...it was art. The seating had changed. Two chairs were places aside each table, and on each table was an arrangement of a vase of flowers. These flowers were what we had to draw. I sat on a table alone, and no one sat next to me. Hanging aloof from my classmates, as usual, the way I (supposedly, although I myself wasn't sure) liked it. Every other seat was filled. I sketched in the outline of my drawing.
Twenty minutes later a girl in my class arrived. She had had a music lesson. Deanna Macpherson. There were no spare places, as I've said, so she came over and sat down next to me. I looked up, startled, for it is rare - no, impossible - for anyone to sit next to me of their own accord. She had paper and pencils and presently she was drawing like me and most of the others in the room - the ones who weren't flicking rubbers, playing noughts and crosses, passing notes or checking appearances in pocket mirrors. Needless to say, I never indulge in any of these practices.
I said nothing; carried on drawing as if she was not there; to her I wasn't there, so to me nor was she, I reasoned. A few minutes later she tapped my arm, so gently, and suddenly I jumped. True to my decision, she had not been there and I had been entirely focussed on my drawing.
"Den," she said, "can I borrow a pencil sharpener, please?"
Unnecessarily to point out, she didn't know anything about me. Deanna Macpherson joined our school this September, when her family moved into our road in our village. Her family having been the first to move into our village in five years, I knew this much from my discreet listening habits. Though doubtlessly she scented a mystery, and saw that my family were obviously despised and by undefined law never mentioned, she could scarcely know the reasons why. No one would tell her, so beyond the tense feeling that something was going on there in the background, she was blind to me and to my troubles. If she had known, I conclude, she would have gone without a sharpener. Raw truth, and I know it.
I wordlessly lent her my rusty silver pencil sharpened and continued working, presently hearing the slicing of the sharp blade on her pencil. My own scratchy pencil made a simultaneous grating sound as I elaborated on the structure of my first flower and added some petals. Suddenly I heard a gasp beside me. Deanna Macpherson.
"That's amazing!" she exclaimed.
I glanced at her. She was staring at my paper. I stared too, and I have to admit that I am not bad at art. I took a sly peek at her paper, and bit my lip. She saw.
"Awful, isn't it?" she said, agreeing with the observation I hadn't voiced. She seemed to have an idea. "Can you help me get the vase right? I can't get this curve to look the same as that one."
I gazed at her, astounded. No one ever asks me for help. And that isn't me trying to ward them off. It's just the simple fact that others don't ask me for help. Asking for a rubber was bad enough. This...
Then I am struck. I had never really looked at her before, but suddenly I realised that when I looked at her I saw my sister Vere. There was a perfect likeness. Straight dark cascade of hair, dark alluring eyes, clear pale complexion: all are crafted to simplicity, but also to perfection. Her nose is faultless, her mouth not too full or too thin, her cheekbones high. As I saw her I saw my sister in the life, in the full, and I had an overwhelming urge to throw my arms around her. Then the urge passed, for she isn't my sister Vere. She is Deanna Macpherson, my classmate, no close relation, no friend, asking me for help with her drawing.
I helped her to shape the vase outline, and gave her tips on how to improve the rest of the drawing, and she seemed grateful. In return she kept up a chatter about her little sister, who she made out to be the most hilarious, warm, loving little nine-year-old on earth. It was sweet, maybe a bit unnerving, but it was reward enough for someone to be talking to me in a friendly tone. Precious little of that I get. I can't remember the last intelligent conversation I had. She broke off one of her tales, and something struck me. It came out my mouth before I could think about it. Our conversation follows: