The Art Lesson (Short Story by Jen Mueller)
I was grabbing some lunch and checking messages on my phone when I looked up and saw her. Just two tables down from me, a red ribbon holding her blonde hair back from her face but not from her shoulder. It spilled over, getting in the way of whatever she was feverishly working on. She brushed it back and sighed, her brow far more knitted and serious in concentration than that of the typical little girl her age — or what I assumed to be her age. I’m terrible at guessing ages, particularly of children — if you ask me, they’re either around four or around ten. I was an only child, and I kept to myself, and I had more friends between the covers of books than I did on the playground.
This may have been part of the reason I decided to speak to the little girl as I walked past her table to toss my empty cup and sandwich wrapper in the bin behind.
“What are you drawing?”
She put her purple marker down on the table and picked up the green one without looking up. “I don’t know yet,” she said, more to the paper than to me.
Somewhere inside I smiled. “Then how will you know when it’s done?”
At this she looked up at me with an expression more of exasperation than anything else. I knew her feeling well — the eye-rolling, mind-numbing chore of trying to explain your process to someone who existed outside your own mind. “I listen to it,” she said, with far more patience than I possessed myself. “It tells me when it’s done.”