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art by Alan Bao

Gifted and Talented

Sadie Mattox is a librarian living in the heartland. She spends most of her time trying to contain the chaos of her husband and two little boys.

Charlie picked up a pencil and drew a tree. The tree spread wide over a desert and Charlie sensed that animals off the edge of the page craved that shade. So he made them. Not just sketched their shapes but created them. He reached down to that part of him that tweaked each time he grabbed a pen and drew the animals into animation, actual moving beings with a motivation all their own. Pencil elephants, cheetahs--and there, a lizard--trampled the hard ground, padded across hot sand, skittered over flat rocks. The boy watched, fascinated, as they hurried across his notebook paper to huddle under the tree. The tree that he drew, that he imagined.
In an adjacent room with a thick glass window, the boy's parents stood. They were like bees at the honeycomb, vibrating and crowding each other. The mother put her hand on the father's arm and he looked at her through his glasses.
"It's ok," he whispered. "He's fine. Look, he seems to be enjoying himself."
"I know," she said, taking her hand back onto her own arm where it felt more comfortable. She pressed her lips together, conscious that she always said too much and pushed too far. "I just wish I could see what he was drawing!"
"It wouldn't make a difference if you could," The father said. He turned his back to the window and leaned against it.
"Don't do that! What if he looks over here? He'll see your back is to him! What will he think?"
"Jesus, the world is not a metaphor. He'll see that I'm tired and there aren't any chairs in this room."
She rolled her head, rubbing the knot in her neck. "Fine."
Across the glass, the boy's animals frolicked in the dirt. He drew them a pond and a fern with dew dropping off the leaves. The lizards did a dance. The elephants raised up on their front legs, their trunks intertwining at the top of the page.
A woman entered the room but he ignored her. She made some marks on a sheet. She walked around him and studied his picture. Her high heels clacked on the floor.
"Oh god, what do you think she's writing?" his mother said.
"What?" The father glanced over his shoulder, "Ah. Her. I don't know. Probably 'this kid is an idiot'".
"Don't joke. It's not even funny."
He reached across and rubbed her shoulder. "What do you want from this?"
"I want him to be special! You've seen the things he draws at home, aren't they wonderful? And Cynthia's little girl can only draw these distorted pea-looking things. I mean, I guess they're peas, or turds, either way, all they do is roll around the page. And Mary's son draws dogs but all they can manage is a pant. Charlie can do so much more. I just, I don't know, want people to see that!"
The father shrugged, "He is what he is."
Charlie was happy with his oasis. His right hand hurt so he switched to his left. He filled in some clouds and a large snake to eat the lizards--chomp. The snake wound around an elephant, squeezing its way up the leg and around the neck. The snake's coils throbbed and pulsed as the elephant's tongue stuck out. Charlie laughed. This was fun.
In the next room, the door opened. Both parents stood at attention. The woman in charge of Charlie's testing stepped into the room and flicked on a light neither parent had known was there. They blinked at the sudden change.
She flipped through her sheets. Her face remained stone and her eyes were flat. Finally, she let the pages settle on the clipboard and licked her lips. "When measuring a gift, we look for potential. It's not really about how good they are but how good they could become or how much ability we can see developed in the future," she said, tucking the board under her arm.
The mother splayed her fingers out, "And?"
"And, your son does show some potential." The woman worked her way around the words, her head tossed back and forth as if the boy's potential was on a scale.
"Just some?" The mother's voice rose.
Behind them, Charlie's snake was consuming every animal and every tree. Cheetahs were sent scurrying to the edge of the notebook only to have the snakes jaw unhinge and swallow them one by one.
Oblivious, the woman nodded, "There is some concern over his unimaginative use of animals as a subject. However, he does have a skill for making them move very quickly and very life-like. We could certainly use an artist with that ability in say, the agricultural divisions."
His mother shook her head, "The agricultural divisions?"
As the three adults argued, the boy watched his snake slither off the page and across the table. The ink dinner caused the animal to swell and grow. Charlie clapped as his drawing, his creation thumped to the ground and devoured a spider hiding underneath the chair.
Another man from the testing institute stepped into the room. He registered the boy with a quick nod, scowled at the empty page and turned to leave. He noticed the snake when the fangs sank into his leg. His scream and the seizure that followed, the foam that spat out of his mouth and Charlie's delighted squeal made the adults stop and press their hands to the glass.
"Well, now," the woman said with a bright smile, "That changes everything."
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

Author Comments

The idea for this story came while watching children climb in the great American testing arena, the playground.

- Sadie Mattox
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