I had developed a habit, after waking up in the hospital, of flipping through the prior night's sketches to look for the patterns that Lily and I had been discussing. The ritual helped to moderate the bizarre sensation of the Visulex wearing off, so that I wasn't stumbling out into the day. Sometimes the drawings were startling, sometimes disturbing, sometimes downright funny. By now I was used to the dreamlike imagery. But I absolutely wasn't prepared for what I saw one morning almost three weeks into the project.
It filled the whole of the seventh page of the sketch pad. It was stunning; I couldn’t believe that I’d drawn it. Calling it a sketch would be demeaning. It was without question the best work I’d ever done, if I could really be said to have done it.
It was an image of Lily, as I saw her, transferred to the page with all my barriers of self-awareness removed. In her lifelike face I could see the intelligence, and the ever-so-subtle humor. Her pose and posture conveyed her knowledge that she was physically attractive, while the clear tension in her limbs made it equally clear that she wasn’t comfortable with the attention she received. But the overall impression was of tentative kindness, and gentleness.
My hand involuntarily reached out to brush against the side of her face, but I stopped myself before I smudged the pencil. I should take care of the picture, get a fixer on the graphite to preserve it, get it framed, or at least matted...
And then, with a cold shock, I remembered what I was supposed to do with it. I gazed at the empty chair where I was supposed to leave the pad. For Lily to collect it later this morning.
The adrenalin of panic flushed the Visulex from my system, and I had to take a couple of deep breaths before carefully pulling the page out of the spiral-bound sketch pad and removing each and every one of the tiny tabs of paper caught in the rings. I closed the pad, settling the remaining pages together to obscure the excision. I left the Trask Center, carrying the page flat, carefully avoiding both the staff and the other volunteers for the project whom I sometimes saw in the halls.
I made it back to my dorm room without incident, and propped the picture up on my desk. I suppose I could have ditched it somewhere along the way, or in the hospital for that matter; but looking at it again, I realized there was no way that I would destroy it.
* * *
I was a mess for the rest of the day. Without thinking about it, I’d misfiled a donation of rare volumes in the open stacks, and only avoided disaster with Kathleen because one of my co-workers caught the mistake before anyone else did. He covered for me, but after my shift ended I realized I’d also put this week’s newspapers on display in locked cabinets in the rare books room.
So when the phone rang in my room that afternoon as I was preparing to go over to the studio, I grabbed the receiver gratefully. There was only one person who called me regularly.
“Hector,” I began. “Man, do I have something to tell you...”
“Um,” said the voice on the other end of the line, “I’m sorry, Matthew...it’s me, Lily.”
My brain threw a breaker. For an irrational moment I had the urge to start explaining about the drawing, before I clamped down on my tongue.
“Matthew...? Are you there?”
Speak. Have to speak. “Um, yeah. Hi. I thought you were someone else.” Not brilliant, but under the circumstances, I’d take it.
“So I gathered,” she said, with a slight twist of humor – but only a slight one. She sounded worried. “I wanted to talk to you about your sketches from this morning.”
My eyes darted to the drawing on the desk. How...? I closed my eyes and tried to settle down; I didn’t know what she knew. “Ah. Sure. What’s up?”
“You know it’s important that you let me see everything you’ve drawn, right?”
“Sure, of course.”
“There was a page missing from your sketch pad this morning.”
“There are twenty sheets in each of those pads, Matthew. Except there were nineteen in this one.” Her tone changed then; I couldn’t tell if she sounded hurt, or if she was trying to reassure me. “You don’t have to worry about showing me what you’ve drawn, Matthew. I know that you’ve been dealing with a lot in our sessions, and that some of what you’re seeing must be very disturbing. But for this to work, you need to trust me. I’m not going to judge you.”
Oh, if only, I thought, even as I was parsing the fact that she was counting the pages in my sketch pads. She wouldn’t pay that much attention if she wasn’t into me, right? Man, I was totally gone, wasn’t I...
I thought momentarily about making something up about a defective sketch pad, but sighed and let it go. “I do trust you,” I said. “Can you meet me in my studio? Second floor of Ware, in about half an hour? I’ll give you the page there.” For some reason, I felt showing it to her with other works of art around might help.
There was a pause on the other end. “I’m glad you still have it,” she said, finally. “I’ll see you there. And thanks for being honest with me.”
* * *
[Go to Chapter 4.2]