This story is by Susan J Liddle and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Jason sat in the quiet kitchen, finally alone, and stared at the last empty page in his sketchbook. He’d found it tucked in with the old yearbooks he was looking for to show the kids what people looked like in prehistoric times. How long had it been since he’d sketched? Since he’d done anything creative besides trying to keep the kids interested in their lessons?
He picked up a pencil and turned it end over end. Why did he feel so restless? It wasn’t about the kids—he felt closer to them than ever, privileged to spend every day with them.
After months of lockdown, he missed doing new things, seeing different people. He walked with the kids every day, chatted on video with friends and family, but never saw anyone new. No surprise interactions with strangers. No shared smiles or jokes with a cashier or people in line, since they were getting everything delivered or picking it up curbside. Maybe it wasn’t the strangers he missed, but the variety of people, the possibilities for mystery.
Being a stay-at-home parent to three children aged 5, 8, and 11 years old was fascinating and rewarding, tedious and constricting. His days were fun and drudgery, baking-soda-and-vinegar volcanoes and never-ending clean-ups. He was finally mastering fractions, and that was something.
Linda and he had agreed—she had the best salary and benefits, so it made sense for him to stay home with the kids. They were lucky they could afford it, with a little penny pinching. And compared to Linda’s job as a nurse, his life was a vacation. He saw how exhausted and emotionally drained she was after every shift.
He was using energy, sure, but he wasn’t exercising his creativity the way he had at work.
Jason touched the tip of the pencil to the paper and drew a line, then another.
A feeling of rightness settled on him.
Here, with paper and pencil, he was fully and only Jason, limited only by his imagination and skill—and the one page of space he had left to draw in.
When he set the pencil down later, he’d filled the page with tiny furniture: a chair, a comfy couch with pillows and a blanket draped over it, a tiny end table. He’d even drawn a small stack of books.
He was tired, but a quiet tingle of joy had replaced the restlessness.
He grinned and put the sketchbook on top of the fridge. He’d work on fitting a new sketchbook into the budget.
The next morning, while the kids ate breakfast, he got the sketchbook down.
“Want to see some sketches I did?” he asked, opening the book.
He flipped to the last page, only to find it blank.
Could one of the kids have erased the sketches? There was no sign of rubbing, no little bits of eraser. Where was the tiny furniture? Had he imagined drawing last night?
No, he still felt that spark of joy.
Was he losing his mind?
“It’s gone,” he said.
He shook his head and set the book aside. He could think about this later.
“Okay, kids. Once you’re done, dishes to the dishwasher. Mom should be home any minute. After she has her shower, you can give her hugs before she heads to bed. Then we’ll go for our walk.”
The kids were staring at him.
“Are you mad that your pictures disappeared?” asked Lizzie.
“Maybe you’re sad,” said Angie. “Say what you feel.”
“Aha!” he said. “You do listen to me!”
He wanted to laugh it off. But what did he always tell them? Acknowledge the emotion.
“I’m sad that the drawings are gone,” he said. “But mostly I’m confused and curious, because I don’t know how they disappeared.”
He looked at each of them.
“Do you have any ideas?” he asked.
All three shook their heads.
Then Lizzie said, “Maybe it’s magic!”
“Hm,” he said.
The next morning, he stood at the counter cradling his coffee cup, looking at the sketchbook’s empty page.
Voices, then running feet.
Here comes the breakfast stampede.
“Good Friday morning!” he said to them and put plates of toast on the table next to their apples.
When they were all sitting down, he said, “Lizzie, Angie, Charlie. I need to ask you something.”
They looked up.
“Did any of you erase the drawings from my sketchbook?”
He held it up so they could see the blank page.
“It happened again. I drew something last night on the last page. Now the drawing is gone, and I want to know if any of you erased it.”
They shook their heads.
“Dad,” said Angie, “Maybe you drew on a different page.”
“Remember, I showed you yesterday. There aren’t any empty spots left except this one.”
He fanned the pages.
Then Lizzie said, “Daddy, now you have more space to draw in!”
Jason smiled. Even at eight years old, she was a master at finding silver linings.
“I took a picture. Here’s what I drew for you,” he said, handing them his phone.
Three little skateboards and helmets, one with tiny skulls and flowers, one with unicorns, one with dinosaurs. Safety equipment, and a pair of those sneakers Angie wanted so much.
“Dinos!” said Charlie.
Angie rolled her eyes. “You’re such a dad! I can’t believe you drew knee pads and gloves!”
She took a closer look. “Aw, cute Converse!”
“What are you going to draw tonight, Daddy?” asked Lizzie.
“I’m not sure yet,” he said.
That night, he drew a tent, a sleeping bag, a camp stove, and a picnic table with dishes sitting on it.
On a whim, he added a question mark under the drawing, then signed his name.
He woke early the next morning to the sound of the kids shushing each other as they jockeyed for space on the bed. He groaned when hard little toes dug into his ribs, then he tickled the kids out of bed and down the hall to their bedroom.
They were excited. They knew Linda’s schedule as well as he did. After this shift, she had four days off, which meant more family time.
He pulled the sketchbook down and glanced at it quickly, unsurprised to see the blank last page. He set it on the pile of colouring books.
They stayed busy all morning while Linda slept, but he kept pondering the mystery. Would one of the kids erase his drawings and lie about it? That worried him. If they weren’t lying, what plausible explanation was there? Was he having creative hallucinations? But he had pictures!
Things happen in threes in fairy tales. He didn’t even know where to go with that thought.
When Linda wandered in after lunch and sat down, the kids were colouring at the table while Jason demonstrated perspective on the inside cover of a colouring book.
Jason got up to start the coffee, then returned to rest his hands on Linda’s shoulders.
“Welcome to your weekend,” he said. “How are things at the hospital?”
“The same,” she replied. “Everyone’s tired and stressed.”
She reached over and plucked the sketchbook from the pile in the middle of the table.
“I haven’t seen this for a while,” she said. “Have you been drawing again?”
“I have,” he said, and flipped it open to the last page. “Right here.” He pointed to the blank page, watching her face.
She glanced at it and raised her eyebrows.
With commentary from the kids, he told her the story, then showed her the photos.
She got up to pour herself a coffee, then came back and looked at the children.
He whispered in her ear, “It’s a cool story, but either the kids are lying, or I’m losing it. I don’t like either option.”
Angie was indignant. “Mom, we didn’t touch Dad’s book. It was up on top of the fridge where no-one can reach, except Dad.”
Suddenly Charlie poked the sketchbook.
“Tea! Tea!” he said.
“What, Honey?” said Linda.
“Letter tea! Like Tyrannosaurus!”
“Oh,” she said, “Charlie’s right. There’s a letter T.” She peered more closely at the page. “There’s a note.”
Jason leaned over the table to look. He could just see tiny faint letters right where he’d signed last night’s drawing.
He read it aloud.
Thank you for the furniture, the skateboards (and especially the safety stuff, since we are beginners), and the camping equipment. If you’re looking for ideas, we’d appreciate some knapsacks and warm clothes for winter (four sets, please). Don’t worry about the size. We adjust them when we take them off the page.
The Smaw family
Jason laughed in relief.
My kids are not lying, and I’m not losing it!
Not exactly what I had in mind when I was thinking about surprise interactions.
Amid the laughter and chatter, Jason put his hand on Lizzie’s shoulder.
“Lizzie—looks like you were right. It is magic!”