Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Soul (07/13/06)
- TITLE: Portrait at Pit Stop High.
By Val Clark
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Kate kept her hands locked steadily in her lap, smiled and looked the principal, Matthew Eagon, in the eyes.
Yes, Katie the eyes are the window to the soul, but so is every wrinkle.
With a blink she shook her dad’s voice out of her head, focused briefly on her white knuckles and then back at Matthew Eagon’s face.
‘This may sound stupid, Sir, but God told me to quit my job and travel across North America.’
Eagon’s left eyebrow creased his forehead.
Kate’s shoulders slumped slightly. That was the end of that job.
The class of senior students sat sullenly, like bulls penned in full sun.
Kate read out their names, trying to remember each face.
Their hostility was palpable, but she’d expected that and, with a quick prayer, mentally discarded her prepared lesson.
‘You speak funny.’ Josh, military haircut, fourth row back.
‘I’m from England.’
‘Whadya come here for? We don’t want no foreigners and we don’t want no other teacher.’ Ben, bushy eyebrows, front row, right under her nose.
Kate picked up a piece of chalk. ‘Tell me about Mr. Roberts.’
‘He was the best teacher we ever had.’ Nona, spiky red hair. ‘He could do anything. He was… deep.’
Kate looked out the window at the huge sculpture that adorned the courtyard.
‘Was he a big man?’
‘Six four.’ Matthew, who was probably six four, blushed through his pimples.
‘What did he look like?’
‘Blondish hair, sort of shaggy.’
‘So, looking around the room, whose head is shaped most like his?’
All eyes swiveled to Eddie, who shrugged. ‘He was my uncle.’
She drew the shape of Eddie’s head towards the top of the board.
‘Any other features run in the family?’
‘Mr. Eagon was his cousin, he had his nose.’
She drew in a long, slim nose.
‘Lips, thick, thin, wide….?
‘Thick, sort of bow shaped.’ Tina. Short and plump.
‘Wanted to kiss them did you, Tina Ballerina, not!’ Matthew.
‘Pit face.’ Tina hurled back before bursting into tears and leaving the room.
As Kate drew in the lips, the class gradually settled and, apart from the occasional comment, watched quietly. Tina returned and sat on the bench at the back among the paint pots.
‘Eyes closer together.’
When Kate thought she had a fair resemblance she said ‘What’s missing?’
‘He is.’ Ben.
‘Don’t be stupid!’ Josh.
‘Ben’s not being stupid, Josh. A portrait should see past the exterior and somehow convey a person’s soul.
‘I have to know more about him. Did he like people? Did he tell jokes? Was his glass half empty or half full? Could he take a joke? How old was he?’
She picked up the eraser and began working with the edges of the chalk working in laughter lines. Slightly drooping eyes for the wife he’d tragically lost a year into their marriage. One eyebrow raised, like his cousin’s, for Eddie’s, ‘Nothing got past him, miss.’
Kate stood back.
The students shook their heads.
‘What did he read?’
The door to his office was open. Feeling like an intruder she stepped in. The walls were covered with bookshelves filled with glossy art books. Above his desk were departmental folders.
No photos. No keepsakes. Nothing.
There were no clues to help her grasp the essence of the man and make him live for her students.
Kate picked up the student folios piled high on the desk, hoping they had already been marked. Underneath them she found a well worn Bible. Inside the Bible was a daily devotional, opened to the day, just over a week ago, when the tractor Mr. Robert’s had been driving tipped, crushing him.
Kate walked back into the art room.
‘Was he the same built as Eddie or closer to Mr. Eagon?’
‘Eddie,’ the class chorused.
‘Would you stand up for me Eddie? That’s it, just relax’
Kate sketched in Mr. Robert’s wearing a boiler suit; welder in one hand a face protector in the other and stood back.
The students shook their heads.
Quick facial adjustments left them gasping.
‘That’s him, miss.’ Nona. ‘What did you do?’
‘He was a man of God, Nona. I gave him hope.’
Kate dusted the chalk off her hands.
‘Thanks, miss.’ Ben.
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