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The Masterpiece
Melanie Vanwyk tapped her toe impatiently and waited for the room the empty. A tiny freshman gave her a tentative smile before exciting. His hasty exit stirred the air and fluttered Melanie’s long blonde hair. Finally, the room was hers. Setting her bag down on an empty stool, she gathered the supplies she needed from the cupboard. The teacher, Mr. Larsen, nodded at Melanie before heading back into his office area. The art room had been Melanie’s refuge for as long as she could remember. For a fourteen year-old, the thought of going to a small apartment with a drunken mother was not the idea of a haven. So, she had taken up sculpting. Every day for the past four years Melanie had relied on her after school sculpting to get her through the rest of the evening.
Mr. Larsen had been sympathetic when she had explained her need for the solitude of an empty room where she didn’t have to worry about anything but the clay between her hands. No, it was more than just clay. It was anything and everything she could imagine. Melanie tied her hair back, letting the silky strands slide between her fingers, before she set to work. As she pulled the dark orange-brown clay from the bag the sharp, earthy smell filled her nose; sharp and potent, like grass after rainfall. She had no idea what she would create today, but she just let her hands guide her. The wheel whirred and a vase began taking shape.
She thought about what waited her at home as she worked. Everything had gone downhill eight years ago after Melanie’s little brother, Ryan, had died. He had only been six when he was hit by a car. Her mother had fallen apart. She’d started drinking… constantly. Melanie’s father had tired as hard as he could to cope with not only a dysfunctional wife but a young, almost-teenage daughter who couldn’t understand why her mother wouldn’t pay attention to her anymore.
However, after four years it had eventually become too much. He had moved out without any goodbyes except for a long letter. That letter was currently gathering dust in a box on the top of Melanie’s closet. That box was filled with all sorts of mementos from happier times, including a picture of Ryan from his year in kindergarten.
Melanie was only fourteen when she suddenly found herself in charge of a drunken mother who still couldn’t cope with the death of her son. All that responsibility had been thrust upon her so suddenly, she hadn’t had time to grieve over her missing father or unresponsive mother. She blamed herself for her father’s leaving. After all, if it had just been Melanie’s mother that he couldn’t deal with anymore, he would have taken Melanie with him. But he hadn’t. He had left her to basically fend for herself. Melanie took the vase off of the wheel and began to carve designs into it with a clay shaper.
“Were you planning on going home at all today?” a voice cut into her thoughts. Melanie looked up to see Mr. Larsen smiling down at her small vase. Mr. Larsen was in his mid thirties with curly, dark brown hair and a goatee. His nose was straight and long with a slight upturn at the end. He had high cheekbones and a strong jaw line. His sparkling blue eyes were always smiling and drew an automatic smile to Melanie’s own lips. Melanie looked up at the clock to see that it was nearly four thirty.
“Oh, sorry I didn’t even realize what time it was.” Melanie scraped the clay off the motionless wheel. With a sigh she squashed the clay back into a ball and placed it in the bag it had come from. She had to use the school clay and so always had to destroy whatever she made and replace the clay so that it would be there for the class. Melanie silently scrubbed the clay from her hands. “So have you thought about what you are going to do after graduation?” Mr. Larsen started as he helped her clean the clay wheel and put the rest of the supplies back in the closet.
“No, not really. I think I’ll probably get a job.” Mr. Larsen seemed thoughtful as he shut and locked the supply closet. Melanie tried not to let it bother her, but she could tell that he had expected a different answer. Mr. Larson pulled on his coat and gathered his back pack or school papers he intended to grade at home. Melanie was pulling her own coat on when he asked the question she had been hoping to avoid.
“Have you thought what college you want to go to?” Melanie hesitated before answering.
“I don’t think I’ll be going to college,” she said quietly, slinging her bag over her shoulders and making her way towards the parking lot. Her eyes were drawn to the ground as it disappeared under her slow tread. The truth was; she wished she could go to college, but the fact of the matter was that she didn’t have any money for college. Besides that, she needed to take care of her mother and she couldn’t do that if she was busy with college.
“Melanie the thing is; I hate to see you waste so much talent. I’m just afraid that you might lose your gift if you don’t use it.” The cold December air burned slightly as it slipped into Melanie’s lungs. Her still damp hands begged for gloves, but instead she shoved them into her coat pockets. Her fingers curled around her car keys. The metal was cold and the jagged edges dug into her palms and fingers.
“I know,” Melanie sighed. She really hated to disappoint Mr. Larsen. He had been her role model and mentor for so many years she thought of him as more of a friend than a teacher. “There just isn’t any way for me to do anything else.” Shrugging, Melanie unlocked her car and turned away from Mr. Larsen so he wouldn’t see the tears that had pooled in her dark green eyes. She had leaned so close to the door to escape the winter wind that her hot breath was causing the window to fog up.
“Well actually, I’ve been thinking about that.” Melanie paused before climbing in her car. “The local college actually has a fantastic art program. Right now they are having a contest. The winner can get up to a full ride scholarship, depending on grades. It’s local so you could go to school but still be home every night to take care of your mom.” Hope rose in Melanie’s chest as she considered the possibilities.
“What kind of contest?” Melanie had turned back to her teacher the hope evident in her eyes.
“An art contest. You can paint, draw… sculp. I have the guidelines right here.” He handed her a paper with paragraphs of rules. “I know that you have to have your own supplies but I could help you pay for clay and you are more than welcome to use the school’s equipment.” It was clear that Mr. Larsen was just as excited as Melanie.
“You really think I have a chance at this?” Melanie asked skimming over the rules.
“I know you do.” Mr. Larson smiled. Melanie couldn’t help it; she threw her arms around her teacher for a second before pulling back and letting out a little squeal of excitement. Mr. Larson laughed and patted her shoulder before heading towards his own car. “See you Monday!” he called over his shoulder. Melanie studied the paper for a few more minutes before heading home.
*
*
*
“I’m home.” Melanie called as soon as she walked in the door. Her mother was sitting on the couch with a glass of amber liquid in her hand and her brown eyes glued to the T.V. Her sunken cheeks were pale and sickly looking just like the rest of her skin. Blonde hair, which had once been light and golden like Melanie’s had darkened to a dirty blonde with silvery streaks. It was currently pulled into a greasy braid that was slipping from its confines. Melanie sighed before putting her school things into her room.
It was tempting to just lock herself in here but she knew if she didn’t get her mother up from that couch, she would spend the rest of the night and probably most of the next morning there. Back in the front room, Melanie opened the thick curtains letting the light it. The sun beams illuminated the billions of dust motes in the air. Melanie’s mother blinked and groaned, holding her free hand over her eyes. “What are you doing?”
“It’s almost five, Mom, which means you have to get up. Come on, we’re going for a walk.” Melanie pulled the glass from her mother’s hands before dragging her up from the cushions. She stumbled a little but Melanie steadied her. She pressed the heel of her palm against her forehead and groaned at the pain it was probably causing her. Melanie managed to holder her up, put her cup in the kitchen and then get her mother’s coat on her without even breaking a sweat or losing her patience.
With her arm looped through Melanie’s to steady her; they walked around the block of their small apartment complex. “Mom, I’ve been thinking,” Melanie began slowly. “What if I got a decided to go to college?” she was trying to make it sound as if it was a hypothetical question.
“College? Why would you wanna go to college?” she asked, her words slightly slurred. Melanie shrugged and pretended to take great interest in the empty branches of the tree they had paused under before continuing.
“It was just a thought. I hear the local college has a great art program… I was thinking maybe I would enter the contest their holding. Mr. Larson says that the winner can get up to a full ride scholarship. I thought that it wouldn’t hurt to try.” It was silent for so long that Melanie looked down to find her mother staring at her. Not, with a disbelieving stare, or even a blank stare. She was staring at her as if seeing her for the first time. Suddenly, tears filled her eyes and she smoothed Melanie’s hair with her hand.
“When did you grow up to be such a beautiful, talented girl?” before Melanie had shaken off the shock, her mother passed out. She managed to catch her before her face and the frozen ground made acquaintances, but her dead weight was a lot more then she expected and she slipped on a small patch of ice trying to get some good footing. Melanie managed to get both of them up and back to their apartment without slipping again. Getting her mother to her bed, Melanie took her cold, damp clothes and shoes off and dressed her into something warm before tucking her under the soft, thick covers.
*
*
*
Three weeks before the contest deadline, Melanie stared at the lump of grey clay in front of her. It had been a week since her mother had given that strange stare. Since then, she had been oddly quiet. Melanie frowned at the clay that she had worked hard to buy. Sighing, she put the clay back in its container. For some reason, ever since her mother had said those things to her she had been unable to sculpt anything. Everything she tried turned out wrong or she hated it. That lump of clay had been molded into so many shapes and then crushed again it probably didn’t even know what it was supposed to be anymore.
Walking into the kitchen she found her mother pouring herself another glass of vodka and orange juice, but mostly vodka.
“Are you done wasting your time with that clay?” Her mother asked. “You know you’ll never be able to make anything good.”
“How many glasses have you had today?” Melanie asked ignoring the hurtful words of her mother. Her voice was harsh and she was surprised at the anger that she felt building up inside her. Her mother swallowed half the concoction in her glass.
“I don’t even know why you wasted your money on that garbage. You’re time would be much better spent getting another job.” Her mother swallowed the rest of her drink.
“I think you’ve had enough.” Melanie declared, swiping the bottles out of her hand before she could pour more.
“Melanie,” she cried, outraged. She tried to grab it back, but she was drunk and Melanie was much quicker. “Just one more.” She tried to compromise but Melanie shook my head.
“No, you’ve had enough.” She didn’t realize the double meaning of her own words until her hand proceeded to dump the contents of the bottle down the drain.
“What are you doing!?” her mother screamed as she lunged for the sink and tried to stop the liquid from draining away. Melanie pushed her mother away and held her back as she drained the bottle.
“I’m doing what I should have done a long time ago.” Melanie practically shouted as she threw the bottle into the sink and watched it shatter. “I’ve had enough.” She proceeded to the refrigerator to gather the rest of her mother’s alcoholic drinks.
“No, don’t!” her mother sobbed trying to stop her daughter from smashing the rest of the bottles in the sink.
“No, you don’t,” Melanie shouted. “You don’t understand! You don’t care! You don’t notice anything anymore! Last week you asked me when I had become such a beautiful, talented girl. Well I have an answer. I became who I am now while you were drinking yourself sick. I learned to love sculpting while you were lost in your own drunken stupor not caring anything for anyone or anything but yourself. I don’t even think you care about yourself anymore! Ryan’s dead, Mom! He has been for eight years now! Dad’s gone and you don’t even seem to care! Not about the fact that you aren’t even a shadow of the person you used to be. Not about the fact that you keep ignoring and belittling the only person who has been trying to help you and taking care of you for the past four years!”
Her mom was sobbing uncontrollable now, but Melanie was too mad for sympathy. “I have never once asked you for anything, but I’m asking you for something now. For once in your life, could you support me in what I want to do? I want to go to college. I want to sculpt. I want to do something in my life for Me.” tears were coursing down Melanie’s cheeks now. “Why is it, that this… this poison is more important to you than your own daughter?” she spat waving her hand at the sink. Melanie shook her head before slamming out the front door.
*
*
*
Melanie looked around anxiously for a familiar face. “Melanie!” a voice called. Melanie turned towards the voice and found Mr. Larson walking towards her.
“Have you seen my mother?” she asked as soon as he was standing next to her. He shook his head and then put his hand on her shoulder.
“Don’t worry, she’ll be here.” he reassured her. Melanie attempted a small smile and continued looking around. Her stomach was twisting into knots as she paced the polished marble floor, her low heel making a clicking echo. The soft material of her black dress pants glided easily along her legs and she fidgeted with the bottom of her light pink sweater. Then, relief flooded her as her mother made her way across the floor. He mother also had on black slacks, but she was wearing a short-sleeved, blue shirt and light, flowing, white jacket.
“Sorry I’m late, Dr. Neilson wouldn’t stop talking.” She rolled her dark brown eyes; eyes that were filled with life and light. Melanie could hardly believe that the woman in front of her was really her mother. This woman’s hair was curled and flowing framing a face with healthy color and light pink lips. After the fight, nearly three weeks ago, Melanie’s mother had admitted herself into a rehab center and gone to see a therapist, Dr. Neilson. Which was were she had been before. “So, you ready?” she asked giving her daughter a half hug. Melanie nodded before taking a deep breath and walking into the small room just across the hall.
Inside there was a table with covered and uncovered pieces of art. Some were sculptures and others were paintings. Melanie’s own project was sitting on a small table at the front covered by a soft white cloth. Waiting patiently for Melanie, were five judges. Taking another deep breath, Melanie pulled the cloth away, revealing a painted and glazed sculpture of a young mother helping her daughter ride a bike.
“My name is Melanie Vanwyk and this is my piece entitled ‘Together, We Can’.” Melanie met her mother’s eye to find tears in them. “This was inspired by my mother’s struggle to overcome her addiction to alcohol and the events that led to me standing before you today.” Melanie smiled at her mother knew that no matter who won the scholarship, she would be a winner because she had not only proved her own strength to herself, but she had also gotten her mother back. She now knew that no matter what hardships came their way, she and her mother would get through it, because they would always have each other.





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