I learned to draw from my neighbour Harp we called him, although his name was Greg, but by the time he moved in across the street, the name Greg was taken by my baby brother who I wanted to call Max because of Get Smart but it didn’t work out.
Harp stayed on his driveway and drew with chalk which he also ate and I howled to my mother he’s eating the chalk again and all she howled back was I know when I was expecting a solution. Among other things, I wondered about the colour of his poo and its buoyancy but when I got to know him, one step at a time, I saw that he was only licking the chalk so as to achieve a thicker, bolder, more meaningful stroke.
I knew right away Harp was drawing at me and I watched through my bedroom window but this was the60s and suburban neighbourhoods were new and important so my mother hauled me out of the house and pushed me without being obvious about it across the street. I shook myself loose on the road just before Harp’s driveway and she kept on going, on the grass because Harp’s expression went like The Scream when her foot hovered
over his canvas.
Harp’s mother opened the door and my mother twirled inside and Harp put himself in a chalk box and I rode my bike up and down the street, all the houses except ours still under construction.
All he drew were stripes everybody thought but I knew they were trees because, like I said, they were aimed at me and I saw the trees become forests so dense and secret like gnarled fairy tales until it rained and they were gone forever in a beautiful pale path of residue that lined our street always.
We’d recently made plaster of paris hands at school for Mother’s Day gifts, gruesome things chopped at the wrist, and my mother put mine on her dresser so it looked like I was crouched inside, my exposed hand offering rubber bands, change, thumbtacks, bobby pins. There had been leftover chunks of the plaster – forearms and elbows, broken thumbs, knuckles and other appendages – and we pocketed the bits and after school a bunch of us drew all over the pavement. I made the letter m that looked like a bird one way and a bum the other, while braver kids spelled s-h-i-t and f-u-c-k.
I went to the store sometimes with a note, for cigarettes or bread mostly, and one time I asked Mr. Wilkes if he had plaster of paris and he hauled out a big bag and I hauled it home in the carrier of my bike, my front wheel very wobbly. My mother yelled at me but I told her I wanted to make chalk for Harp and she stirred while I searched the house for shapes and we poured the lovely smooth goo into greased tin cans, cracker boxes lined with stretch and seal, paper towel tubes, toys. The food colouring was her idea and when I gave the big box to Harp, all the shapes and colours like pieces of broken castles, his blue chalky lips smiled.
After the next rain when he drew his box he made the line at the base of his driveway dotted and I was allowed in. He let me populate the forest with birds and lizards. He pointed out swirls of chalk with pavement eyes and I gathered them into monsters. When his mother made us matching red capes, I introduced miniature Supermen into the forest, their horizontal capes like gashes.
He watched like I was on TV while I rode my bike up and down the street my cape bubbling behind me.
Eventually I got him through the dots and turned out he wasn’t so afraid as long as we went one step at a time. He started to talk about the same time my little brother Greg did and his ideas were far bigger than mine, maybe because they’d been hidden for so long I don’t know, but sometimes they were too big for words and he’d draw them instead, on paper with blue cartridge pen which blobbed sometimes and he’d hand the page to me so I could turn the blobs into monsters.
Everybody got greedy when our trees got huge and there was a housing boom in established neighbourhoods. We sold our house and Harp’s family sold theirs.
We kept in touch for a long time me and Harp. Last I heard he was a pilot up north, the crop duster kind, with a side hustle as sky writer and that’s what I think of when the sky is pink in the morning, like maybe it’s Harp’s beautiful residue again.