Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Shrewdness (03/07/05)
TITLE: A Child is a Blank Canvas
By Lisa McMillion
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The burial and subsequent reading of the will was set for the following morning. Cyrus desired to take the fun out of funeral by dispensing with the preliminaries, but the family raised such an emotional stink toward his trust officer, Mr. Sarver, he couldn’t disagree with them, especially since he was up for County Treasurer and it was an election year. Sarver’s complexion, greenish from reflecting by the coffer all of his adult life, grew greener still by Cyrus’s coffin as he considered being haunted for the balance of it. Cyrus was a sharp man in vivo. Sarver couldn’t imagine following the light was so distracting that his friend hadn’t noticed being displayed in an ornate box in front of people he called “The Fakers.” He would follow the rest of Cyrus's more important requests to the letter.
She arrived in black sequins, the storm herself, birthmother of Toby, Cyrus’s teenage grandson and charge. About every six weeks she had signed his report cards because Cyrus didn’t want teachers mistaking his own infantile handwriting for forgery. When Toby achieved all A’s, she’d take him to the Dairy Bar for a parfait because Cyrus made her. She’d sip the awkward air around the two of them through her cigarette, exhaling great ghosts of smoke as she watched him eating ice cream that wouldn't have time to melt. “Ready to go?” and a tap into the ashtray announced the end of bonding.
“Hello Toby,” she said to him now as she walked through the funeral home doors, angelic in appearance but from a questionable dispatch. She kissed his cheek --her lipstick convincing him red was truly a variation of black. “I guess you know you’ll be coming to live with us.” Toby knew the “us” referred to husband two of the most recent triennium. Custody was still up to Cyrus, he reassured himself, knowing whatever the arrangements made with Mr. Sarver, they would be best for him. After a brief pause she summoned the words, “There’s something I want you to know. It’s about your father. Your real father, I mean. I guess now’s as good a time as any.” He waited cautiously, a young cur hopeful for the scent of a legendary rabbit, but one he knew had managed to outrun the baying of better hounds. “He was short, like you. Corn Nuts were his favorite food.” She laughed a laugh that hadn’t unmasked itself yet as a sob. Toby thought for a minute, then asked not a name but, “Regular, or the Barbeque kind?”
It was at that moment he felt the influence Cyrus had upon his life-- his shrewd way of handling people and situations with an intelligence born of experience. Cyrus had saved him from an existence he shuddered to imagine. A life of short Corn-Nut eating men claiming to be his father, men he could never have depended on like he had Cyrus. It could be argued from appearance that transplantation into her beautiful unsteady arms would make for a more complete family situation than he’d had or could hope for the future. The truth was, Toby knew he would wake up one morning and she would be gone. Cyrus had known that as well. He was calmly curious about his destiny penned, undoubtedly not in Cyrus's own hand, and folded in Mr. Sarver’s breast pocket. He knew it read blasphemy to the thicker-than-water family philosophy and rejection to the woman standing before him. Toby felt sorry for her. “Guess I’d better go,” she said, assessing him like a car new to her: low mileage, garage kept. “Shrewd,” Toby said aloud, completing the lines of a haiku he'd struggled with the entire week for writing class. She frowned as if he’d cursed her before turning around, convinced she’d have time and the authority to deal with him later.
A child is a blank canvas under
A shrewd brush.
He ran his fingers over a copy of Cyrus’s obituary and uncapped a pen to record his inspiration.
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