95 DIE IN SCHOOL FIRE!

 

Lexy McCreadie’s Off Day

by Alison O’Connor

Ms. Dina DeAngelis surveyed her Kilgore high school art classroom one Friday afternoon, once the students of her last class of the day had filed out. She scanned the sketches sprawled before her on the art desks. She’d told the class she’d take care of the sketches, just leave them at your spaces and I’ll hang them up in the hallway outside. It was the figure-drawing unit, one of her favorite units in her class. She believed that each student took a unique approach to the human body, at least she made sure of that. She arranged for models to pose for the students, though the models had to be in spandex suits after several angry parents complained about how indecent nudity in the high school art classroom was. Still, the unit was quite rewarding, Ms. DeAngelis believed.  

She moved thoughtfully about the empty room, collecting the sketches in a neat pile. She then took notice of one very crumpled piece of paper, and recognized the student, from the desk and from the signature in the upper right hand corner, as Lexy McCreadie, a decidedly average pupil. However, on Lexy’s page was a very lightly drawn series of female figures, the woman (women, in the case of these ghosts displayed) posed in very graceful, languid fashion. Each of the ghostly women intertwined with one another, wove in between one another in chain form, though as they progressed, they became darker, the figures grew thicker and thicker, their hands growing into lengthy claws, their legs curving into sharp fish-tails. Ms. DeAngelis’ eyes widened at these sinister creatures, as they danced and morphed one after the other on the page.

She was quite surprised at the work before her, since Lexy’s drawings were, well, remarkable. Lexy had not, up until now, shown much in the art-room in the way of promising artwork. This was a very pleasant surprise, Ms. DeAngelis thought. She would be sure to tell Lexy how much progress she had made, ask her how come she hadn’t shown this kind of artfulness before, how Lexy’s artistic voice was rather melodic, how she wanted to hear more. That would be quite nice for Lexy to hear on Monday, a nice start to a new week.

Lexy sat up late one night, after her parents had gone to bed, after the nightly TV programs were lazily watched, after a late dinner and after Lexy had half-heartedly completed her homework. The next day was Monday, and though the weekend had been decidedly uneventful, Lexy decided she would not go. She’d fake sick to the teachers, pretend to walk towards school like normal to her parents in the morning. Lexy hummed to the Bowie song on her ipod, ‘Blue Jean’, ‘ohhh, somebody send me, somebody send me, somebody, somebody’

Lexy continued to hum, even after the song ended, humming all the way to the window, looking down the second story to the front yard down below, a fresh-cut suburban lawn. A few autumn leaves were starting to pile up. Lexy opened the window a tad, peered out into the witching black of midnight, felt the stiffness of the air all over. She looked down again. She’d been having the same dream over and over, the past couple of nights. She kept falling off the Sears Tower, kept plunging and shutting her eyes tight as the world dropped and shattered in one crash. Sleep felt useless, and she knew it would bring nothing but cold sweat and a grim waking once the sun hit, so Lexy had made sure to brew some coffee, right after her parents headed upstairs for the last time, naturally. Lexy kept her head out the window, folded her arms on the sill. Her mind was beginning to cloud, and she was starting to feel a bit dizzy, so she backed away from the window. Sleep was starting to creep though her eyelids, so Lexy tried to prop herself up and move about, stretching her arms. She could stay awake for long, however, and soon fell into a reluctant sleep.

Sleep didn’t last long, and, just as the nights before, Lexy woke up in cold sweats and her ears ringing after the tremendous thud of her body hitting the pavement after her great fall. When she checked her radio-clock, the time was seven A.M., and, right on cue, she was called downstairs for breakfast. Lexy trudged to the breakfast table, where she mechanically ate some English muffins with cream cheese. Without a word to her parents besides as cheerful a “love you, goodbye!” as she could muster, she slung her backpack over her shoulder and proceeded to walk in the way of school. Though right at the block just before the great front of Kilgore High approached, Lexy moved towards the train station, where she would head to downtown Chicago, scale the Sears Tower, see the big monstrous skyscraper in all it’s height and contemplate it more fully. No one could just jump off it, she didn’t think, and she didn’t want to, but it wouldn’t hurt to get a good look. That recurring fall of her dreams was likely compelling her to take a look, at least, maybe venture up. Lexy tried not to think about it too much as she headed towards the station, just a few short blocks from the high school.

Ms. DeAngelis, as she herself was heading toward Kilgore High, happened to see from a distance, the shape of a student standing tentatively before the front of the school a block away then walking the other way, towards the train station. Ms. DeAngelis, curious to a fault, decided to walk further to see who exactly had chosen to cut class. Nearing the student, she soon observed, as she drew a bit closer, it was Lexy McCreadie, choosing to head towards what looked like the next inbound train. Lexy was not paying attention to any sound behind her, her steps only growing faster as she approached the train-tracks. Ms. DeAngelis, worried now, and at a close enough proximity to call out to her, said, loudly and clearly: “Lex! Hey, Lex! Where are you going?” Lexy, in that instant, turned around very startled to face her art teacher. Lexy, a bit frightened though defensive, asked: “What…what are you doing? Why do you care where I go? I’m sick!” Lexy, in her confusion, forgot to back up her declaration of sickness with any legitimate reasoning or rationale for her beeline to the train-station. Ms. DeAngelis, in a calm tone, repeated herself: “Where are you going, Lex?”

Lexy didn’t really have a good answer, but, realizing she couldn’t lie her way out of this, replied: “I was just going downtown.” Ms. DeAngelis frowned, said: “I thought you were sick.” “Well, what difference does it make? I didn’t feel like going to school. I wanted to look at the towers. I don’t care anymore. Take me back to school and give me detention. Whatever.” Lexy, after having muttered her admission of sorts, looked down at her feet and felt her eyes cloud up and her lungs dry up again. Ms. DeAngelis now took a deep breath and decided to offer: “Lex, I’m not going to get you in trouble. I’m not going to make you go to class. I was thinking of playing hooky myself. Do you want to come down to my studio in Evanston, instead, and draw with me?” Lexy looked up and muttered: “No, I don’t think so.” Ms. DeAngelis tried again: “Look, Lex, I was going to tell you this in class today, but your drawings this past class have been phenomenal. I was just wondering why you don’t draw like that in my class more often. I haven’t seen such haunting figures in a long time, and I mean that in the best way possible. I wouldn’t say bull I don’t mean. So, if you don’t have anything better to do, please draw with me. I’ll call a substitute teacher for today. I’d love for you to draw with me.

Lexy, giving up, said: “Sure, sure.” And with that, Lexy and Ms. DeAngelis got on the next train for Evanston’s Main Street. Ms. DeAngelis led Lexy up to her fourth floor studio apartment in a weathered old building, unlocked the door, and showed Lexy into the space. The first thing Lexy noticed was that in the center of the main room was a long rectangular wooden table with large sheets of drawing pads splayed across it, and at this table was a large wooden chair. On the far left side, up against the well there was a big desk bursting with sketchpads and different compartments of pencils, pens and paint, with a leopard-print stool before it. There were a couple of easels on opposite ends of the space and a few oversized models displayed to the right of the room. There were wide windows that let the bright sunshine pour across the floor, which was almost entirely taken up by an oriental rug. Lexy had to squint her eyes due to the glare of the sunlight, so Ms. DeAngelis went to the windows to draw up the blinds. Lexy was unsure of where to step next, so Ms. DeAngelis motioned for her to step into the main room. “This,” said Ms. DeAngelis, “Is my studio. It’s where I come to complete my projects and where I find the most inner peace, for lack of a better phrase.”

She motioned for Lexy to sit at the big wooden table, in the grand chair. Ms. DeAngelis then pulled up her leopard print stool next to Lexy. She got up quickly, and returned with a large radio, with some CDs to go with it, which she plopped at the desk and plugged into a nearby outlet. She then brought over some sticks of charcoal and four slightly used kneaded erasers, opened two of the drawing pads which contained the thicker paper, pushed the other books to the ends of the table and plopped one in front of Lexy, along with a two of the charcoal sticks and two of the erasers. She sat back at her place next to Lexy, and opened up her own drawing pad.

Lexy was even more nervous, unsure what to do next. She asked: “Ms. DeAngelis, what do you want me to draw?” Ms. DeAngelis responded matter-of-factly: “Whatever’s on your mind. Draw your dreams, draw your fears, draw marvelous specters like those figures from last Friday.” Lexy had to ask: “My figures looked like ghosts?!” Ms. DeAngelis immediately felt bad for the phrasing of that, and hurriedly said: “I mean they look so ethereally beautiful. Ghostly in that sense. It’s certainly not a bad thing. In fact, just the opposite. It’s why your figures are some of the best I’ve seen in my years of teaching high school art.” Lexy nearly jumped at that. She looked at Ms. DeAngelis with wide, intense eyes and loudly inquired: “Do you really think so? Wow, wow. Wow. Sorry I’m making such an idiot of myself.” Ms. DeAngelis remarked: “Lex, of course! You have a bold and unique talent, and a voice you should use much more often! Put those ghosts on the page, let them fill up every blank space of yours, don’t let them harbor inside!” Lexy just stared down at the paper and began to cry. Ms. DeAngelis patted her shoulder, as Lexy kept her head down and let out those remaining sobs.

When Lexy brought up her head again, she faced Ms. DeAngelis once more and said: “Thank you.” Ms. DeAngelis replied calmly with “No trouble at all. Let’s focus on our pages before us. Get everything out there, I’ll show you all my ghoulish scribbles if you show me more of those marvelous ghosts.” Lexy burst out laughing, and was joined by Ms. DeAngelis, the two of them hysterical in the room before their paper. Lexy at last took hold of her charcoal and began drawing towering black obelisks, began erasing their ominous fronts, cutting them down to size, putting figure upon figure of large giantess before the ruin of each obelisk, she kept tearing out new pages and filling them up just as quickly. Ms. DeAngelis, still working on one sheet, sat in stunned amazement. She offered to play an album, and, not caring what album it was, Lexy nonchalantly shrugged. As each new page got filled and lay before her on the table, Lexy’s body eased and her shoulders lost their tension, her grip relaxed.

Ms. DeAngelis, also a David Bowie fan, played his album Tonight. Neither DeAngelis or Lexy cared for that album, but it was music, and who really cares about the music on a record too much when one is deeply caught up in drawing after drawing. DeAngelis and Lexy, in between chugs of on-hand iced tea, scribbled and sketched and drew the most marvelous of ghosts, Lexy at last feeling a new sense of weightlessness, the towers toppling before her moving charcoal, crashing before her hand, her command returning once again.  

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