Rose Million Healey Finalist

21 Sep

This week, we honor five very talented young writers, all from our summer camp workshops. These five young ladies were selected as the winner and finalists of our 2010 Rose Million Healey Award in Short Fiction, which was founded by Patrick Million to honor of his Aunt Rose Million Healey, the woman who most inspired him to pursue writing.

Today, we showcase the work of finalist Sarah.

The Masterpiece

I.

It had been three years, and his father’s masterpiece still sat in a thin layer of dust on the table.

No one had used the table for actual meals since his father started the project four years ago. Instead, Jacob swung by Starbucks for breakfast, and for dinner he and his mother ate on their laps. Jacob found it difficult to pass by the unused table and its contents without scowling. Why couldn’t his mother just throw it out already? he asked himself. It was just wasting space. His father was dead. No one was going to finish it.

Today, he entered the apartment with his temper already rubbed raw from a long day—sitting in endless lectures all morning at the local community college, then several frustrating hours at his job. He let his bag fall into a chair with a heavy thud and then paused, catching sight of the “masterpiece.” Jacob eyed it with distaste.

It was a small statue, raw and unfinished. It was done in a weird, modernistic way, with pliant sheets of thin metal, and it seemed to portray a young woman wearing a dress reminiscent of Greek robes. Though the folds of metal cloth were worked in exquisite detail, large portions of it were untouched. That was his dad, all right—his head always up in the clouds or stuck in the past, never any time to think about today. No wonder he never had a paycheck to show for all his work. No wonder they always had to pinch and scrimp to scrounge together the rent.

II.

The statue didn’t even have a face. His father had spent hours sculpting a little bit, a little detail, then scrapping the whole thing to start over again, and he hadn’t even finished something so basic. How productive his father had been, Jacob sneered. The masterpiece was unmoved.

“Jacob? Is that you?” his mother asked, coming up to him from the next room. She was still dressed in her nightgown, her dark hair untidy.

“Are you looking at the masterpiece?” Her eyes skipped over Jacob and went immediately to the little statue. She came close to admire it. “It’s so beautiful, isn’t it?”

She smiled wistfully. “I always wondered what it was going to be in the end. Your dad never told me; he said it was going to be a surprise. I guess now we’ll never know—” She almost choked on the words, and Jacob felt his stomach twist.

“I’m going to warm up some pizza,” he announced briskly, and he went off to the kitchen.

He and his mother ate an unremarkable meal, with their usual lopsided conversation. Jacob did the dishes, and his mother drifted back to her room to read. He did his homework on the couch. Some time after midnight he crawled into bed.

He awoke later with a start from some strange dream that instantly fled his mind like thin morning mist flying from the sun. For a minute he paused, disoriented, staring up at the shadowed recesses of the ceiling. The sun was not up yet, and the whole world was blue-gray. It seemed almost other-worldly. Knowing he would never be able to fall back asleep, Jacob disentangled his legs from the bedclothes and went out into the front room, bare feet quiet against the floor.

Immediately his eyes were caught by the sight of the masterpiece. Its twisted, shadowed form standing all alone on the table made a striking picture in the half-light.

III.

Seized by an impulse, Jacob crouched down to meet the masterpiece on its level, glaring straight at what he felt must have been its eyes. It met him with a calm, even stare from its flat, featureless face.

“What’s so special about you? What do they see in you?” he asked of it.

No answer. Nothing but the calm stare.

“You’re nothing but a lump of scrap metal,” he said. “You don’t even have a face.”

That unblinking stare. It was almost unnerving.

“What makes you so important?” he demanded. “What’s so special about you that my mother is always sighing over? What’s so special about you that my father goes around thinking of nothing but you?

The masterpiece remained stubbornly silent. It was mocking him.

“How can my parents care more about scrap metal than about their own son? You don’t even have a face!”

Without thinking, he grabbed the masterpiece in one hand and a tool in the other and stabbed out two dots for eyes and a line for a mouth. Anything, as long as his opponent could mock him with a human face. He had been competing with inanimate objects for too long. As far back as he could remember, his father had been sculpting and his mother had been admiring. Thousands of projects, thousands of pieces, each one individually slaved over for hours at a stretch. His parents didn’t just forget about school plays; Jacob remembered dinners when his father would suddenly jump up from the table and snatch a napkin because he had to get this sketch down while it was in his head. And it just made no sense.

He set the masterpiece back down and leaned back to see the effect, somehow calmed down by his actions. His crude face looked shameful compared to the details of the clothing. He couldn’t leave it like that. Chewing his lip, Jacob took up the tool again and carefully, carefully repaired the stab marks and replaced them with two eyes and a small mouth. He added two arching brows over the eyes, then the suggestion of a nose. As he studies the face, he saw that the strange, blocky shape of the head was actually the beginning of hair, and he became absorbed in adding long, twisting curls. He didn’t even notice as he settled down in his father’s old chair, and before he could realize it he was squinting at the masterpiece in his hands, working painstakingly to make each detail absolutely perfect.

Before he took in his hands, Jacob had never understood why the perfectly human front had no perfectly human back, but instead just two rounded triangles. Now, somehow, he understood perfectly. All the triangles needed was a fringe of long, windswept feathers. They were wings. He—and his father—were making an angel.

This was what was so special about the masterpiece. Nothing had ever given him this feeling before, this feeling of making something beautiful where there used to be nothing. He loved this feeling, and when his mother found him in the morning he was still working on the masterpiece.

Sarah, eleventh grade, Anderson High School

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