For People Who Like to Draw

My mother said I should cheer for a Canadian hockey team, although she took little interest in sports, nationalism, or vocal expression. My father was the one shouting at me to look over my shoulder before I passed the puck from the corner. My mother typically mimed her messages. I was a student of her silences, excelling at withdrawal when an unvoiced expectation was not met. Is that why I never yelled before I passed the puck, why my neck did not turn, why I huffed in frustration that my teammates couldn’t read my mind?

On those rare times she spoke, I heard her words as an incantation that would reveal her mystery. But they never did. How did she even know what team I followed? Perhaps she had looked at my scrapbook and saw the Boston crest on the sweater of the goalies I drew. Did she notice they were both less and more than human? They had no necks, their face masks blending right onto their shoulders, but their arms went every which way to stop pucks. She was into decoupage and other art-based crafts, but I was too shy to ask for help with proportions. I studied images in my comic books to improve, tempted by Norman Rockwell’s offer of a free 12-page test to gauge my artistic talent. “We’re looking for people who like to draw,” the caption read. Rockwell sat at his desk, brushes in hand, head swiveled casually toward me, as if to say, “Look, it’s not so hard.”

I don’t know why my mother tired of decoupage only that she took up pottery and silk screen printing during retirement in Florida. The road signs in their gated community said, “Caution: Adults Having Fun.” Even so, the new hobbies could not fill the empty hours or quell the restlessness. With my father on the courts every morning, she threatened to take up golf with the other tennis widows but never did. While visiting one Christmas, I heard her say, “Another boring day,” to a neighbor at our kitchen door, who laughed it off. My mother did not glance over her shoulder, but I’m sure she was directing the lament at me. I did not know how to make her happy so I kept my head down, letting her words pass through me.

Her mind would atrophy, slowly, over nearly twenty winters in the sun. When they returned to Canada for good, she took up decoupage again. She could spend hours cutting out butterflies and birds for projects she would never finish. She enjoyed my praise, unable to see how it was all out of proportion.

I had lost interest in art after switching allegiance to the Montreal Canadiens. Ken Dryden was not as compelling to draw as the Boston goalie, Gerry Cheevers. Whenever a puck or stick hit his mask, Cheevers would draw stitches on it to denote the scars that might have been. With each of my penciled sketches, I had moved his stitches around, as if refusing to let the man heal.

Mark Foss is the author of a short story collection and two novels. His words also appear or are forthcoming in Hobart, The New Quarterly and elsewhere. In 2021, he co-edited The Book of Judith, forthcoming from New Village Press, which explores in poems and essays the role of Judith Tannenbaum in the California arts and corrections system. He writes from Montreal, but you can visit at www.markfoss.ca.

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