Her Stories Contest – 1st Place Prize Winner
Katheryn Prather is a senior at Milton Academy in Milton, Massachusetts, where she lives with her parents and little sister. Her hobbies include writing of all kinds, including songs, poetry, short fiction, and novels, along with baking, reading, and watching Marvel movies. A few of her favorite writers are Maggie Stiefvater, Madeline Miller, and Jacqueline Woodson.
By Katheryn Prather
The little Black boy who lives across the street from you is squatting on his unfinished lawn with a large stick, which he probably stole from a neighboring yard after last week’s thunderstorm. Idly, he traces lines in the dirt; his focus makes him seem like a very young old person looking for answers about the future in the slope of the soil.
You catch glimpses of him while you clean the living room:
He traces a spiral until it reaches the edges of his little plot. Then he stands up, dragging his stick behind him as he steps carefully and barefoot across the dirt.
He sets the stick down horizontally, rolls it from walkway to driveway to clear his design, and stares at the newly blank canvas. His own, all-natural etch-a-sketch.
He rises onto his tiptoes to draw simple lines, parallel to the street, and stares at them like they’re the most important puzzle he’s encountered in his short decade of life.
He moves to stand with his back to the street and draws more lines, these perpendicular. Then he lifts his stick to set it against the back of his neck and curls his arms around it.
He steps into the first rectangle of the grid and pauses. Another step, paired with a pivot to face in a different direction, pressing his footsteps into his front yard.
He reminds you of your son.
Elijah used to make art of whatever he had at his disposal. Seeing his enthusiasm, you tried to introduce him to the history of it: the classics, the Renaissance — you had intended to take him to an exhibition on Expressionism when it came to the art museum.
You lift his fourth grade portrait from its place on your bookshelf to stare. Elijah’s sandy face grins at the camera, his caramel curls stick up and all around him like … like a fruit, perhaps, though you can’t think of exactly what kind.
The sound of thunder rippling down the street pulls your gaze to the clouding sky: another thunderstorm coming slowly towards you. A sense of dread or grief or both — you can’t tell which — slips down your spine. There seem to be more and more of them — these storms, these feelings — with each passing year.
The little boy is looking up, too, staring at the sky with his arms still wrapped around his stick, unafraid of the storm headed toward your little street.
Elijah had a cousin less than a month older than he was. Though his cousin, a plump little boy named Grayson, found thunderstorms to be one of the most terrifying phenomena to ever leave God’s hands, Elijah had always slept soundly through them. You thought it was the sign of a strong boy. Nearly fearless. You had been right, but that didn’t make you happy.
The boy across the street frowns at the clouds as they move towards him, the only hindrance to his art project, and pauses to watch.
Ah, you think, now that face was your son’s too. That was how your boy looked at you when you called him for dinner, or dragged him to lunch with your friends, or interrupted his artwork for a question. You smile at that face, and the boy looks at you like he can sense the change.
Through the window, you wave. His mother knows you, but he doesn’t, so he cocks his head to the side. Then, slowly, as if he needs to think through the motion as he performs it, he waves back. He steps into the next rectangle, which is closer to the street, when the door of his house opens and out steps his mother.
His head snaps up to look at her before she even speaks, and he hops from his dirt patch onto the sidewalk. He removes the stick from its place against his neck and tucks it neatly beneath the bushes in front of his house. It’ll be ready for him tomorrow, after the rain has come and gone, but his canvas will be mud.
You notice the bottoms of his feet are darker than they should be, stained from the dirt. His mother should make him wear shoes in the house, so he doesn’t track dirt all over her floors, you think. She pulls him quickly into the house by the back of his t-shirt, her dark face shadowed with worry as her eyes find the clouds rolling over the sky. Without trying, you smile. She seems to know the importance of teaching him when to come back inside — and he seems to be learning the limits.