The Colors of Summer
Characters: Canada (Matthew), England (Arthur), America (Alfred), France (Francis)
Bunny's notes: FACE family, homophobia etc. etc. In angelsxdemons' head-canon, Al and Mattie call Francis 'Papa' and Arthur 'Dad' or 'Daddy'. This was not written to offend any teachers out there. Ms. Brooklyn is simply modeled after several horrible teachers this author had the misfortune of meeting. Also, this fic is Matthew-centric.
"Well Matthew," long, carefully manicured nails drummed against the brilliantly crayoned sheet, "can you read?"
Six-year-old Matthew Williams shifted nervously, chewing hard on his bottom lip, eyes fixed on the polished heels currently tapping along to his heartbeat on the carpet. Nine large, gleaming, plastic diamonds glared up at him from the strap.
Could he read? Yes, yes he could. Not very well perhaps, but better than Alfred anyway. Alfred was never one for books. He rather wished his twin was there with him, but Alfred had stayed home as he had a cold.
Matthew nodded jerkily.
"Then read the instructions on the board please." He turned, small fingers tugging on the long string of his jacket hood. He could feel a dozen pairs of six-year-old eyes fixed on the back of his head. His opened his mouth and out came a stream of incomprehensible gurgling noises.
"What's that boy? Speak up! I can't hear you! And stop fidgeting!" Ms. Brooklyn's harsh bark startled him, and his fingers promptly released the string, arms clamped to his sides in nervous attention. Slowly, he began to read.
"D-d-draw a p-picture of… of your f-family." His voice was barely above a whisper.
"Tell me, Matthew, do you understand those instructions?" Nod again, fingers twisting the edge of his shirt, "then would you care to explain why you haven't drawn your family as specifically instructed?"
Matthew cast a frightened glance at the vivid oil-pastel adorning the thick, smooth sheet. Right in the middle, drawn as a wiggly red square, was a house. The walls were too high and the roof a flattened triangle. Grey, lumpy patches hovered over the house, pouring large, bright blue raindrops over it.
True, Matthew hadn't actually drawn his family, but they were there nonetheless! It was raining, you see, so everyone had to go indoors. After all, it was common knowledge that you had to be indoors when it rained, or you would catch a cold. He couldn't draw people, so he made it rain, and everyone went indoors. He would have loved to say that, but he couldn't.
Matthew was only six. Five and a half to be exact. Five-and-a-half, small, and vulnerable. He was not a teenager. Teenagers are prone to rebellion; teachers are no longer terrifying authoritative figures, but rather a person whose presence meant a text message or two and possibly a nap, if one could be snuck in. He was not an adult either. To an adult, a teacher is nothing more than a fellow being, another poor soul struggling for a place in the world. Five-year-olds, however, are nothing like teenagers or adults. To a child, and a painfully shy one at that, teachers are rarely nice. Mostly, they are dangerous, prowling monsters. Ms. Brooklyn fell into the second category.
"You," she jabbed a long, crimson nail at his nose, "will stay after school to redo this picture. Is that clear?" Matthew opened his mouth; he wanted to object, wanted to point out that his picture really did have his family in it, just inside the house, and besides, it wasn't really fair! Not when he had put so much effort into a subject he absolutely loathed! But still, he closed his mouth, and nodded silently.
The air in the classroom was stifling, a suffocating warmth in the sweltering summer heat. Matthew sat in the front row, trying not to look around the lividly colorful walls where large, distorted crayoned shapes swelled and subsided in grotesquely bloated patterns. He pulled Kumajiro closer to his chest. The pictures hated him! He knew it!
Finally, Ms. Brooklyn swept into the classroom, the hem of her long skirt ghosting across the floor. She lowered herself carefully into the teacher's throne, back stiff, and barked,
"Look sharp boy! We don't have all afternoon you know!" She then disappeared behind a book. Matthew quickly retrieved his crayons and a fresh sheet or drawing paper. The blank, stubbornly white sheet stared back unfeelingly at him.
Slowly, Matthew lifted a rotund, too-large crayon, pressed it to the creamy surface and painstakingly brought it around to form a circle.
He leaned back, proudly surveying the squiggly peach-orange line that wormed its way across the paper. It wasn't too bad, surely! Carefully placing his crayon next to the first circle, he made another. It was slightly larger than the first. Not quite as round either. Matthew tilted his head slightly. The second circle looked rather like a deformed egg. Still, he carried on, blunt crayon forming circle after circle, each patchily colored, until he had four, woefully mismatched blobs across his paper.
Now for the eyes.
He would start with Papa's eyes first.
Papa had blue eyes, the exact shade of the cornflowers along the lane, or so Dad had said. Matthew frowned at his collection of crayons; he only had a deep, mournful sea blue and a startlingly angry bright blue. Matthew didn't know very much about colors, but he did know that neither suited his papa. So he decided to do daddy's eyes instead.
Daddy had green eyes, the color of the sunlit spots dancing across the forest floor, as Papa would say. So Matthew picked out a grassy green crayon and scrawled as neatly as his pudgy hand allowed, two almond shapes onto one of the peach blobs. The result, however, was a dirty orange-green, which made him cringe. Even with his limited knowledge of colors, the combination was horrendous.
He did Alfred next. Alfred had blue eyes as well, but they weren't like his papa's. Dad had once described them as being 'cerulean'. It was a rather complicated word for a six-year-old, especially since he had no idea what 'cerulean' meant. Nevertheless, he decided it had to be some sort of blue. Alfred's eyes were blue too!
Matthew sighed. Drawing was certainly rather dull. Ms. Brooklyn looked up sharply from behind her book.
"Are you done, Matthew?"
"No, Ms. Brooklyn."
"No diddle dawdle then. Hurry now, you've been there twenty minutes already."
Diddle dawdle. Dawdle diddle. Diddle dawdle dawdle diddle. Matthew liked the sound of the word. It reminded him of something round. He let out a soft giggle and hastily stopped when Ms. Brooklyn gave him a sharp look.
Returning to his picture, he decided to do the noses next.
Noses were odd things really. Matthew sat for a moment, brooding over them. In truth, they were just two holes in your face. But he couldn't quite well draw two holes! He may have been bad at art, but even he knew that drawing two holes as noses was a recipe for disaster.
Matthew sighed, eyes circling the classroom. On the left wall was a picture of a pretty young woman, sandwiched between two giggling children: a boy and a girl. A tall, broad-shouldered man stood behind them, arms spread wide, like an eagle watching over its chicks; underneath, in bold, black letters, was printed 'family'. All had rather stupid grins plastered on their faces. Matthew couldn't help staring slightly; the family looked somewhat like his own, albeit having several differences, most noticeably, the replacement of a Daddy with a strange female. They had a papa in the background, but who was the pretty young woman?
Deciding to ignore the problem, Matthew turned back to his picture. If he couldn't do noses, he would just have to do mouths. Those were easy enough. He had seen Alfred draw 'U' shapes wherever mouths were concerned. So Matthew, armed with a thick black crayon proceeded to scrawl four lop-sided 'u' shapes where the mouths would have been. The result was four deformed mouths grinning toothlessly up at him. Matthew sighed heavily.
He would do the hair next.
Those were easy too. Just long, squiggly lines, a little like worms. A blinding, sunshine yellow, and ten minutes later, Matthew was left with four reasonably well-drawn people. Perhaps Papa looked a tad bald, but the four figures looked like his family nonetheless. At least, he could tell the four blobs were people.
So, fiddling with a loose thread on the hem of his jacket, Matthew slipped the colorfully mismatched sheet onto the teacher's table. Ms. Brooklyn heaved a huge sigh, marked the page in her book, and set it down with a dull thud. For a moment, she stared, disinterested, and then said in her flat, monotonous manner,
"Very good. Do you mind introducing them to me?" though she probably wouldn't have cared even if they sprouted tusks before her eyes.
"T-this is me," Matthew pointed a shaking finger at one of the disfigured blobs, "that's Al," another blob, "and Papa," a larger blob this time, "and Dad."
"What?" Matthew looked up nervously. Ms. Brooklyn's face was twisted almost comically into a look of utter disbelief. "What are you blabbering about, child? Who is this you say?" Her finger jabbed harshly at the last blob.
"That is my dad, Ms. Brooklyn."
"And this?" The single accusing finger stabbed at the left-most blob.
"That is my papa, Ms. Brooklyn." Matthew tried not to bite his lip. Dad told him it was not nice to do it in front of other people.
"Nonsense!" she snapped, eyes narrowed. "You cannot have a papa and a dad! Which one is your mother?" Matthew's stare fell onto his shoe laces. In truth, he had always wondered why his family didn't have a female figure in it. All the other children at school seemed to have a mother, someone to hold their hands after school and make them delicious lunchboxes he and Al shared whenever Dad had the misfortune of preparing meals.
One of the earliest things Matthew had noticed was that Papa and Daddy never went out together. Sometimes, Papa took Alfred and him shopping; other times, Daddy took them to the cinema or the park.
But they never went together.
It was always either Papa or Daddy, one or the other, always partitioned by an invisible wall.
He remembered asking his Papa about this once. He had been sitting on the kitchen countertop, sulking slightly as Papa stirred cake batter in a large metal bowl. Daddy had gone out with Alfred for groceries but he, Matthew had to stay behind as he had had a fever.
"Papa, can we play hockey tomorrow?"
"Mm…" Francis added a large dollop of butter into the mixture, "alright then, if you're feeling up to it."
"Can Daddy come too?" A brief, unreadable expression flitted across the handsome features.
"No, Mathieu." His answer was oddly short.
"Why ever not?" Matthew had grown impatient, small feet kicking against the marble countertop. "Papa, why do you never go out with Dad?" There was a brief pause. Matthew could feel tears, searing hot, welling up at the corners of his eyes, "do you… do you hate him?" The last sentence fell as a bare whisper, uncertain, childish in its right. For a moment, Matthew remained fearfully silent, watching as his papa swirled the mixture in its bowl, wondering if he had said something wrong.
"I don't hate him cher," his papa replied softly. He pushed a spoon covered in batter into the younger boy's mouth, "in fact, I love him very much. But it's complicated. You'll understand when you grow older." Matthew opened his mouth to argue. He was old enough surely! However, before he could speak, the kitchen door flew open and the Alfred rushed in, stumbling slightly with the large bag of groceries in hand.
Until now, Matthew had forgotten about that incident, especially since they had not gone for hockey the next day. Now, as Ms. Brooklyn breathed down his neck like an angry rhinoceros, the question returned, clear as day: why had his parents never gone out together? Was this perhaps the answer? Because there was no 'mother'?
"Do it again, Matthew," she snapped, pushing the picture rather forcefully back into his face, "and this time, make sure you draw your mother."
So Matthew, who was ready to burst into tears, sat back down with a fresh sheet of creamy white drawing paper. And again, he formed the distorted circles that made up the heads, the mismatched eyes and crooked 'U' shapes for the mouths. Only this time, he drew the Daddy-blob with far longer hair, and added a little pink to the mouth like he had seen the girls do.
Twenty minutes later, he found himself once more before Ms. Brooklyn's desk, watching as she scrutinized his picture. Finally, she said,
"You may go now."
Quickly, Matthew stuffed all the crayons into his backpack and made a rush for the door. Outside, the playground was empty, forlorn. The sun had disappeared behind thickening gray clouds. The air smelled of ozone. From overhead, thunder rumbled.
"Mattie! Mattie, over here!" And there was Alfred, bouncing excitedly in the front seat of the car, with Daddy at the wheel looking rather impatient.
"Gosh Mattie, where have you been? Everyone else came out hours ago!" Alfred whined as Matthew climbed into the backseat.
"Where were you Matthew?" Matthew turned a furious scarlet as he stared at his mother-figure from the rearview mirror, "Honestly, I was going to call the police if you didn't turn up soon!" Burning with shame, Matthew tried hiding his face in his jacket. There was nothing left to it.
"Ms. Brooklyn held me back in class." He mumbled, sinking as low as he could into the cushion.
"Why?" So Matthew, in a small voice, told him of the afternoon's drawing class. When he finished, there was a long silence.
"Ms. Brooklyn's a meanie!" Alfred wiggled around in his seat to face Matthew, "don't worry Mattie, I'm the hero! I'll beat up that meanie for you!"
"Al, you can't go around beating people up," said Arthur sharply. Matthew wondered if it was a trick of the light, but his dad looked oddly bitter.
"Why ever not?" Alfred whined, folding his arms across his chest.
"It's not gentlemanly. Or Heroic," he added as Alfred opened his mouth to speak.
"Hey dad," Alfred tugged at Arthur's sleeve, one chubby finger pointing out the window at a brightly colored ice-cream parlor, "can we have ice-cream? Please? We haven't had ice-cream in weeks!" Usually Arthur would have rejected the idea, complained that ice-cream was far too fattening, but…
Even before Arthur had pulled the car to a stop, Alfred had already tumbled out of his seat, squirming from excitement, with Matthew following shyly behind. Overhead, thunder clapped as it began to rain.
Bunny: Angelsxdemons didn't like this chapter very much! Apparently it has something to do with pink instant noodles.
Doggy: *sighs* How did I get stuck with you? Angelsxdemons did not like this chapter. She thinks it was too much like Chapter One. That, and her muse has gone on holiday in the Maldives.
Bunny: Which is why Doggy and I are here, stranded on this beach. We were supposed to be hunting for it, but…
Doggy: You know Bunny, I don't believe this is the Maldives at all. I don't think they speak Russian.
Bunny: I know it isn't. I booked us two tickets to Australia~
Doggy: Why you idiot!
Angelsxdemons: *sighs* Review please~