The only other time that I drew on the walls, I thought Dad was going to smack me. That morning, I found a pen from the bank that fell out of Mom’s pocketbook and onto the kitchen floor. I drew circles on the walls in the living room when Mom and Dad were still in bed. After I was done, I went up the stairs with my hand holding the pen on the railing. The line was really straight. Dad was coming out of his bedroom when I got to the top of the stairs. He pulled the pen out of my hand really fast, and it hurt. He ran downstairs and yelled when he saw my circles on the walls. I didn’t understand what he said. He came back upstairs, and that’s when I thought he would slap me, but Mom picked me up before he did anything. Dad went back downstairs and started yelling again. I cried.
I was five years old then.
Mom scrubbed the walls with a bubbly sponge to get rid of my circles, but that only made the lines get bigger and blurrier. After that, Dad told me I needed to paint over them. One day, he came to my bedroom with a bucket of paint and a brush. I painted over the lines forever before he stopped me. The carpet where I painted was covered in paint because I kicked up the newspaper that Dad put on the floor. A few weeks later, Dad and Mom painted the whole room purple.
I’m six years old now, and I know I shouldn’t draw on walls, but the other morning when I woke up, Dad was standing in my room putting clothes from my closet and dresser inside of a big white trash bag. When he saw that my eyes were open, he went over to my bookcase and picked up a box of magic markers.
“These are for you,” he said.
He handed the box to me and told me that I could draw wherever I wanted.
“Anywhere in the house,” he said.
I didn’t understand. The box of markers had seven different colors. When I drew with these at school, the lines were thick, not like the skinny lines that Mom’s pen from the bank made that got Dad so mad.
“Did Mom say I could draw on the walls too?” I asked him.
“It was her idea,” he told me.
Mom hadn’t left her bedroom for three days. Dad said I couldn’t go in to their room because she was sick, and if I did then I would get sick too. I hated it. Mom always made dinner, but after she started staying in her bedroom, Dad bought McDonald’s for two nights. The night before he gave me the markers, he tried to make pancakes, but he burned them, and they tasted the way the deck smells when he grills hamburgers.
“Can I see her now?” I asked Dad.
“She’s still sleeping,” he said.
Dad told me that I could draw whatever I wanted, but I didn’t have a lot of time, so I thought I should get started now. The night before, when we ate the burnt pancakes, Dad told me that we were going on a trip the next night. He said we’d be away for a while, and that’s why he had packed up most of the stuff in his and Mom’s bedroom. He didn’t answer me when I asked where we were going and how I would get to school.
On most Saturday mornings, I would already be out of bed and watching cartoons downstairs, but on Thursday, when I got home from school, the couch and the TV were gone. So I just stared at the magic markers for a while. Maybe Dad was joking. If I drew on the walls, Mom and Dad would need to paint them again when I was done. I sat in bed and thought about that for a while. I left my room to find Dad and ask him if he was joking about drawing on the walls. I had walked through most of the house before I found him in the small bathroom next to the kitchen. He had a big bag filled with gray dirt. He was dumping the dirt into the toilet. The air was filled with gray clouds. Dad started to cough, and I laughed. When Dad heard me, he looked mad.
“What are you doing?” I asked him.
“I thought I told you to start drawing on the walls,” he said.
I went back to my room. I remember one time when the toilet upstairs started to spill smelly brown water when I flushed it. The ceiling above the kitchen got wet and some of the smelly water dripped onto the dinner table. I thought Dad was mad then, but maybe he had dumped the gray dirt into the toilet that time too. Maybe he thought it was funny to make the house smell bad. I opened the box of magic markers when I got to my room. If Dad could dump dirt into the toilet for fun, then I could write on the walls for fun, too.
I started in my room. Other kids at school could draw a lot better than me, especially the other girls. Some of them could draw people and animals that looked real, like they could walk off the paper. When I drew people and animals, they were flat and looked like they were stuck to the paper forever. I still liked to draw, but most of the time I just drew shapes and lines.
I took the red plastic chair from under my desk and put it next to the window. I stood on the chair on my tiptoes and held the bottom of the marker so I could make the tip touch the wall right next to the top of the window. I was going to draw a curvy line from the top of the window to the floor. When I started to move my hand down, the chair shook, and it tipped over. I fell onto the carpet. If I was five, then I would have started to cry, but I didn’t. I got back up and looked at the marker on the wall. It started next to the top of the window and moved to the floor, but the color got lighter and disappeared before it reached the bottom of the window.
Mom must have heard me fall, because she yelled from her bedroom:
“Dannielle—are you alright?”
I hadn’t heard her voice since she started staying in bed. I got off the floor and walked into the hallway.
“I’m alright, Mom,” I said. I was standing next to the closed bedroom door. I wanted to be sure she heard me.
“Dad said I could draw on the walls and I didn’t think I should but Dad was pouring dirt in the toilet so I thought it was all right so I went to my room and I stood on my chair so I could draw a line from the top of the window to the floor but the chair tipped over and I fell off of it, but I didn’t cry.”
I had my mouth pressed against the bedroom door, so I knew Mom could hear me. I waited for her to say something else, but she never did. Mom must not have minded me drawing on the wall or she would definitely have said something. Maybe Mom would let me draw on the walls in her room, too.
I took a black magic marker and held the tip against the hallway wall. I walked to the stairs and went down. I moved my arm up and down, and the lines on the walls looked like the wave I saw when Mom and Dad took me to Virginia Beach. At the bottom of the stairs, I looked out the window to the driveway. The trunk of the car was open, and I could see Dad throwing a big pile of white trash bags, like the one he had been filling with my clothes when I woke up, into it. Once a week, Dad would take a few trash bags to the dump, and sometimes he would let me come with him, but this was more trash than we’d ever brought before. I thought Mom would be mad when she found out. She always told Dad she hated how the car smelled after he went to the dump. I thought all of the bags would make the car smell really bad. She said we should just pay to have the trash man pick it up.
Next to the kitchen table, I drew the dog Mom and Dad had promised me for my birthday. I wanted to draw him so that he looked like a golden retriever, but yellow was the closest color I had. I couldn’t make him look real like those other kids at school; he had an oval body and four straight legs that looked like the sides of triangles. I drew him next to the sliding glass door that faced our backyard. I imagined him jumping on the door and asking to go outside so he could pee.
Other than the dog, I just drew a lot more shapes, because that’s what I’m best at. It was really fun, especially when I took three markers at once and held them in my fist. I was able to make three circles, with different colors, but all the exact same shape, one inside of the other.
After a while, I started to get really hungry. I wanted Mom to make me spaghetti, but I knew if I asked Dad he would tell me that she was too tired to cook. I didn’t want to eat burnt pancakes again. I put the box of markers on the kitchen table.
I went up the stairs to Mom and Dad’s bedroom and looked at my waves as I climbed. I tried to open the door really quietly. Mom was still asleep. Dad had taken the bed out of the room yesterday, so Mom was wrapped in a big comforter on the floor. I crawled into the comforter and snuggled down in front of her. The comforter was wet, but Mom was warm. I wanted her to wake up and put her arms around me. I lay there for a while. At first, I was worried that she would wake up and tell me to leave, or Dad would walk in and yell at me, but that never happened. Eventually, I shut my eyes.
I don’t know how long I slept, but when I woke up, it was dark outside. Mom wasn’t under the comforter anymore. I hoped that she was making dinner, because now I was really hungry. My mouth was dry and tasted like sand. I wanted water. Dad came into the room and wrapped the comforter around me when he picked me up and carried me to the car. He didn’t say anything. I think he thought I was still asleep, because he walked really slowly. I liked it, so I kept my eyes shut. When I was five and tried to pretend I was asleep, I used to make a snoring noise like in cartoons, but now I know that if I did that, Dad would know I was awake.
Dad carried me outside. I was glad I was in the comforter, because as soon as he stepped out of the door my face got really cold. Dad put me in the only seat in the back that wasn’t covered in trash bags. I couldn’t see out of any of the windows except the one right next to me. Mom was sitting in the front seat. I yawned and rubbed my eyes so it looked like I just woke up.
“Where are we going, Dad?” I said it when I was making my pretend yawn. Dad didn’t say anything, like the night before.
“Dad—I don’t want to sit next to trash. Trash smells bad.”
“It’s not trash,” Dad said. “Just go back to sleep.”
I started to cry, but Mom turned around and smiled with her mouth. Dad got in the front seat and started the car’s engine. The car was shaking. I touched the trash bag on the seat next to me, and it was soft. It smelled just like plastic. I looked at the top of the bag where dad had tied a knot to keep the bag closed. I could see a leg of my jeans poking through the hole. I put my head on it and closed my eyes. Dad was telling the truth.
Devan Hawkins is a freelance writer from Massachusetts. His fiction has appeared in Litro and In Shades magazines. His writing about travel, books, and politics has appeared in a number of places including The Los Angeles Times, The Islamic Monthly, CounterPunch, and Matador Network. Outside of writing, Devan works in and teaches about public health.