The Boy in the Gray Hoodie

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TWELVE | Glass House

“I can be quiet you know,” Lisa stated, eyeing Pam over a ham sandwich. “You don’t have to worry about that.”

Pam made a wry face, quirking one side of her mouth upward.

“What is that face? Don’t even look at me like that.”

“What face?” she asked innocently between bites. “This is just my face. I was born with it. It’s not Maybelline.”

“Yeah, I know you don’t believe me, but I won’t get in your hair. Whatever dad said, don’t believe him. I can stay out of trouble.”

Pam looked genuinely surprised. She slowly swallowed a mouthful of bread before she spoke. “What is it you think daddy dearest planted in my brain?”

Lisa blinked, hesitant to answer. “Uh...stuff. Lies. Or...maybe...his interpretation of the truth?” she tried weakly, guessing from the woman’s expression that she’d have to get creative. “I mean, I did get expelled, but that’s only because the principal had it out for me ever since the penis. And I know that I haven’t exactly been a role model when it comes to ideal student behavior, but I never actually hurt anyone and I think that should make up for...some of it.” That wasn’t very creative.

Pam had frozen in her seat, elbows firmly planted against the butcher block, a silver knife glinting between her arms. She hadn’t cleaned up from making sandwiches—her house was never clean or tidy, though it had its own special form of organization—and the evidence was just a bit threatening. Lisa waited for her to say something, to have some reaction. Slowly, Pam placed her sandwich on the little glass plate and picked up her ice water. She sipped slowly through the straw, thinking.

“Dad didn’t tell you any of that, did he?” Lisa asked slowly.

Pam gave her a lazy smile and a quick, firm shake of the head.

Defeated, Lisa flopped back in her seat. The truth had a way of coming out on its own when Pam was around. ” She mumbled.

“You never have been able to keep a secret in this house,” Pam affirmed with a gentle shrug. “But don’t worry. I’m not one to judge. I have ghosts in my past. Skeletons in the attic. Live cats in my basement walls...”

Lisa’s eyebrows shot up. “What?” she asked, confused.

“Bad Poe reference. Sorry. I mean I have my own dirty little secrets that I don’t want anyone to know about. And I certainly don’t want people thinking less of me because of the choices I’ve made. How long have we known each other?”

“Uh, counting the years since I last came to visit or excluding those in-between times?” Lisa asked, pushing aside the mental picture of cats scratching in the dark behind walls.

Pam rolled her eyes. “Point being that I have known you long enough to see the good in you first. I am a little bit curious about the whole ‘penis’ thing that you mentioned in passing, but also, it’s getting really late and I think it’s time for us to make a decision.”

Lisa glanced at the digital clock on the stove, surprised to see that the afternoon had crept up on them much sooner than expected. She’d been with Pam for over four hours already. It hadn’t taken either of them long to get caught up on the five years spent apart, but that was always easy. Not much happens on the peninsula. And not much happens to irresponsible teenagers who find vulgar explanations for English terms and get themselves expelled for writing expletives on government walls. Then again, maybe a few things had happened. But not enough to fill up more than a couple of hours before they both got a little too tired of talking and a little too hungry. Pam had popped the ham and cheese out of the fridge before either of them had a chance to come to an agreement on what to eat before they headed out to the V—Pam’s special name for Vancouver, where she did all her pre-holiday shopping.

“I think it’s a no-go.” Pam said regretfully. “I love midnight adventures, but the roads haven’t been great and my tires are getting a little bald.”

“Well...” Lisa stuck out her lower lip in thought. “We could take dad’s car.”

Pam blinked in that stupidly endearing way. “I forgot that was an option.”

It wasn’t an option—not really. James had left the car there and hired an Uber to take him back to Salem. It would cost an arm and a leg but he had a few of those to spare. It didn’t make much sense why he decided to leave his precious vehicle with them, but Lisa hadn’t questioned the choice. Something about making sure Pam had a backup in case her “clunker” finally fell to pieces. It was true that her Jeep Cherokee was older than the hills but it had never stopped running before. Sure, it had that ugly fake-wood siding and two dead fog lights out of four, but that had never stopped it from getting around. Those were what Pam called “cosmetic issues” and required “no never mind.” Her exact words.

“James would have an aneurysm,” Pam noted.

“He’d never know.”

“Ha! You think he doesn’t check the mileage? He’ll know,” Pam argued with a shake of her head. “It’s a nope.”

Lisa huffed and grumbled under her breath, pouting as she pushed what was left of her cheese sandwich across the table. “I guess I’ll just die of boredom. Better here than at home, anyway.”

“What is this? I’m supposed to entertain you every second? I thought you said you’d stay out of my hair,” Pam looked at her accusingly.

“Dead bodies don’t bother anyone.” She mumbled in response. “You could just put me out of my misery.”

“You think death is a joke?”

Lisa rested her head on the back of the chair, arms dangling at her sides. She shook her head wordlessly.

“Okay, look. I’ve got some work I need to do upstairs. Why don’t you walk down to the Fantastical Shed of Wonders and get some artsy-fartsy in your bloodstream?”

Lisa perked up. “The shed? I thought your pottery stuff was in there?”

“It is. But I needed a home office, so I moved all my paint stuff in there too. It’s actually pretty nice. Just plug in the heater and get it all warmed up. Do some creative stuff and feel better.” She patted Lisa on the head and turned to leave the kitchen, her socked feet sliding purposefully across the laminate flooring like an ice skater in a rink.

Lisa sat for a moment, considering whether or not she’d rather lounge around the house like a zombie than walk all the way down the hill to the shed. Making her mind up quickly, she bolted from her seat and grabbed her sneakers at the door. Stuffing her arms into one of Pam’s coats, she slid her feet into the shoes, flattening the back of each one like slippers. There was no need to pull them all the way on. They’d be off as soon as she reached the shed and got it warmed up.

She clomped down the porch and onto the gravel, pausing in the rain. Tasting the pine and cedar in the drizzle, Lisa stood for just a moment in the open with her head upturned. The wind picked up, cold air kissing her cheeks. “Mm,” she sighed, her shoulders rising and falling with her breath. This was more of a home to her than the house in Salem had ever been. She’d forgotten how great it felt to be in the woods, away from school and people—her father especially. That dead weight on her shoulders had lifted as soon as she’d seen him get into the Uber. What made it even better was the fact that the car that came to pick him up was one of those really old trucks, brown, with one blue door and a busted taillight. There were chunks of mud up and down the sides from puddle-vomit. The thought of her father—a very well-paid doctor—riding in the front seat of that old clunker...it was just too good. Made her laugh just thinking about it.

“You gonna stand there all day or go Picasso-nate my shed?” Pam called down from the open second-story window. That room used to be her art studio. It might have been turned into an office now, but Lisa knew it would still smell like unwashed paintbrushes and dust. She’d have to check it out later when Pam wasn’t busy. See how different it looked.

“I’m going,” she called, trudging carefully down the hill. Her shoes threatened to come off, but she managed to avoid soaking her socks in the wet grass by scrunching her toes and sliding her feet forward. When she reached the shed door, she had to pull off the open padlock and set it aside before she could undo the latch.

What Pamela called a “shed” was actually more like a greenhouse with a tin roof. The front, made of pine and covered with driftwood that Pam had collected at the beach, faced the driveway while the sides and back looked out onto the woods through little glass blocks and thick-paned windows. It was a mixture of old barn glass and some jury-rigged mosaics of cubes and broken shards. In the summer, the sun came through and turned the whole room into rainbows. But as the weather grew colder, the whole thing turned to a cage of fog—a little creepy, if Lisa was honest about it—but great for allowing a sense of privacy despite the walls of windows.

The door slid open barn-style, but the driftwood made it impossible to push it all the way over. Lisa had to squeeze inside, her jeans pocket catching on the rough end of a warped, arching stick that looked vaguely familiar. Pushing its point out of her pocket, she gave it a closer look. There was a tiny heart carved on one end. “My love stick,” she mumbled, surprised and distracted by how moss had started to grow in the cracks of the wood. She’d found it on the beach the last time she was here, scouring the tide for shells, glass, and whatever else the ocean spit up without realizing how cool it was. Although looking at it now, she couldn’t figure out what had been so cool about this stick.

“We’ll have to go hunting again now that you’re back.”

“Gah!” Lisa jumped, scraping her hand on the doorframe as she backed into the shed. Pam laughed in a startled, apologetic way. “Jeez, give me a heart attack why don’t you?”

“Sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Lisa brushed the slivers from the back of her hand, wincing as the scrape burned under her touch.

“You okay?” Pam asked, trying to get a look at her hand.

“I’m fine,” she replied quickly. “Just a scratch.”

Relieved, Pam glanced up at the front of the shed. “You used to find all the best stuff. I’m a pretty good finder myself, but there was always something special about the things you brought back.” Pam eyed the knickknacks and took a second to point out individual pieces of wood and shell and glass that she’d hung up for decoration. “Those are all yours,” she said. Lisa came back outside to take a look, staring at the chunks of shell and glass—still caked with sand after all this time—and warped, weird little twists of wood, viewing each thing with a critical eye.

“They’re ugly.”

“And broken,” Pam added, sliding her arm onto Lisa’s shoulder and giving her arm a light squeeze. “You could always see the sparkle under all the dirt. You thought these things were beautiful. Special.”

“There’s no sparkle. It’s just ugly,” Lisa insisted, her brow furrowed as she tried to see what Pam was talking about. How could she have ever thought any of this junk was beautiful? What was special about broken glass?

Pam leaned back to give her a long look.

Lisa frowned. “What?”

Her eyes had turned sad, her smile fading. “It’s easy to think that way, isn’t it? To look at the stuff nobody wants to deal with and think it’s garbage, and not look any deeper.” She shook her head slowly. “I never thought you were one to take the easy road.”

Lisa felt a tightness in her throat at the disapproval in Pam’s tone. She was judging her, and even though it wasn’t meant to be harsh or mean, Lisa couldn’t help feeling picked on. “Well, a lot changes in five years,” she said, her voice a little sharp.

“True. But some things just get put away, you know.”

“Put away?”

“You were always the kid in the story who would bring home a monster and think it was a puppy.” Pam looked her in the eye. “The world is a different place with that kind of thinking. Some people choose to change how they see things when they grow up. Put away old ideas, even the ones that were good.”

“Monsters are not puppies,” Lisa stated.

“It’s all a matter of perspective.” Pam shrugged, letting her arm drop from Lisa’s shoulder as she backed up. “I’ll come get you when there’s afternoon food,” she said, her smile back again.

Lisa’s brow shot up. “You mean dinner?”

“Probably,” Pam said, her back already turned toward Lisa and the shed.

“Has anybody ever told you that you talk in riddles?” Lisa demanded playfully, Pam’s smile lifting her mood a little.

“You can’t take what people say about you to heart,” Pam shouted back without turning around. “That’s how you lose yourself.”

Lisa frowned, the lump in her throat coming back. “You can’t lose what isn’t there!” she retorted. Pam probably wouldn’t take her words seriously—no one did—but she felt their truth in her bones, aching under her skin.

Without a second glance at the front of the shed, Lisa went inside and slid the door closed behind her. The room, gray and dim from the weak light streaming in through the windows, was filled wall-to-wall with art paraphernalia. Canvases, each one painted with colorful abstract shapes, leaned against tables cluttered with jars of old brushes, lumps of plastic-covered clay, caddies with markers, pencils, and squeezy bottles of glue and oil paint. There were a few more brushes to fill the gaps between stacks of paper and unpainted sculptures. The clay figures looked similar to familiar objects—a cup, a bowl, something that could’ve been either a lily pad or a dinner plate—and others were monstrous, shapeless creatures made out of clay. Some of them had been baked so long they’d cracked. None had been glazed and only one sculpture—a flower with clumsy, thick petals—had been painted and sprayed with sealant. Lisa picked it up, feeling a little silly for liking the ugly thing. It was obvious that Pam had taken such care when she made it. Even though the fat petals were hardly worth painting, the delicate strokes of color faded from yellow at the tip to a deep pink in the center, with tiny red veins spreading out from the bottom. If it had been formed more delicately, the paint would’ve made it look almost real.

The stuff Pam had said about seeing beauty in ugly things made sense when Lisa looked at the flower. It was hideous...but she couldn’t deny that there was something pretty about it as well. It would look nice in a planter on a window sill, with rocks and succulents around it. Sure, it would stand out in an awkward, cartoonish way. Maybe that’s what made it cool.

Setting the flower back on the table, Lisa went about gathering supplies. She had never tried pottery and didn’t know where to begin. But, there were colored pencils scattered everywhere and a big, dust-covered box of paper getting damp by the window at the other end of the shed. She hadn’t drawn anything in a long time. It seemed easier to paint than sketch at this point since one indulged spontaneity and the other required planning. If she wanted to draw, she needed to know where to start. Painting had always developed much more naturally, the colors building on each other until their form became clear. But there were no empty canvases and plenty of paper. Besides, she had an idea about what she wanted to draw.

The flower bloomed on the paper, each petal christened with a dewdrop or a wrinkle—anything to distract the eye from the flaw of her shadowing. She’d never been great at that. When it was done, she had a rose-like bud and several leaves twisting along the edge of the paper. Behind the flower, she drew shapes with sharp, straight angles, turning the whole thing into an abstract face, like the kind you see in stained glass windows at a church. She gave him a small mouth and a very large blue eye. Lisa paused. The eye reminded her of the boy in her dream.

Still clutching her pencil, she scrambled onto her feet and looked harder for an empty canvas. There were a few that had only a few strokes of paint—projects Pam had started and undoubtedly intended to finish—but nothing blank that she could use. Hand cupping the curve of her hip, Lisa took another look around the shed. There had to be something she could use. Some old poster paper, a wooden crate, something—there! Next to the heater that she had forgotten to turn on sat a large piece of cardboard. It was the size of her bedroom window at home, and it was perfect. The pencil dropped as she used both hands to carry it over to the space she’d made for herself. A circle of papers and pencils spread wider as she added paints and brushes to the mess. The cardboard was too big to lay it inside the circle. Using a couple of the larger, more grotesque sculptures Pam had laying around, Lisa propped up her “canvas” and got to work choosing her colors.

The boy’s face took shape in her mind, his distorted features spreading out across the mirror like a reflection on water that had been disturbed by dropping a stone into it. Despite the recentness of the dream, it was hard for Lisa to remember exactly what he’d looked like. The thing she recalled most clearly was the blue of his eyes right before they turned black. She filled in the rest of his face with what she could remember from outside her dream. The boy in that room, the one who couldn’t breathe. No longer sure that he and the boy in her dream were the same person, she decided to combine the two. The result was a haunting, half-distorted face that seemed at once horrific and sad. The eye that wasn’t melting in a ripple of gradient blues and blacks conveyed a surprising sort of ache—the kind that cut right through her as she looked at him. It glistened, white and light blue giving it a dewy quality. Even when the paint dried, that eye would still look like liquid pain.

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