Her thin hand flies across the page. The pencil leaves its marks and soon an image begins to appear on the page. A scribble here and there to indicate shadows. Before long I can see the thin and wrinkled fingers perched on the black and white keys of a piano, depressing a specific chord. The single hand and partial keyboard take up the entire eight-and-a-half-by-eleven piece of paper in her sketchbook. With a flourish, she adds her initials in the bottom left corner and turns the page.
She looks up at me from her spot on the bright red sofa. She is sitting with her back against one arm rest, her feet resting in my lap. The sketchbook sits on her lap and she smiles as we lock eyes.
The pencil in her hand starts to scribble again. This time I watch her face as she works. Her brows furrow in concentration, her eyes seem to gloss over. She glances up only once. She wrinkles her nose and her lips purse together for just a hesitation, and then she puts her pencil back to the paper.
She holds the sketchbook with her right hand; she is left-handed. She bites her lip as she draws what turns out to be an eyeball. She is only drawing half a face. She never draws an entire face from the front, because she gets frustrated trying to make the eyes even. So she draws half-faces, or people in profile. Never from the front.
This face – right now only an eyeball and what is now turning out to be a thin nose, slightly upturned at the end – looks familiar. Something in the way the lid appears heavy and the eye sad. It’s not until she adds full lips and an ear lined with little hoop earrings, that I see she has drawn me.
Her hands fly from the top of the paper to the bottom as she adds a head full of hair, slightly wavy with long bangs that cover the eye she will not draw. Then she adds her initials and turns the page again.
“Why are you watching me?” She is drawing again, not looking at me.
“Because you’re beautiful.”
She shrugs and scribbles some more. “Doesn’t it get boring?”
I shake my head.
“It seems like it would. Just sitting there, watching me draw.”
“There’s nothing boring about it. My favorite time to watch you is when you are doing something you love. Watching you get lost in that sketchbook; you have the best facial expressions.”
She twists her face and sticks out her tongue, crossing her eyes but still looking toward the paper. Even though she isn’t looking at me, she knows she has made me smile. She pokes my stomach with her toes. Her face screws up again, this time with her brow furrowed, her lips pouted. I stick my tongue out at her, and we both laugh.
She sits up on her knees, leans into me, and we kiss. She curls herself under my arm, her book abandoned on the other end of the sofa with the pencil tucked into its spiral binding.
She nestles her legs under her body and rests her head on my shoulder.
“I think the worst thing about being sick, besides eventually leaving you, is the fear that I’ll lose my drawing. I’ll be too weak to hold a pencil, or my eyes won’t be able to see the paper right, or my brain will forget how.”
I don’t know what to say to this admission. This is the first time she has mentioned her sickness in a way that references a real deterioration of her body. Empty reassurances come to mind, but I know they are not what she wants – or needs – to hear. I stay quiet.
“I guess I’ll just keep doing it. Until I can’t.” She reaches over and grabs her book. Still under my arm, she opens to a blank page and starts to draw.