Chapter 23 – Gnosis
When Marley woke, she felt better than she could ever remember feeling. She had a memory of swimming once, as the ebbs and flows of the water caressed her body. This was better. She could feel herself being rocked gently, but she felt secure and safe.
She sat up. The nurse was in her rolling chair, facing her, as she smiled and encouraged, “Your friends are just outside waiting for you.”
Marley’s eyes widened and she pushed aside the covers with a look of embarrassment, as she muttered, “They shouldn’t have…”
Jessica leaned through the doorway and chimed in, “We had to.” Marisa leaned in above her and added, “Class wouldn’t be worth it without you.” Marley bowed her head but couldn’t hide a blush and a smile as she received her backpack from Jessica and applied its comforting weight to her shoulders. Mona offered a few words of friendly encouragement before sending Marley and the others on their way.
Despite the desire to slip behind her friends, they slipped their arms around hers and walked as a group down the hall. Picking her head up and letting her embarrassment drop away, Marley smiled a contented smile as she carried herself together with Jessica and Marisa.
The next class had already started but their art teacher welcomed them with open arms and invited them to join in a sketch session. The fact his name wasn’t written anywhere in the room, and that she couldn’t recall it, wasn’t something which worried Marley. She liked art class. The teacher was the polar opposite of Mrs. Sims: Open to trying anything and willing to let them go creatively. He dressed in a flowing blue and red robe with quick but careful hand gestures. He chuckled all the time and rubbed his glossy, bald head like a lucky charm.
Even then, sketching wasn’t easy for Marley. She stared at the page without any idea of what she wanted to create. She’d drawn a landscape last time, but it didn’t look right. Jessica and Marisa both told her it was fine. That didn’t satisfy her though.
After a little bit of agonizing and poking the paper with her pencil, she leaned over to see what Jessica was drawing. It turned out to be a rough sketch of Marley as she’d been sleeping in the nurse’s office. Marley blushed and considered something pretty for Jessica in return.
Marisa, surprising no one, had decided to reimagine the only two boys in class as girls. Marley didn’t know their names but one of them was kinda pale and had a lighter shade of Jessica’s red hair. The other was a bit stockier and had a messy, mottled version of Marisa’s blond hair but cropped closer than hers had been since she was little. The teacher even leaned in with a pose and Marisa added a circle of his head before focusing carefully.
Marley smiled. She didn’t understand Marisa’s enjoyment of transforming boys nor did she question it. It was just Marisa. Quietly, she wished for Marisa’s creation to be as fun and fully-realized as she wished.
Meanwhile, Marley focused on trying not to spoil the surprise of Jessica’s sketch as she eyeballed her. It wasn’t long before she at least had an idea. It was ambitious, but she wanted something Jessica would love. She imagined the trees outside and the grass and sky with a smattering of clouds above. She mentally-added some houses in the background and then detailed the flow and flex of Jessica’s musculature. She imagined her flipping up in the air to kick the ball she’d noticed outside the window during homeroom. The eye ball. With a smirk, Marley added details of a real eye without trying to make it gross. She focused on Jessica’s athletic pose and her poise as she kicked the ball like a professional soccer player, curving in the air and defying gravity. It was an image worthy of being for Jessica and Jessica alone.
It was clear in her mind as she resolved to set pencil to paper but the trees didn’t look right with the perspective no matter how many times she tried to add them. Erasing left gray marks on the page. The houses looked terrible too. Eventually, she decided to focus on Jessica instead. She followed her vision with quivering eyes locked on the paper. She was going to make this drawing. But each detail spiraled into a tepid shadow of her expectations. She could get the pose, but it looked cartoony rather than natural. A human blob trying to bend towards a ball. At least the ball was drawn, even though it looked like it was just pasted into the image instead of something with weight.
She knew, with all Teacher had taught them, that she should’ve gone bit by bit from an outlined drawing to a more developed one. There were so many other things she should’ve done better. But she just wanted to make the image in her head so badly. She closed her eyes to pull back tears and sighed.
“Is that me? It’s amazing!”
Jessica’s voice suddenly made her heart race. Her eyes darted open and she dashed away the wetness before putting on a smile. She was about to stammer something when Jessica held up the paper with a beaming smile on her face. It was her paper. It was her art. But she hadn’t drawn that, had she? It was gorgeous!
All the details she imagined were there. The shading, the motion, and the perspective but it also balanced background detail and the determination of Jessica’s face as she booted the wide eye ball with her foot. Marley blushed and wondered if she hadn’t been too hard on herself as she was drawing it. Although, had it really looked like that? She was convinced it had been, but she still couldn’t quite believe she’d created it.
All Marley could do was give a shy nod as Jessica grinned and gave her a big hug. Then Jessica shared hers, which delighted Marley for all the rippling details of the blanket and the flattery of her face by her best friend’s pencil.
“Ooo…I’m always excited by what you three draw. Beautiful work!” The teacher clapped her hands with a smile and gave glowing praise for what Jessica and Marley had made as she moved on to Marisa’s sketch with a pleased gasp.
The teacher brushed her long, black hair back and looked closely at Marisa’s drawing. It had just the straps of her fluttering, robe-like dress with red and blue bands that flowed like raspberries and ice. Her Native American necklace dangled and made little noises as she looked across the way at the two girls Marisa had sketched along with their teacher. With a smiling nod, she told Marisa, “I think it’s your best work yet!”
Marisa gave a faint smile and noted, “Yeah…but it’s a shame that there aren’t any boys in class to draw as girls.” The teacher gave her a pat on the shoulder and moved on to the next student.
Faintly, vaguely, Marley felt like something was amiss. Marisa passed her and Jessica the sketch to inspect. Beside the teacher’s likeness, which was spot-on, she’d also nailed the blond and redheaded girls across from them. The blond had a neater, but more dirty blonde version of Marisa’s hair but she’d captured the look of it, which was especially impressive because it was longer than Marisa’s hair had ever been. The redhead, pale with freckles and a figure to make Marley a little jealous, had just as nice a smile in Marisa’s version as she did in real life.
Passing the sketch across the way, Marisa got a flurry of compliments from the two as they asked if they could make photocopies of it. The original went up on the wall with the others.
Looking around the room, Marley reminded herself that art class had always been all-girls, including Ms. M (she grumbled that she’d only remembered her initial and not her name). Not that Marley really thought about it. The other girls had their clusters and their drawings of male models they always passed around with titters. She had Jessica and Marisa and that was all that mattered to her.
The bell chimed as they made their way to their next class, math. It was more painless than usual because of assigned groups which fortunately put her back together with Jessica and Marisa. It wasn’t all chat and fun though as Jessica stared down at each problem with brutal intent and Marisa used her flawless handwriting to record their work and answers. Marley offered what she could, but it all seemed a blur to her, one after another of the same thing, repeated again and again. Fortunately, the end of class came more quickly than she expected, leading them to PE and Jessica’s prancing expectation of reenacting Marley’s artwork.
PE was mostly boys with a flock of them converging at the narrow door on their side of the gym. Marley noticed Marisa’s hesitation and gaze. She did it especially for PE because of how guys and girls were separated into teams. She was reimagining each of them just like the three of them. Just like their art class.
In a smiling moment of solidarity, Marley imagined it too. She imagined that one end of the gym was the first girl’s lockers and the one on the far end was the other set of girl’s lockers. Feeling this idea, she glanced up and noticed a girl's pickup game of basketball in brown and gold school sweats (the school colors). Then, a group of girls hung out together and waiting for their coach. Some girls running sprints. Some girls firing stubbed arrows out into a marked-off area of the field with targets in the distance. Other girls in one-piece swimsuits walking towards the covered pool on the roof of the gym. And, by the door…
No. That was silly. Marley gave a long blink and the guy's lockers were backed up with boys. Jessica gave Marley a tap on the back and they went on into the girl’s lockers. Because of the chill in the air, they had to break out their heavier pants and tops. They would be sticky with sweat by the end of class but at least they wouldn’t be freezing like last time when they had to hide behind trees with every swell of the cold breeze.
Sitting on the bench before her locker, Marley adjusted her hair. It didn’t swoop enough to the side. She fussed until she felt something running through it. Softly, Jessica whispered, “Remember when we used to brush each other's hair during sleepovers?”
Marley nodded. Since they were little. They actually tormented each other’s hair time and again with little experiments. The fact they weren’t bald was what Marley’s mom called a minor miracle. The day they burned off a big patch of Marisa’s hair at its longest was a dark day and the beginning of many hats for her. Fortunately, it turned out that Marisa liked it shorter. She even worked on a wig from some of her hair to force on neighbor boys who lived nearby.
The brushing felt nice, comforting, almost as comforting as the nurse’s touch before she rested. Sitting there, Marley thought about the nurse. She was certain she’d seen her somewhere else. Not around school. Perhaps around town somewhere? She reminded herself that, despite all appearances, the people at the school had lives outside of it.
When Jessica was done with her hair (with the swoop back in its proper place), Marisa scooted over for a brush too before they headed out.