A CHILD’S DRAWING OF THE SUN
The fiction writer woke without fear of a clock. It was sometime, any time really, after eight a.m. Drowsy masturbation nudged him toward awareness. For the trip downstairs he stood into a wad of sweatpants and kept the T-shirt that he had slept in. Curtains to be drawn, and then the coffee. The bare glass took in a residential neighborhood—a tree-lined street with good money and leafy shade. Nothing amiss in any part of that except for a car at the curb. In parking at a dutch angle it had intruded on the driveway ramp. Unfamiliar—not a neighbor’s. An older model hatchback. The hedge blocked a look inside, as seen from where he stood, behind his glass and cozy in his slippered feet, but not the top of a minivan straight ahead. Plenty of room to spare. Thoughtless, but just by a matter of inches and best let go for now. The neighbors, whom the writer never spoke to, had guests at times, and having guests, that was what people liked to do. He went back to the business of working at home. Microwave oven, espresso machine, an Americano the sure result. Hot water went in the mug before the brew so as to leave a crema whole. Half and half put down a sueded curl on the trickle through the foam. Thoughts turned, as thoughts do, to the next short piece. The title long in mind was “A Child’s Drawing of the Sun,” which would look sharp in that New Yorker typeface. No story to prop it up on that estimable page, but craft and patience would see it done. Right there in the title a child was mentioned, so it followed that there should be a parent, and since there was a parent and a child, family trouble. A daughter just reaching middle age could pretend to make up with her mother once she saw the lapse into senile dementia. There, that was pretty good. The lede could be a search of a closet at the family home. That was strong shorthand for a history. Coats worn and weathered but long unused, each a like blaze where the trail no longer showed. The writer drew his phone from the sweatpocket and thumbed each a like blaze where the trail no longer showed into notes as he listened to a bagel chew and a coffee soften it up.
By nine-thirty the car had yet to pull away. Tow trucks were a sure means to start a feud. Better to put in an hour on the laptop and let the problem mind itself. The headline typeface in the New Yorker was named Irvin, the fiction writer read, for the selfsame art director who had drawn up that sissy with the quizzing glass. Body text was set in Caslon. This was a commonplace font and available on the laptop, though Irvin, it seemed, was not. The wiki article further said that the pair of dots put above the second of two vowels was not an umlaut, but a diëresis. New Yorker house style was an odd taskmaster. A lap through the house to burn off the nervous energy. The car—still there. An out-of-state license, bent on a corner and hung out of true. By the lock screen on the phone it was ten o’clock. Ten o’clock as the lock screen crows, the fiction writer thought. Someone had no day job to get to, looked like to the writer.
Have at you, “A Child’s Drawing of the Sun.” Dorcas found a school coat in the gloaming of the closet. Loyola Marymount, the embroidery told. A lion rampant in the dust. That right there was the straight dope. Time for a midmorning chai. The car, as he sipped. The car. No trace of glass in the rear window, the writer now saw. He took a shower to clear the head. Here the dick play had more forward lunge, and a tenth ounce of the writer went through the trap with some guidance from a toe. He wondered if a tenth was a dram, which would have sounded cool. Sweatpants and a tee again, these from a drawer and not so unlaundered. Straight to the laptop, since there was no further progress to be seen on the matter of the car. Stale got at a frame of mind, so into the narrative stale would go. The writer tried the word out in places. Stale closet, stale coat, stale lion rampant, stale gloaming. At last it took an enviable spot. Dorcas found a school coat in the gloaming of the closet. Loyola Marymount, the stale embroidery told. A lion rampant in the dust. Like a well-tuned music.
Eleven-thirty. Another walk through the front and back, and to the front once again, with a stare that lingered through the window. The car, still there, and near to lunch. What if the writer had wanted to drive down to Whole Foods? One would be the deadline he would set. Noon was just too genre. Back to it, and going smooth. Going never took a diëresis in New Yorker house style, the writer realized, and he put some nonapparent energy into why. Goïng, goïng, gone. By changing the name of the character to Marisol, he could earn magical realism. A coup—and then he remembered the first line that morning. No need to read the notes from the phone, since the author used Apple products and anything keyed into the one came back to haunt the other. He cut and pasted each a like blaze where the trail no longer showed into the word app. He gave it a look. Blank at first, but then near to worry. It would put gloaming, rampant lions, and trail blazes into the same block of text. Perhaps it would mix metaphors. A spot consultation with the Internet followed, and a mixed metaphor turned out to be how a bird in hand saved nine, et cetera. Rampant gloaming stale lion trail blazes were more just, like, bad prose. Not every fuckup had a term of art.
Fuck that car and fuckever the who had left it. Twelve-thirty: split the difference. House slippers were good enough for a walkup to the curb. No rain, no mud, and not too many leaves. The police bureau would have taken the call either way—a cruiser sent, ticket written out, tow truck conjured forth from one hell realm or another. But that missing glass might have meant the car was stolen, and the bureau would want to know in advance—surely it would bring them a little quicker.
The writer came around the hedge with a stoop as he walked. He took a peek through the rear window gap. There were two people inside, both seated in front and both in a slump. From the driver’s side window the writer saw that all eyes were shut. Behind the wheel, a young man, his forehead in a suction on the dirty glass, and beside him a young woman. A taut shoulder belt kept her up, but she was in a hard lean, to the left. Each wore a T-shirt and jeans, faded and worn to a thread like the tires on the car. Both were unwashed. Grime sat in the quicks of the driver’s fingernails. He had a bruise on his eye and a buzz cut and three-day stubble to round him out. She wore a sink-blackened razor bob matted up from sweat. Mascara had sprinkled from her eyes, and lipstick was smeared back to an earlobe and on the base of a palm like a slash. Rough ink at the top of her arm read no daddy no. Asleep—they had been that way the whole time, the writer would never see, and for two hours in the early dark outside his house. A random stop, and nowhere left to go. The fuel gauge put them somewhere between the E and the pump. Beneath his seat was a mouse gun, twenty-five caliber ACP with three in the clip, beneath hers a fast food bag full of small wet bills. Under a blanket in the back lay a German shepherd guard dog that had died of fright.
The writer tapped at the glass, gently with a fingertip, so as not to give a start. No stirrings from the driver. A knuckle rap, and the writer was looking through the smears and his own dim reflection to sprung eyes. Haunted, hunted, guttered out, a look that he took for sleepiness. The young woman never made a move, not even a twitch, but a whimper came up from the sleep.
“Hi! You’re hanging in my driveway a little.”
“Oh okay, sorry, we’ll move it,” hand to ignition.
The engine turned over at once, and the hatchback swung around the minivan and headed up the street. There was a last fretful glance in the rear view mirror, too small for the writer to make out and shrinking fast. Gone, and they took the story with them. The fiction writer, secure at last, went back into his house to have another poke at “A Child’s Drawing of the Sun.”