Gracie’s Garden –work in progress. Below is Chapter 8. Enjoy.
Chapter 8: An Important Day
On the day Dalton’s mother left home, he focused on the sharing project for his sixth grade class. For months, since December, he had thought long and hard about what he would contribute, watching his classmates go first. The odd name “Spoon,” while amusing to some, at least allowed Dalton time to figure out his sharing item. Not all activities were alphabetical. Gym class and climbing ropes were organized by height—short kids first, Dalton somewhere in the middle, and tallest kids at the end. Lining up for recess meant Dalton stood at the front of the line, on the boy’s side, because his seat was closest to the door. Thankfully, the sharing day project started in September with Tommy Aberford, and wouldn’t reach Dalton Spoon until spring.
When Mrs. Shields turned the calendar to the month of May, Dalton realized his turn had nearly arrived. For most of the school year he watched as kids paraded pets of all sorts: lizards, beta fish, even a snake as a sharing item. Dalton noted the things that no sixth grader could do alone like elaborately decorated cakes, complicated looking Indian rice dishes, and holiday treats from bakeries. The only rule about a sharing item, that it can’t be dangerous, left open all kinds of interpretation to the sixth graders. But, Dalton felt deep down that he should share something personal.
The only kid who actually shared something of her own, Melody Gibson, shared a homemade wind chime. There were old forks, shells, a tiny metal picture frame, and assorted coins floating off the end of many different colored wires. Strung from an upside down “T” shaped coat hanger, the everyday items that formed the tubing of Melody’s wind chime transformed into something much more. Dalton, enthralled with the wind chime, and with Melody Gibson, spoke to her about her project.
He knew she had been nervous about sharing because she had kept her eyes on the chimes or on the floor. From the back row where the mean girls sat, Dalton heard snickers. These were the same girls who brought in new expensive clothes at sharing time, or the fancy bakery cake. These same girls always sat in a cluster in the classroom, at lunch, and on the bus; they were bullies in mini skirts. Dalton tapped Melody on the shoulder before she went out for recess. “This is the best thing anyone has ever shared.” He reached out to untangle a bent fork from a wire attached to a coin with a hole in the center.
“Thanks,” Melody beamed, her eyes looking down.
From that day on, the day Melody shared her wind chime, Dalton thought about his project and what he might share. He never asked anyone’s advice, or even mentioned sharing time to his parents. He just ruminated on the idea, until at last, about three weeks before his turn, Dalton knew what he would share.
On the day that his mother left home, Dalton said goodbye to her just like every other day, with a quick hug and a peck on her cheek. She was dressed for work. And, like every other morning, his dad had already left for the shipyard before anyone else in the house woke up. Dalton grabbed his book bag on the bench, and without a look back, let the screen door slam behind him.
Whenever Dalton thinks back to that last moment with his mother, he tries to remember if she seemed any different. Did she hold on a second longer in his hug? Did she have tears in her eyes, or did she look nervous, anxious, or even happier than normal? But all he can remember is the anticipation of sharing, and how excited he was to get to school with his portfolio under his arm.
Not many ten-year-olds carry portfolios, especially one made from cardboard, duct tape, and permanent-marker graffiti designs. It had been tucked into the garage off the driveway since the previous day, allowing Dalton to slip out of the house without a lot of explanation. But at the schoolyard he drew lots of attention.
“Hey, what’s that?”
“Look at Dalton!”
The shouts encouraged him to keep moving toward the main entrance. Not wanting to show anyone his work until the unveiling, Dalton opted out of the usual game of tag, heading instead, for his classroom.
“What’s this, Dalton?” asked Mrs. Shields.
Holding up the portfolio, he said, “It’s my sharing day today. Can we keep this somewhere until my turn comes up?”
“Certainly, come right this way.” Mrs. Shields led him down the hall to the teacher’s lounge. Dalton had been attending Johnson Elementary for five years, and this room had always been off limits. The frosted glass door kept curious eyes curious. Inside, the dark-paneled wood contrasted to the whitewashed cement block walls of the hallway. A waft of lemon cleaner mixed with coffee floated in the air and several teachers turned towards Dalton. As if to explain his presence, Dalton looked down toward his portfolio. Mrs. Robinson smiled at him, but Mr. Tarr and Mrs. Green were scowling. Dalton kept his head down, following Mrs. Shields to the corner of the room. She pulled open a closet door.
“Here you go, Dalton. It’ll be safe here until 11:00. Do you want to show me first?”
“Uh, no. I mean, do I have to?”
“No, Dalton, you don’t. But it might break the ice for you if you’re nervous.” She smiled at him. “Are you nervous, Dalton?”
Shifting on his feet with the portfolio still tucked under his arm, Dalton preferred to keep it a surprise for the whole class, even Mrs. Shields.
“Well, maybe a little. But I think I’ll wait until my turn.” He slid the portfolio along the worn gray carpet and into the closet for safekeeping.
When 11 o’clock came, on the day that Dalton’s mother left home, Mrs. Shields excused herself and crossed the hall to the teacher’s lounge. Sandy Shields knew Dalton as her most creative student, but his shy side kept a lot of that creativity from view. She wondered, not for the first time, when Dalton would break out of his shell. She knew the catalyst for each student’s potential differed greatly. Some responded to positive stimuli, others to overcoming obstacles. She had said several times that year in the teachers lounge, “He will be one to watch,” when talking about Dalton Spoon.
“Here you go, Dalton. You’re up.” She handed the cumbersome portfolio to him.
The students half-circled around Dalton on the floor and he began unwrapping the twine that held the tattered portfolio together. Hearing snickers, then a “shush!” from Mrs. Shields, Dalton refused to get embarrassed or nervous.
Before revealing his work, Dalton said, “Okay, I painted this over the last month with a combination of acrylics, spray paint, and stencils. If I used oils, it wouldn’t have dried in time.” His classmates looked at one another, wondering. “I call it, The Great Picnic.” Then Dalton took the picture, which was painted on a piece of cardboard three feet wide by two feet high, and turned it around so his classmates and teacher could see. At first, all that could be heard was the click, click, click of the clock on the wall.
Dalton’s ability to capture the fundamental nature of a thing or a person came at an early age. Even before he could clearly define a face or recreate a scene, Dalton would choose colors to speak to him and for him. When he was next door, at Mrs. Cleary’s, he would choose vibrant, fiery colors when he was angry in order to scribble his way back to clear thought. Or, when he was sad, he would layer colors one on top of another in soothing repetition, choosing grays and browns, olives and mustards from his colored pencils. One over the next and back again, in deepening shades until he captured the essence of his mood. Colors became his voice, and pictures his clearest form of communicating.
Neither Jim nor Alden Spoon appreciated their son’s talent, for they couldn’t recognize what their own eyes showed them. Wrapped up in their own problems, Dalton’s parents were deaf to their son’s voice. This did not stop Dalton from creating, however. It only intensified his need to speak through artistic means.
Facing his classmates, Dalton hesitated. First looking down from the top of his painting at his own creation, then he took a chance and looked up at his audience; they were captivated. Several scooted closer for a more intimate look. The colors, the shapes, each item deserved another look. Dalton had created an alternative universe. The grass, colored in shades of reds and purples, and the faces in greens and blues all delivered. Dalton used shapes for objects like the triangle baskets spilling out brightly colored delectables. And cutting the picture in two, creamy white diamonds formed a river where little orange circles with sails floated along.
The colors startled because nothing was as it “should” be, but, instead, the way Dalton decided it to be. The Great Picnic fused geometry with a community; there were conical trees, trapezoidal fish, chain-linked skyscrapers, and half moon cars. Dalton also played with size, creating tiny people and gargantuan bugs. The rich colors, the fun subjects were like dessert, and Dalton’s classmates were all hungry.
With so much to see, no one could take it all in at first glance. Dalton mistook this silence for disapproval, and quickly became sullen. What Dalton didn’t understand at ten years old, was that when something takes your breath away you cannot speak.
Later, Mrs. Shields explained to Dalton about what the reception was like for President Lincoln right after he delivered the Gettysburg Address. “No one applauded nor spoke for several seconds. They were in the presence of greatness, Dalton. Do you understand?” Dalton, like the President, mistook the lack of ovation for disapproval. However, the truth held exactly the opposite. That silence equaled adoration; Dalton’s classmates began to look at Dalton, and their world, a bit differently after The Great Picnic unveiling.
Mrs. Shields recognized that hush, as did several of the children including Melody Gibson who broke the dam of silence by returning Dalton’s compliment. “This is the best thing that anyone has shared.”
Immediately, the kids began firing questions at Dalton.
“What’s the red square in the corner?”
“Is that round thing a house?”
“How did you use spray paint and regular paint? I mean, do you spray it out right onto the picture or somewhere else first?”
And Dalton’s favorite question of all, though he didn’t let on; “How do you know when you are finished?”
“Exactly,” thought Dalton. “Exactly.”
The early silence in the classroom the day that Dalton’s mother left home had spoken volumes; like President Lincoln many years before, Dalton Spoon eventually knew he connected with his audience.
So infused with energy and accomplishment, Dalton couldn’t wait to get home and show his parents. Especially his mother. When she didn’t show up for dinner, or bedtime, or the next morning, things began to get messy in Dalton’s life. The Great Picnic, which made a big splash in May of Dalton’s sixth grade school year, was put away and forgotten about for a very long time.