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– Fierce Fiction by Lauryn Mercredi –

Jen sat in her favorite cafe listening to the buzz of the coffee grinder, the murmur of human voices and the gurgle and hiss of the espresso machine. Her sketchbook was on the table in front of her. Her therapist had recommended she start drawing again in a comforting and familiar setting. She opened the book to a new blank page and searched her mind for a worthy subject. She looked wistfully at her empty mug, still wafting the scent of mocha.

Her phone chimed, and she grabbed for it.

A text from her younger brother Sam: Visiting Dad’s grave 2pm. Want to come?

She hesitated. She hadn’t been back to the cemetery since the funeral four weeks ago. She was surprised Sam even asked. But she knew what her therapist would say: Closure is important.

Meet you there.

She put down her phone and rubbed her eyes. She hadn’t been sleeping well since her father’s heart attack. Jen had been estranged from him for almost a year, and that fact now haunted her.

She blinked back tears and reached for her pencil case, selecting a 2B pencil for its soft dark line. She turned the sketchbook sideways to landscape view and started to doodle idly. She sketched a tree and some grass.

She remembered how her father had praised her childhood drawings. He was an amateur photographer and thought a good drawing should look like a photograph, an exact replication of its subject. But as Jen grew older, she began to create abstract paintings. She showed one of them to her father, and his lips tightened as he said, “You don’t need any talent to paint that kind of thing.”

She never showed him her artwork again.

Back in the present, she realized she was drawing her father’s prized rose bushes. The flowers he had lavished with love and attention. Her hand felt awkward and the bushes looked crooked. Yet she continued.

When Jen was 13, her mother ran off, moving thousands of miles away to a new city with her new boyfriend. That night Jen sat in their living room with her father and Sam, silently hunched over, wrapped in blankets like refugees because her father had turned off the heating, no doubt because Jen’s mother always complained of the cold.

“She’s nothing but an adulteress,” her father said, gripping his rosary beads. Jen wanted to speak up, to defend her mother, but she didn’t dare.

Jen could hardly remember a time her father wasn’t angry. He ranted daily about his ex-wife, his employer, his co-workers, money, and politics. And of course, his teenage children and their defiance. His face hovered in front of Jen like a red balloon as he screamed about her grades, her friends, and her imperfect performance at household chores. Once, after her church youth group, he yelled at her in front of the other teens and their parents outside the church. When her father stormed off to the car, Jen hung back. The priest, Father Ramirez, wandered over, and she tensed waiting for further rebuke. But he said quietly, “Remember, child. God gives us parents so we learn how not to behave.” Jen stared at him, not fully realizing what he’d said until he winked at her and walked away.

She smiled at the memory and looked down at her drawing. The drawing had a loose grace, but there was something missing. She drew in a long shadow for each bush, as if near dusk.

Sam had been more rebellious than Jen. He’d skipped classes, shoplifted, and stayed out past curfew drinking and vaping with his friends. In response, their father whipped him. Jen hid in her room, wincing as she heard the crack of the belt and her brother’s screams.

Tears ran down her face and she leaned back to stop them from falling on the paper. Sam had forgiven their father for the rages, the whippings, but Jen had not.

She studied her drawing. There was too much darkness, the cross-hatching over the grass rough and jagged. She sighed and turned the sketchbook around so that the spine was on the left again, ready to turn the page. And gasped.

Among the lines of the shadow was her father’s face.

Dark slashes formed his eyebrows, drawn together in anger. She froze as if she were once again a child, terrified by Daddy’s anger. A message from beyond the grave? The image was rough, yet his features were unmistakable.

She picked up her eraser but hesitated to obliterate the image. Instead, she used it in combination with her pencil to modify her father’s face. His frown lines eased and his eyelids relaxed. His lips loosened and curved upwards in the corners. Almost a smile. The way he used to look when she was little. Softer.

She stroked the image with her fingertips.

She would never get to talk to her father again, but he was still with her. Her memories, both fond and painful, were so vivid and numerous it was as if he still lived. But the representation in her mind was malleable. She could choose, at least, which parts of him to cherish, and which parts to use as examples of how not to behave.

She wiped her cheeks, then selected a new pencil and turned the page.

Lauryn Mercredi
About the Author – Lauryn Mercredi

Lauryn Mercredi lives in Surrey, British Columbia with her husband and two cats. She loves to read books and stories in all genres. Her favorite things include Ferris wheels, libraries and dark chocolate.

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