like graphic design, was an entirely different field and there was a class for the latter, though students inclined to pursuing the former were usually dumped on Jerry. Walter’s intent was serious, but his samples more resembled the 1970s works of Gig and his big-eyed pity puppies and kittens.
       The next folder, Caroline Holdhurst’s -- no photo so probably overweight, spotty complected, or both -- proved My Little Ponies would never die, though Jerry wished he could slaughter them all with an AK-47.
       The third folder had a photo and introduced William Malone, who, unless any boy could be any more handsome, seemed to be this year’s Alpha Male, differentiated from the Bully by intelligence in his eyes... and bullies weren’t usually handsome or they probably wouldn’t be bullies. William -- Will, or probably Bill -- might make a very striking model if his body went with his face. His samples, though typically teenage sullen, were actually quite good, though probably hadn’t been drawn from life... few young straight males would have the courage to ask a shirtless peer to pose. There was promise here, though Bill’s handsomeness -- assuming the body did go with the face -- would probably be a handicap: by American standards he was art and so might feel no need to create it.
       After fifteen years of culling the herd, Jerry had ceased to expect very much so as he went on through the folders he wasn’t much further depressed. Besides more amateur anime, there was also Ed Hardy tattoo art, as well as the usual gothic skulls... enough to populate a graveyard, and obviously none of them drawn from life in either sense of the term. One folder flaunted graffiti designs like those upon walls in the black flatlands -- white imitations, anyway -- and several contained anorexic Barbies... he was seeing more of those every year. Another offered blatant tracings of obvious magazine models... also disturbingly anorexic, and all the more scary for being alive.
       Or were they supposed to be female zombies?
       The photos, when furnished, almost always went with the art -- most of these kids were still too callow to realize what they might be revealing -- though there were a few exceptions: stereotype or not, Jerry expected anime from Kenneth Sakimoto, a cheerful-looking moon-faced boy, but instead found chopper motorcycles... good technical work and he might have a future along those lines. Jerry tapped a note on his keyboard: Suggest transfer to Graphic Design.
       Then there were more goddammed horses, a glitter-sparkled Disney princess, making him think of paintings with lights that passed for “art” in Walmart stores... along with dogs playing poker. And then an appalling, atrocious... thing!... combining the absolute worst of both in an anthropomorphic centaur-like creature drawn in a most revolting contortion that more than suggested female self-abuse and which -- if such an abomination could exist in a sane universe -- was physically impossible, even for its anatomy, and titled Princess Sparkle-Pony.
       Jerry, like several other teachers, kept a bottle in his desk, though his Cutty Sark was mainly for show, an ironic academic joke -- also Bohemian, of course -- but Princess Sparkle-Pony almost made him seek its solace... or race for the nearest high-tank toilet. But he only closed the folder, drawing deep on his cigarette and resisting not only the urge for a drink but also his moral obligation to staple the folder securely shut, hammer a stake of yew through its heart and bury it very far away.
       He was somehow very thankful that there was no Prince Sparkle-Pony.
       If -- good god! -- Crystal Sterling wasn’t already in therapy she would and should be very soon if things like that populated her skull! Her photo looked normal enough -- though the real certifiables generally did -- and a camera wasn’t an artist who could see the soul beneath the face.
       The next folders, fortunately, only contained the usual horrors. Only three of his impending students had tried to render a real human form, and only Bill Malone showed promise... handicapped though he probably was. There was one folder left, but Jerry leaned back and sighed more smoke, tempted again to take a drink, though that seemed yet another mistake on a road to eventual surrender. Even if by some miracle his mother did recover, this would not be an easy year... maybe the worst one yet.
       Was that the sign he needed?
       Elwood still tinkered out in the hall, and students were starting to trickle in, the new ones still intimidated by the house’s spookiness as if venturing into a funeral home and therefore quiet, big-eyed and wary, peeping cautiously in as they passed as if fearing to see an open coffin.
       Jerry opened the final folder, which didn’t include a photo: Gabriel  Graves. Unusual name and rather archaic, making him think of old New England and Peter Coffin in Moby Dick, though neither I’m-upper-class-and-you’re-not like Walter Wadsworth Wainwright III, nor working-class risen, take-it-or-leave-it like Norman Rockwell-ish Bill Malone.  
       Then he saw the sample drawing, and literally his mouth fell open.
       Sitting bolt upright in the chair, he surrendered his cigarette to the cherub and cautiously took the paper -- actual quality drawing paper, not printer paper like most kids used -- as if afraid of damaging it, or even leaving a mark upon it, the slightest fingerprint or crease, and stared wide-eyed in wonder.
       Just a soft-lead pencil drawing, but full of so much vividness, expressive line and -- life -- that it seemed to leap off the page in his face like a stereopticon image.
       Recovering from his initial shock, he found he had to force himself to search for flaws... and there were none. And then he felt...
       Was it an actual creep of fear? Or maybe the long-expected threat -- even if subconscious -- that a Master might feel when at last confronted by a student’s work that challenged his own?
       Of course he’d never believed -- though of course there was no harm in hoping -- that he’d ever become the equal of one of the truly great Masters.
       But, to see this masterful work by a boy only the first year into his teens!
       Laying the drawing carefully down after making sure, absurdly, that the blotter was absolutely clean, he tapped his password, BlueBoy, with fingers that actually trembled to call up Gabriel’s file. He had to see this boy! Surely that face would go with this work!
       But, again, there was no picture, nor very much else to reveal the boy: in these days of political-correctness asking for race on applications, if not taboo in many cases, was considered, at least, in questionable taste... and this was Morrision Academy where the usual minority was Asian.
       But, political-correctness had leached its way into other aspects of physically profiling students, with some of the boxes marked Optional. Birthdate, of course, wasn’t one of them -- as much as he found that hard to believe when gazing again at the masterful drawing -- and though most of the boxes had been filled in: Eye Color, brown, Hair Color, black, Height, only four-feet-eleven -- small for his age by American standards -- these weren’t very helpful in painting a portrait. One picture indeed, in this case, would have been worth a thousand words.
       The box for Weight, though not left blank, only displayed a question mark; and though many overweight girls, as well as, these days, a few overweight boys, did choose to keep that a secret -- as if not admitting to something on paper could hide anything from reality -- the question mark seemed to suggest that Gabriel honestly didn’t know... rare as that was in these health-rabid times when kids were forced to obsess about it. Still, he must have been small, possibly even “delicate” in the Victorian sense: though Jerry didn’t like to admit it, there had to be something “wrong” with a boy who at so young an age could draw so divinely.
       He scrolled the screen with a strange urgency, feeling somehow like a Web predator, ridiculous as that was, while smoke from his forgotten Marlboro ghosted around his fingers. ...Private elementary school, though Jerry had expected that: not only did public schools stifle the gifted, they systematically beat them to death. Grades well above average except in P.E., though Jerry could relate. He knew a little about that school, Rutherford Hayes Academy, good but not in Morrison’s class, and somewhere at the feet of the foothills. The Graves family seemed to be rising.  
       Dismissing the otherwise useless file, he carefully took up the drawing again and told himself how absurd it was to in any way feel threatened. Wasn’t this what a good Master longed to discover?
       And only a failing fraud would dread?
       Then, worming its way into his mind, came a suspicion this might be a fraud... those anorexic models were tracings. But, what would be the point of fraud? Gabriel wasn’t applying to some prestigious college of art where acceptance required actual talent, and a fraud would soon be exposed when the students began to draw from life.
       This was real, he was sure of that; the moment he’d always hoped would come but had lost all faith of it coming... most of his faith, anyway.
       A sign at last?


End of excerpt. This book is available on Kindle.