| Portrait of a Family |

Portrait of a Family: Chapter 21 

What would Devorah say if she came upstairs with that ribbon in her hair? Tamar thought about it. Probably nothing — but then tonight she’d complain to her parents that Tamar was a weirdo

Tamar stretched lazily in bed, her eyes catching the neon nine-three-zero on her alarm clock. She snuggled deeper under her blanket, relishing the fact that today she didn’t have to get up for anything. No work this morning — she got one out of every three Sundays off, and there was no meeting with Danny and Sam this week either. The day stretched before her waiting to be filled. She could hear the sounds of chairs scraping above her in the kitchen. Someone had obviously finished breakfast. Devorah’s voice wafted through the ceiling asking for a ride to a friend’s house to study for a test. Study. She could use her free day to catch up on chemistry; she hadn’t even started trying to tackle that. But, she thought, yawning lazily, why waste a perfectly good Sunday on chemistry?

Tamar swung her feet over the edge of her bed, shivering from the cold of the tiled floor. She quickly got dressed, deciding between her faded grey sweater and a pilled pink one, the only two she had. Definitely the pink one, she concluded, pulling it over her head. The warm, thick weave was exactly what she needed on a day like today. While she brushed her hair, she looked over at the pile of ribbons on her desk. They sat there rather forlornly, day after day, waiting for her to once again have the guts to put them in her hair.

What would Devorah say if she came upstairs with that ribbon in her hair? Tamar thought about it. Probably nothing — but then tonight she’d complain to her parents that Tamar was a weirdo. Well, Tamar decided, selecting a light pink ribbon that matched her sweater well enough that she could get away with it, Devorah wasn’t even home. And Tamar wasn’t planning on sticking around until Devorah got back. She tugged on a small section of hair at the front of her head, and started weaving the ribbon into the thin braid that was quickly forming in her hands. Then she gathered the rest of her hair, along with the ends of the braid, into a messy bun at the nape of her neck. She really should be wearing the orange ribbon, Tamar noted as she headed up the steps to daven and eat breakfast. Orange was for Sunday. But the orange really clashed with her sweater and somehow, she didn’t care enough to stick with the schedule. Danielle wasn’t coming with her anyway.

As she packed a shopping bag with a sandwich and a few snacks, Tamar tried to think about where she could go. She tucked 20 dollars into the little pink wallet she’d gotten when she was ten, still thinking hard. It had been really nice of the Weisses to deposit her paycheck into their bank account and give her cash instead. But where could she go? Finally, she hit on it. A small modern art museum in the city. The city was only a train ride away, and she’d wanted to go back ever since her old school had taken them there on a class trip. There was something about modern art, how free it was, how unencumbered by rules and laws and people telling it what it could or could not do.

Having made her decision, Tamar went downstairs and stuck her sketchpad, a charcoal pencil, and an eraser into her little bag. Then she went off in search of Mrs. Weiss.

Tamar found her in the laundry room bent over a pile of shirts. “Um,” she cleared her throat, trying to get Mrs. Weiss’s attention.

“Oh.” Mrs. Weiss straightened, her hands still clutching the white shirt that she’d been spraying. “Tamar, good morning, how can I help you?”

“Um, nothing, I just,” Tamar cleared her throat and tried again, her voice coming out more assuredly this time. “I wanted to let you know I’m going to the city for the day.”

“I guess you don’t have work today.” It was said as a statement and without any judgement, but still Tamar bristled. She’d found the job herself, been completely responsible about work every single day; who was Mrs. Weiss to check that she wasn’t playing hooky?

“I have this Sunday off,” Tamar replied stiffly. “I just wanted to let you know I’ll be out.”

“Alright, Tamar, thanks for letting me know. Have a great time!” Mrs. Weiss looked at her with a bright smile. Then, seeing Tamar turn to leave, she bent back toward the shirts she was cleaning.

The subway swung wildly around the curves, and Tamar held tightly to the pole to keep herself from falling. There was a smattering of empty seats scattered throughout the train, but Tamar wasn’t interested in squishing between two strangers, so she stood, her bag swinging from the crook of her elbow. As the train neared Fifth Avenue, Tamar moved from her place to stand near the doors. With a sudden lurch, the train screeched to a stop, the doors opened, and Tamar stepped out onto the platform. The smell of exhaust and stale air greeted her as she walked up the steps and onto the teeming streets of the city. Falling into the crowd, Tamar made her way to the museum.

The quiet halls and galleries at the museum were in stark contrast to the busy streets outside. People milled around looking at paintings and sculptures, speaking in hushed voices as they admired artistic skill and technique. The quiet surrounded Tamar, settling deep inside her soul, calming emotions she hadn’t realized were still storming. And the art — it seeped into the empty places inside her. The colors, the movement, the expressions it portrayed. As she walked from one cavernous gallery to the next, Tamar’s footsteps echoed against the stone floor.

And then she found it. A painting both colorful and serious. It made her think, yet lifted her spirits at the same time. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, Tamar leaned over and began to sketch. It wasn’t a replica of the picture in front of her. No. In her drawing, Tamar drew a girl studying the painting. A girl whose hair ran loose, her face enraptured yet free, her body calm and serene. She delicately added each stroke, painstakingly including each detail to make the girl come alive.

“You’re pretty good yourself.” A voice floated from behind her, causing Tamar to jump. She turned around to see an elderly gentleman with a kindly face leaning on his cane, watching her draw.

“Th-thank you,” she stammered. But the elderly gentleman had such a gentle air about him and she felt herself at ease. “I like to draw.” Tamar smiled shyly at the man.

“I would imagine it’s very soothing,” the man said. “I find it just wonderful to walk around this museum. Such beautiful artwork.”

“I agree. It really is relaxing here,” Tamar said politely.

“I hope you don’t mind if I watch you draw a little.”

Although it did make her feel a little uncomfortable, Tamar nodded politely. So he watched as she drew, commenting here and there on how pretty the drawing was, how detailed, until at last he wandered away and left Tamar to her work. Finally satisfied with her drawing, Tamar took one last look at it and closed her sketchpad. Then she stood up, tucked her pad and pencil into her bag, and headed through the large rooms until she reached the entrance.

The wind nipped at Tamar’s nose and fingers as she ate her sandwich on a bench outside. But it felt good. Right. As she sat picking up the crumbs with her finger, Tamar was sure of one thing. She’d be back. No question, she’d be back.

(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 854)

Oops! We could not locate your form.