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Negative Space III
Continuation of our Tuesday serial
from the fountain pen of Myra Love
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 Chapter III

Jason's mom reminded me of Mr. Harmon, and not just because she wanted me to call her Amanda. She was very talkative and friendly and treated me as if I were an adult with opinions worth listening to.
"What do you think about this cartoon, Lisa?" she asked me about a half-hour after we'd met. "The negative space doesn't really work, does it?"
When I agreed, she grinned at me and asked, "So how do you think I should fix it? Or should I give it up and try some other angle?"
I was shocked but also a little gratified that she asked for my feedback in such a serious way. "I like the idea," I said, "but maybe you need to reduce the number of lines, you know, cut the crowd down some."
She nodded and erased a few of the figures milling around in the background of her drawing. "You know, I think you're right!" She smiled at me gratefully. "Sometimes it takes another artist to see what can be done," she announced to Jason, who was coming into her work room to tell us that coffee was ready. I hoped she'd still think of me as an artist after she'd seen the sketches I had brought with me.
She didn't say anything about my sketches at first. I sipped coffee and watched her examine them carefully. Jason's eyes were on me as intently as mine were on her. Finally, she looked up and grinned at me. "You are a phenomenally good illustrator with a great eye for nuance and detail. I wish I had half your talent."
I wasn't sure if I'd heard her right. She'd called me an illustrator rather than an artist, but then she said she envied my talent. I shook my head to clear it and then replied, "Thank you. I think."
She looked perplexed. "Why? What's wrong? I think your sketches are really good."
"You called me an illustrator."
Amanda laughed. "Don't worry. I don't use the word illustrator to belittle your sketches. It's just that they look like illustrations for a book. Very good illustrations."
"I hadn't thought about what them that way," I replied. "To me they're just my sketches."
"But they're all pen and ink portraits of people or animals," she explained.
"So?"
"So, there is a narrative quality to them," she continued. "That's what made me call them illustrations."
I considered her comment for a few minutes as she drank her coffee. "I guess I know what you mean," I finally conceded.
"Don't sound so depressed," she chided me. "There's nothing wrong with them. They're just one way you can use your considerable talent." She breathed. "Jason tells me that aside from some art classes in grade school you've had no formal training."
"That's right," I replied. "They don't teach art at school anymore, and I don't have time or money to take additional classes."
"Well," I can certainly understand that and sympathize," Amanda said cheerfully. "I don't have time or money for much either. But if you ever want to come here and talk about drawing and show me your work, I'd be glad to see you. We could give each other feedback too."
I felt myself relax in a way that was unfamiliar. "You'd help me with my drawing?" I asked.
"And you'd help me," she answered. "Sometimes an old hack like me can really benefit from having a fresh eye look at her work."
I felt as if I were in heaven.
"Hey," Jason said. "Don't look now, but Grandma Lore Harnisch is coming up the driveway."
"Oh my God!" Amanda gasped. "What does she want?"
"Relax, mom!" Jason interjected. "Lisa knows about her. I told her the Everett Bard story."
"Oh, Jason, you didn't!"
"Of course, I did. I think it shows Grandma at her most authentically absurd, don't you?"
Amanda looked upset, and I felt bad for her, but I didn't have time to react very much before there was a loud and persistent knocking at the door.
"Amanda! Jason! Let me in!" I heard a querulous voice demand. "I left my umbrella in your kitchen."
Jason stood up and opened the door, letting his grandmother in.
"I can't believe you won't give me a key to this place, Amanda," she complained. "Whoever heard of someone's locking the door against her own mother? You should be ashamed…"
The tirade stopped when the old woman caught sight of me. "Hello, what do we have here? You look like Ralph Dunn's girl. Don't you work at the bank?"
I stood up. "How do you do?" I began.
"Oh, don't bother with the formalities, girl. Are you or are you not Ralph Dunn's daughter?"
"Yes, I am," I replied, wondering if this introduction was going to turn into an interrogation.
"Thought so," she said. "You have the same stubborn expression. Are you after Jason?"
"After Jason?" I repeated idiotically.
"Yes, after Jason! What's the matter with you? Are you hard of hearing? Or just stupid? He's an eligible young man. At least I think he is. But then maybe he doesn't like girls. He wouldn't be the first in my late husband's family. His cousins were a bunch of nellies. But now they're all gone. And good riddance!" She chuckled mirthlessly and peered at me hard. "Do you like Jason? He's never dated anyone, you know."
"Mother!" Amanda squawked, looking truly appalled.
Her mother ignored her. "Your folks are dirt farmers, aren't they?" she asked me. "Nearly bankrupt from what I hear. But if you work hard enough at the bank, maybe you can get into a responsible position where you could embezzle some money."
Amanda gasped, and her mother gave her a very smug, satisfied look. "Stranger things have happened," she added. "And she looks like a sharp one. For the daughter of a dirt farmer, that is."
I wanted to laugh. "Actually we have plenty of dirt. We don't need to grow it."
"Very funny," she growled. "Jason doesn't need a girlfriend with a sense of humor. He needs one with some drive to compensate for his own lack of ambition."
"Mother!" Amanda squawked even louder this time.
"I hate to disappoint you," I said, surprised at how unfazed I felt. "I'm not Jason's girlfriend."
"Good!" she said cheerfully. "Good for you and good for us! He really needs someone with prospects. He's never going to earn much. He takes after his mom." She snorted and then said loudly, "Arty!"
I looked at Jason who was very red in the face. I felt sorry for him, not so much because his grandmother was embarrassing him in front of me as because it was clear that he, despite his great sense of humor, couldn't see her as a cartoon character. I kept seeing her that way, which made it easy to stay calm but hard not to laugh. She reminded me of a yappy lap dog that growled and snarled but was too small to do any real harm and didn't have teeth anyway.
"Well," the old woman went on, "I'll just get my umbrella and leave you to whatever you were doing."
She marched into the kitchen and I could hear her opening drawers and cupboards. Then the refrigerator door slammed. I looked over at Amanda who looked back at me with an extremely distraught expression. I felt quite sorry for her.
"Did your mother leave her umbrella in the fridge?" I asked, hoping to make her laugh.
She just rolled her eyes. "No, she just has to inspect everything whenever she gets the chance. You'd think she hadn't been here in weeks, but she was just her this morning. She told me that my fridge needed cleaning, and I suppose she's checking to see if I cleaned it."
"Well," the old woman announced, charging back into the room without any sign of an umbrella, "I guess I left it someplace else." She showed her teeth at me in a bad imitation of a smile. "Go find yourself another dirt farmer's kid and leave Jason alone," she said. "Good-bye."
She was out the door before anyone had a chance to respond. No sooner did the door close behind her though than I started to laugh. I couldn't help it. I laughed so hard and so long that Amanda looked alarmed.
"Are you okay?" she asked and then immediately started to apologize. "She's awful, I know, but she is my mother. I'm so sorry. I hope you won't judge us by how she acts."
She wanted to say more, but I held up my hand and struggled to get control of myself. "Please don't apologize," I said between giggles. "I really couldn't take her seriously. No wonder you draw cartoons!"
I felt Jason's eyes on me and when I made eye contact, he was looking at me as if he'd never seen me before. For a second I didn't know how to read his look. Had I offended him with my remark about his grandmother? It took me a moment, but then I realized that he'd gone from being curious about me to being really interested. The look was pure admiration.
Jason smiled. "You know," he said, "there's an art show next weekend at a gallery near Washington U. Do you think you'd like to go Saturday after your done at the bank? I could borrow mom's car and we could drive there, see the show, and go out to dinner." He looked over at Amanda. "If that's okay with you, mom," he added.
"Or you could come with us," I said to Amanda, but Jason looked slightly pained at that. "Uh," he replied, "I was thinking it would be nice for you and me to spend some time alone together," he said, dropping his eyes so that he appeared to be staring at his shoelaces.
"Oh!" I replied, a little taken aback. "Well, I'll check with my mom, but I think it should be okay. Saturday late afternoon and evening is usually time I have for myself."
And that is how Jason and I began to date.

 


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