Tess Almendarez Lojacono is a writer, business owner and a teacher. Her company, Fine Art Miracles, Inc., serves the elderly through fine art education. She has a BFA from Carnegie Mellon University. She's worked as Editor of International Family Magazine's Latin Families Column and as a judge for several prestigious writing contests. Her own poems and stories have won awards in the Writer's Digest Annual Writing Contests. She's been published in print and online in such publications as OffCourse, Etchings, The Cortland Review, Words and Images and others. Her poems were selected for the Silver Boomer Books anthology, "From The Porch Swing" and her first novel, Milagros, was published by the same, in February 2011. Tess's second novel, The Book Of Zane, will be published by Sunbury Press in May, 2013; her latest (unpublished) novel, The Golden Age Quest of Don Miguel Aguilar, was a finalist in the 2012 Tarcher/Penguin Best New Artist Contest.
The Last Time I Painted His Face
Tess Almendarez Lojacono
I always drew. Just what we did as kids-everyone does it I guess. Our home was simple and dedicated to children. Fisher Price hadn't invented the plastic kid's table yet, but our dining room held a wooden picnic table, just the right size. A carpet of linoleum protected the floor. With windows wide or cookies baking, there was always a comforting smell. Mum sang off key as she did her work and we sat and did ours. She liked to see us draw. And just like handwriting, we all came up with our own way of doing it, our own style.
"Hey, Lily, draw me a horse."
"I can't draw horses Bell."
"Aw, c'mon. Yours are better than mine!"
"No." I kept drawing. "Mine don't look like dogs. Yours look like dogs and mine look like-cows!" I glanced at my brother's page. "Hey, yours looks like a dragon."
"Mine is a dragon!"
"Oh. Sorry. I thought it was a horse."
"Hey, I know. Let's make paper dolls."
So we'd draw paper dolls, cut them out and play with them until they got torn or dirty. Then I would pretend to throw them away, but really stash them in a used envelope in my treasure drawer, laying out their wrinkled bodies, kissing each one gently before folding the envelope shut.
I always drew two boys and half a dozen girls. The girls' names would change with their looks and my mood, but the boys were always Otto and Ben.
As I grew older, I studied art seriously. In college we painted landscapes, still life's, classic nudes. But whenever I painted people, a face kept appearing that I recognized. It was a boy's face, someone from my past.
"You know, your work is reminiscent of the Mexican Muralists," my fellow art majors said. I nodded. Without really trying, my figures kept coming out rounded, brown skinned, my paintings brightly colored, pictures of children playing, families praying, people living out their lives.
I painted a classroom scene beginning with the popular mathematical under-painting, meant to draw the viewer's eye throughout the composition. When I overlaid that with children, desks and blackboards, a boy lifted his desk lid and peered at me from underneath. Otto? Ben? The warmth of recognition ran down my spine. I laughed out loud. He was back! That painting sold quickly and Otto or Ben went to live on a business major's wall.
Next it was a family playing on the beach; then children squashed between grown-ups in a pew at Sunday Mass, a family waving from their car. Otto or Ben appeared in each, grinning or winking at me.
When I graduated, I turned to sculpting; painting, sculpting, work and life. Now that I'm old, I teach more than paint, but I pick up the paintbrush when somebody asks.
The last time I painted his face he looked sad. He showed up in a mural on a gymnasium wall. I wondered, why now, why so sad?
Otto or Ben had something of mine-something he couldn't give back. Like a door that had closed or a day that had ended, he couldn't reach into my world. His look squeezed my insides, such deep wistfulness there. I squinted. I stared, blurred my eyes, determined to see.
This thing felt like love, because my heart ached, but it wasn't my heart that he held. It was something more precious, less tangible. I tried closing my eyes. I smelled cookies baking and crisp autumn leaves. I felt smooth linoleum spreading under my feet. The gym began filling with horses and dragons... could Otto or Ben have my youth?
The next day I went in to finish the mural. Some kids started playing before I was through. When the basketball hit me, it could have been an accident but their laughter made me think it was not. My paintbrush hit the wall smack on Otto or Ben's mouth and now he was laughing with them. Kids will be kids, but I wasn't fooled. His eyes still gave him away.
BIO: Tess Almendarez Lojacono is a writer, business owner and a teacher. Her company, Fine Art Miracles, seeks to accomplish two goals: 1) to bring attention to the underserved through fine art education and 2) to embrace humanity in the elucidation of common experiences and emotions. She has a BFA from Carnegie Mellon University. International Family Magazine has named her Editor of its Latin Families Column, where you can find stories from her collection, Milagros, along with the work of other Latin writers. Tess's work has appeared in OffCourse, a literary journal, in The Cortland Review, Flash Fiction Online, St. Maria's Messenger and Falling Star Magazine. Etchings will feature one of her short stories in their Aug. 09 issue. Two of her stories won awards in The Writer's Digest's 77th Annual Writing Competition.
Motivation: "This is a little piece of memoir, a snapshot of my artistic life."
Image by: Asif Akbar