“A drawing is always dragged down to the level of its caption.” -James Thurber
Michael Lejeune says:
The Mother wakes before her alarm and turns it off, shaking the uncertainties of unconscious fancy from her curled brown hair as she finds her footing and makes her way to the bathroom to relieve herself. She brushes her teeth with deliberate thoroughness, imagining each plane coming under the scrutiny of the bristles. She flips on three switches: the coffeemaker that she prepared last night, the electric kettle for the girls’ peaches n’ cream instant oats, and the television in the livingroom. A color-washed puppet blinks onto the screen, talking to the deceptively young-looking boy who hosts the girls’ morning program.
On the counter, she sees the pencil drawings the girls brought home from school yesterday. Her eyes pause on the pictures. When her coffee is done, she sits at the diningroom table with them and looks more intently.
Sara has drawn images of her father, Ben. He stands on stick legs poking out of enormous boots, arms over his head, nailing a piece of wood to the side of a house with a thick chimney spewing sooty black scribbles into a bird-filled sky. In the pane next to it, Ben is driving a pickup truck. The sun hangs close to its roof. In the last three panes Sara has signed her drawings in elaborate bubble-letters. Her last name has an I where the J should be. The Mother knows this is because Sara still has difficulty with the forms of each.
The alarm clock in the girls’ bedroom upstairs delivers its precisely intermittent caw, reminding The Mother of a robotic crow for the last time. She slides Jennie’s drawings from behind Sara’s and places them on top.
Jennie has drawn her mother with herself in six of the eight panes. The two of them send crude smiles out of the page at the Mother, from a variety of scenes that a third party would not recognize, but which she knows instantly. The grocery store. The laundromat. The diningroom where she sits now. She resists an urge to tear the page in half and throw it away.
The girls have silenced the crow and are working together to don their school clothes. The Mother strides to the kitchen countertop and unlids the plastic jar of peanut butter. She inspects the surface that she spent a full ten minutes last night working to smooth to perfection. It looks untouched, as though the foil seal had only just been removed. This is good. She does not know why she bothered to do this, but it meets her satisfaction all the same.
She prepares peanut butter and jelly sandwich lunches for Sara and Jennie and herself, peering at the peanut butter, sniffing, looking for some sign of the ingredient she added last night. She does not see or smell it. She checks the garbage to make sure the empty canister remains, and breathes a sigh of relief upon glimpsing its pale yellow label.
The Mother turns to say good morning to her daughters.