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Gray Faces

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“It’s like I can have them by me, like I could tell them anything. I wish they could talk back to me though. ” Her eyes met mine and she smiled, but she didn’t seem to be looking at me as much as something behind or beyond me. “They’re amazing people, Dad. I love them very much.”
She held up her first drawing, the rough outlines of hair glinting in the light, contrasting sharply with the smooth shading of the man’s face.
“It looks really good.” I smiled back and she beamed. In truth, it was better than her other drawings that she used to do. However, compared with other sketches I had seen, it was not very good.
“Really?” She laid her black sketchbook down on the table, her happiness never leaving her face for a moment as she relished the lie of my pride in her ability. I nodded, not wanting to lie through my teeth again. I looked again at the drawing.
The man was facing the side, but she had only drawn his head and shoulders. His hair was darkened with more carefully rubbed-in lead as it neared the nape of his neck, but the hair above his eyes was so light that it was hard to tell the difference between it and the white page. His eyes were what disturbed me most. His face was mostly a light shade of gray, the only color of lead she drew with, but his pupils had been darkened to the point of him looking very focused and determined. His unsmiling expression did not help his overall appearance either.
For a second, I imagined him standing before me in real life, no smile, no color, with his glare directed at me, only standing there and watching me with his charcoal eyes.
I shook my head and blinked a few times. How could a rough sketch scare me? The man didn’t even have distinguishable eyebrows!
She looked at me then, an expression of curiosity etched onto her face. “Dad, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” I answered. “There’s nothing wrong.”
**
I turn over on my cot and face the cold, dark wall. After the police discovered the body, they placed me here, stating that I would be questioned once the initial investigation was finished. I haven’t seen them though.
I cannot be sure of what I can see.
I sit up and swing my legs over the side of the makeshift bed. There is only a little light coming through a small window to my left. It is too high for me to see anything at level or below, but I can see enough to note it is an overcast sky that watches the face of the world. This was my daughter’s favorite kind of weather. It either had to be cold or it had to be gray; a lot like the lead she used to draw with.
I turn away from the window and look at the wall. It flickers in front of my eyes. Is that her face in the wall? Is it a man’s? Is it my imagination?
I stand up and stretch, cracking my knuckles. Hearing the pop is almost a relief. I would rather get arthritis than have to listen to silence for so much longer. I wiggle my fingers and then pause, staring at my hands. Could these really be the hands of a murderer?
**
“Hey Dad,” she walked into the study.
“I’m working.”
“But I have a new sketch to show you.” A hurt expression ran over her face and she stood there. “This one is way better than the other one.”
“I have a conference tomorrow; can you just leave already?!”
Her mouth dropped, and for a second it looked as if she was about to cry. She took a deep breath and walked out, her expression unreadable.
The next day, I was out of the house early. It was drizzly that morning, and I decided to stop for a coffee. I took it to go, and stood at the corner, waiting for a chance to walk across the road. As I stood there, I noticed a man standing across from me on the opposite corner. The rain was falling a bit more steadily now and I could just get a glimpse of him. I froze in shock.
It was the man from the first drawing.
The light turned then, and I could cross to the other side, but I could not move. The man looked at me. His hands were in his pockets, but he raised his head to the grey sky, his dark eyes on me the entire time. Then he made a gesture towards his wrist, as if asking for the time.
I looked at my own wrist and then back, but he was gone. I hurried across the road and made my way to the tall building where the conference was to be held.
A half hour later, I was addressing the committee.
“Well, I believe I have found a promising start for your product,” I gave them an easy smile. “However, you just need a more interesting artistic play on it.” I could barely believe that I was saying that.
One of the men raised his hand. “Are you suggesting a new logo or phrase to make it more appealing?”
“Not necessarily,” I was about to address the problem more thoroughly when the door opened. A nervous young man entered, giving a hasty smile.
“I’m terribly sorry, but I was held up by traffic.” He sat down in one of the seats and began shuffling through his papers.
“Next time knock.” An older man gave a disdainful wave. “Gives us more warning that you’re outside about to race in.”
Another man stepped through the door and my throat suddenly went dry. It was the same man I had seen on the corner. He took up a position beside the door.
“Can I help you sir?” I nearly spat the words out.
“I beg your pardon?” The older man had been speaking without my realizing.
“I was talking to the man beside the door.”
The old man turned and looked back at me in amazement. “There is no man by the door.”
“He’s standing right there!” I pointed. “You must be going blind if you can’t see him!”
A few of the people present gasped.
“You’re addressing the CEO of this company,” a young woman whispered. “And he’s right; there is nobody by the door.”
The CEO sputtered and stood. “Are you feeling up to helping us pitch this product?”
“Yes! I am; please forgive my rudeness. But I saw a man there; I know I did!”
The CEO began gathering his papers. “I suggest we hold this conference in a few days time. It seems our salesman is feeling under the weather.” He walked out, followed by the committee.
“Wait! There is nobody there! I was wrong! Please come back!”
The door closed with a slam louder than I thought possible. I looked again by the door. The gray man raised his arm and made the same gesture towards his wrist. He then walked out.
I put the papers back into the folder and was about to put it in my bag when I noticed a large notebook in the back pocket of the bag.
Not a notebook, I realized, pulling it out; it was a sketchbook.
I opened it and shuffled through a few pages. There were a few drawings, but most held photographs of various people. I recognized a few as actors and actresses, and one was a political leader, but I could not place any of their names.
Are their names important? I wondered. As I turned the next page, the face was one I recognized too easily. It was the man on the corner, the one who broke up the conference.
It was also the sketch my daughter had been proud of drawing, the one I had pretended to declare “good”. The photographs must be upcoming drawings she’s planning, I thought.
**
I finished my stretching and began pacing the room. When they put me in the room, they didn’t seem to consider how bored I would get. A knock came at the door, and I had a vague recollection of what some old man had said some time ago.
How did it go again? Knock on the door so people have a warning you’re there? My mind reached out for what he had said, but came up short.
An officer opened the door and handed me a tray. “They told me to bring you something to eat. Do you like burgers?”
“I’m a vegetarian.”
“Well that’s too bad.” The officer pushed the tray at me. I could not grab it in time and it hit the floor with a clatter, spreading the burger and fries all over the floor of the small room.
The officer turned to go and I called after him. “Excuse me, but do you think I could have a book or a magazine or something to do?”
The man turned and stared at me in astonishment. “Are you trying to make a fool outta me?”
“Well, no sir.”
“Even for a guy who killed his own daughter, you have a lotta nerve to think I’m here for your convenience.”
And with that, the officer shut the door and left me alone in the gray darkness.
**
“Dad, I need to talk to you.”
I walked into the dining room a second after she spoke. She was sitting at the dining table, the familiar sketchbook in front of her.
“I don’t know if I have time,” I pretended to look at my watch, but one look at her unsmiling face stopped me. “Maybe I can spare a minute.” I said grudgingly.
“You’ll need more than a minute. Anyway, while you were out, someone called.”
“Who was it?”
“The secretary of that CEO you were working for; I don’t know his name,” she fiddled with her drawing pencil, twirling it with her fingers. “They were wondering how you felt about this job and I told them you were completely focused on it.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad. What else did they ask?”
“Well, they started asking me about how you were at home, and I said you were working most of the time. They said they would prefer it if you were with your family too, because they work towards building family relationships, and…well, then they said they were going to find someone else to work on their product.”
I slowly sat down in one of the chairs, my head whirling. “So they fired me because you told them I wasn’t spending a lot of time with you?”
“I didn’t say that; I just said I didn’t see you often-“
“What the hell did you tell them?! There was going to be a good paycheck if I finished the job!”
“Dad, I really am sorry-“
“You think sorry is going to cut it?!” As I screamed, her eyes filled with tears and she looked afraid. A long silence stretched itself out, neither of us wanting to break it. I took a few deep breaths.
“It’s alright. It’s not your fault,” The words came out of my mouth reluctantly. Of course it was her fault. She showed me her wretched picture and the man, whoever he was, must have come into town. It was a coincidence, but it was her fault I lost my job.
She sat still for a moment. “Dad, what’s wrong? I know it wasn’t just me, because they wanted to talk to you about something.”
I paused before replying. “You remember the man you drew? The drawing you showed me a few days ago?”
“Yes.”
“Well, he was in town the other day and I saw him at my meeting.”
She froze. “Dad, that’s impossible.”
“Of course it isn’t. I saw him.”
“No, you don’t understand-“
“You don’t understand. I know what I saw.”
“Dad, listen to me!” she shouted. I shut my mouth. She had not lost her temper at me in a long time, and I didn’t want her to lose it now. “That man I drew was a writer. And he died more than fifty years ago. You could not possibly have seen him.”
No. It could not be true. She had to be lying. She made me lose my job, but could she also have made me lose my sanity? I could not give her that satisfaction.
“You’re the one who’s wrong. I know what I saw. You just won’t admit that you made a mistake.”
“How is that a mistake? The whole world could tell you he’s been gone for a while!”
“Just shut up! Stop lying and just listen to me because I’m right!”
She turned her head away from me.
“Look at me!” I demanded. Of course I was right! I had to be!
She turned her head reluctantly. Tears were running slowly down her face, but she did not utter a sound.
“Why the hell are you crying?”
She shook her head silently and tears began spilling faster. Fury began etching itself into my mind and I trembled with rage. Children were not supposed to defy their parents!
“Tell me!” I grabbed her hands. Her long sleeves slid down her arm, revealing five lines cut across her thumb. I looked closer. They were not bleeding, but they were not old scars. I raised my hand and slapped her head hard.
“What kind of stupid fool are you?! What the hell do you think you’re doing with this?!”
She jumped up from her seat. “What does it look like to you?! You just don’t want to admit that you were horrible at your job and that you’re such a bad father that your own daughter feels the need to cut her hands! What does it look like to you?! What the hell do you see?!”
And with that sudden outburst, she grabbed her sketchbook and stormed out, her expression one of absolute hatred.
**
I sit up from the bed. I must have fallen asleep again. I shake my head. Had the dream been a dream? Or was it a memory? Seeing her smiling face made me question everything. Was I a bad father?
I could not have been; I gave her clothes, food, any book she wanted to read, any music she wanted to listen to, any wish she wanted granted. I had done my part. But was it my fault she insisted on drawing? She wasn’t that good. It had to be her art teacher’s fault. Who else could support such a ridiculous charade? But my own daughter…had she folly enough to fall for it?
**
I walked into her room. It’s been a month since the last argument, when her hands had revealed more than she had. Since then, no new cuts had shown up. I was proud of this fact, and tried not to think that it was because I examined her hands each day and locked away any sharp object remotely possible of drawing blood.
The room is vaguely recognizable. The furniture I had picked out for her was all in its normal places, where I had put it. The books on her shelves were all classical titles, just the books I liked her to read. But the walls were covered in photographs, posters of bands and actors, only a few of whom I could vaguely recognize. She knew I did not like it when she put things out of place; The photos would probably be distracting to her, I thought.
She was sitting at her desk, her math textbook opened at a practice exam and several pages of diagrams were spilled across the surface. I beamed. I knew she would realize how much better it would be for her if she could take her math and science classes seriously. Naturally, she went straight to the most advanced classes offered. I would have nothing else for her.
She turned and jumped when she saw me, quickly gathering the papers into a heap and throwing them into a drawer. “Hey Dad. I didn’t see you.”
“How’s the math going?”
“It’s going great. I got the best score on the test yesterday.” She forced a smile and gave me a thumbs up.
“That’s great! I told you to study and look how it’s paid off! You’re doing really well!”
There was an awkward silence, and she looked back at her papers.
“Dad, I wanted to tell you something.”
“About what?”
“Well, you know how I’ve been applying to colleges and universities? I sent in applications to all the ones you said to, but I also wanted to try a few of my own.” She swallowed and looked at the floor. “One of my teachers suggested I send in an application to this one,” she handed me a brochure. Looking at the name, I suddenly felt my blood freeze. She glanced back at her desk before turning back to me with a smile that lit up her face.
“Dad, I was accepted. And when fall comes, I intend to go to that school and study drawing.”
“But it’s an art college!”
Her smile fell slowly. “Yes, but it’s one of the best schools for art in the world! Some of the best artists of this age went there! And they have good science and math departments too- but they want to focus on your talent! They tutor every individual to their need! Dad, if I could ever get teaching like that, I could be really good! And then you wouldn’t need to worry!”
“You can’t study art!” I sputtered. “The thought is ridiculous! You’ll never earn any money! And just being an artist…you won’t know what you’ll be doing day to day!”
“Dad! I have talent! I can do it! I don’t care about not knowing what I’ll be doing! I just know I don’t want to study diagrams or make equations for the next twenty years! I’ve done what you wanted for the past several years already!” She stood up and raised her arms. “But this is what I want! I want to do what I want! Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
Her last question came as a whisper.
I jumped up, furious. “Of course it does! How could you say that! You just don’t know what’s best for you!”
She turned away and I glanced out of her window. A man was standing at the edge of the yard, tall and dark. He is staring up at the window, a worried frown drawing itself on his features. He looked familiar, yet I couldn’t place him.
“Is that who suggested the school to you?”I pointed. She looked.
“Dad, there’s no one there.”
“He’s right there!”
She sat down in her chair, her gaze falling upon the drawer she had stuffed the papers in. I saw her watching it, and before she could stop me, I opened the drawer and pull out the papers.
The first few were the diagrams and equations I had seen. However, the rest of the pile was drawings. Light outlines of figures, faces, hands, eyes, people haunted every page I saw. The last page startled me out of my wits. It was the man in the yard, young, with light curls framing his grey face, his dark eyes fixed on the observer. His eyes showed focus, as if acknowledging the person seeing him, but his expression betrayed nothing. This sketch was much better than the first one I had seen, and it was obvious that it had been a lot of work. It was another unknown grey face to me, but I knew she placed him in as much favor as the first man if she had put that much effort in perfecting it.
I let the paper slide out of my hands. She stared at me, swallowing nervously.
I closed my eyes. My daughter, my only daughter, disobeying me? Blind fury built up in me. Only one thought came to my mind. She didn’t know what was best for her. Only I knew.
I opened my eyes and screamed at her and then hit her. She shrieked and sobbed and tried to run out of the room. I raised my hand and hit her again. Again. Again.
Her screams eventually stopped, and one last tear slides down her cheek, away from her dull, empty grey eyes. I looked out of her window again. The man was closer, and I saw a frightened, worried expression cross his face. What had she said?
“They’re amazing people, Dad. I love them very much.”
Her voice drifted back to me and I shivered. I knelt down beside her crumpled form and held her wrist. There were no scars, but there was also no pulse. I knew she would never draw a grey face again.
**
I can see them standing there, watching me. The two men, the one girl, their charcoal eyes staring at me, the grey faces remaining impassive. I want to say I know them, but I can’t.
The younger man has his arm around the girl; it is hard for me to know for certain, but I can tell she loves him and he loves her. The girl is vaguely familiar to me. I also remember that I know the two men from somewhere as well. A photograph perhaps, or maybe a drawing.
She sits cross-legged on the floor a few feet away from me.
“Dad.”
Her voice is smooth, yet thin, a fine line on a blank page.
“Dad, I want to talk to you, to tell you something.”
Even her tone has lost the ring to it. It has no pitch, yet the sound of it flows through my head. Everything she says will be a fact because of how she says it.
“I’m going away. It won’t be far, but I’ll be able to do what I choose to. I wanted to tell you that, Dad.”
I shake my head slowly, expecting her to fade away, like a dream or a memory, a mistake being erased.
“I know it will be hard for you, Dad, but I want you to know I love you. I’m grateful for everything you’ve given me, except death. I know you think I needed that, but I didn’t.”
I can feel my eyes fill with tears. Staring at her dark eyes, I see a brightness within the deep dark. I can also see terrible grief, a horrifying pain. Did I give her that?
“You won’t need to worry about me anymore. They will protect me. I wanted to tell you that.”
Within my numb thoughts, I find my question, the word I wanted to say, my theoretical response to her facts.
“Why?”
“You gave me a lot. But you could never give me what I wanted most because you didn’t approve. With their help, I could become as great a person as they are, as great as the most graceful dancer or the most brilliant mind. I know it isn’t what you wanted, but it was what I wanted. Please remember that.”
She stands and places a light, cold hand on my shoulder. She kisses my forehead and looks back at me, her charcoal eyes darkening my vision.
“They’re amazing people, Dad. I love them very much.”
She walks back to the younger, curly-haired man. He takes her hand and the two walk out. The other man puts a plate on the ground. The plate is empty, except for a knife resting in the center.
The man looks at me with his grey face and charcoal eyes. Slowly, as if in a dream or a memory, he points at the knife and back to his wrist, as if asking for the time.



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