Chapter 7: Perspectives

They ate spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. Alex kept angling to engage Myra and she kept ignoring him. She tried to get Percy to tell another story, but he was bent over his plate, intent on slurping sauce-soaked spaghetti without spattering the bloodred marinara on his shirt. The kids were more reserved than usual tonight. Maybe they’d simply been tired out by the string of unusual recreational activities today: the canoeing and cold-water swimming and volleyball. Maybe that was it.
The kids colored and played games after dinner. Alex got in the way while Myra cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher. Even he was unusually solemn, but unfortunately no less annoying. He kept starting to speak, attempting to initiate a conversation that was obviously a struggle. But every time she felt him getting close to being able to articulate something, she unleashed a string of meaningless chatter. Within a few sentences, the ready spark in his eyes was gone and she knew it was safe to fall silent and resume rinsing dishes.
When the dishwasher was started and churning away, Myra and Alex went out to the main room, found seats on the floor and joined in on the activities. A game of Clue was beginning. With only five kids interested in playing, Myra was invited to be Colonel Mustard.  Caitlin divided the jumble of cards into suspects, weapons, and rooms. Then she, Cassie, and Zoey each shuffled the few cards belonging to one of the piles. Joey reached out to grab a card from Cassie’s hands, but she whisked the stack out of his grasp. “Myra chooses,” Cassie proclaimed, and she fanned out her six cards. Myra leaned forward and pulled at the corner of the third card on the right. She repeated the process with Zoey’s six cards and Caitlin’s nine, and then Joey peevishly handed her the small beige envelope emblazoned with the word ‘CONFIDENTIAL’ in bold print. She slipped the three cards into the envelope and set it in its rightful spot on the staircase square in the center of the board.
They took turns rolling the single die and moving their colored pawns, taking secret passages and suggesting combinations of murder details. Myra had been dealt Mr. Green, and she eliminated Professor Plum, then Mrs. Peacock. Everyone was going in parallel through the process of winnowing down the suspects, each gathering classified information to win glory through the untimely death of poor Mr. Boddy.
After achieving the breakthrough of ruling out the candlestick, Myra passed the die to Zoey and looked over to check in on the other group. Alex sat on the carpet alongside Luke, Grace, and Aldo. They were coloring on printer paper with crayons, but since there were no tables over here, they’d each taken down a hardcover book from the bookshelf stocked with musty old wilderness guides, situating the book between the paper and the soft carpet to get a good hard surface for coloring. From afar, Myra couldn’t see what they were drawing, but they all seemed absorbed in their own artistic endeavors, frowning down at their work, pondering the relative merits of the colors ‘Manatee’ versus ‘Wild Blue Yonder,’ drawing a few strokes and then leaning away, head tilted and lips pursed, in cutting self-judgment worthy of a seasoned art critic.
Myra felt pressure on her upper arm, and she looked back to the game to find Joey bumping his hand against her arm. Having gotten her attention, he said, “Your turn.”
She accepted the die from him and rolled. Six, the best roll. She made her suggestion and Caitlin showed her the ballroom card. With that revelation, Myra solved the murder. Yet she refrained from making an accusation, since any of the five kids would derive so much more excitement from winning than she would. It took two more rounds of gameplay, but at last Cassie announced, “Ahem! I would like to make an accusation!”
The other players groaned, knowing that they had almost surely lost, but still with the thread of hope that Cassie would make a false accusation. She cleared her throat, wiggled her eyebrows ominously, and proclaimed, “I accuse Colonel Mustard! With the knife! In the conservatory!”
The kids all peered down at their own cards, searching for one of the three even though they all had their cards memorized and knew they had no evidence to disprove Cassie’s accusation.
Cassie extracted the three cards from the confidential envelope, peeked at them, and then held them aloft victoriously. “I win!” she said. Laying them on the floor in turn, she said, “Colonel Mustard, with the knife, in the conservatory.”
That concluded the murder mystery, and with six players, the game had gone on long enough to satisfy everyone’s desire to play Clue. They dispersed, some taking up card games and others wandering over to join the coloring group. Myra sat between Aldo and Luke and admired the art the kids had made. Aldo was drawing robots with cog-like bodies and Luke was creating a geometric puzzle of interlocking shapes.“I like the robot with the jet pack,” she told Aldo. “And the hexagons,” she told Luke.
Grace was bent over her paper, her hair obscuring her work.
“Hey Grace,” Myra said. “What are you drawing?”
Without looking up, Grace said, “An owl.”
“Yeah?” Myra said. “Are owls your favorite animals?”
“No,” Grace said. “Trilobites are. But owls are prettier.”
“Cool,” Myra said. “Well, I’d love to see it when you’re done.”
“Okay,” Grace said. “When I’m done.”
Myra reached for a clean sheet of paper from the stack.
“Aren’t you going to ask what I’m drawing?” Alex asked.
Myra looked up at him. He was sitting behind Grace, leaning against the bookshelf. She’d been purposefully ignoring him. The last thing she needed was to get the kids suspicious or worried about the counselors fighting, so she said as casually as possible, “No thanks.”
“No?” Alex said. “I think you’d like it.”
Myra retrieved her paper and selected a pale pink crayon, ‘Thistle’. She sketched out a curved line, but drawing with the paper right on the carpet made the paper buckle. She used as little pressure as possible, but then with the light color, she barely made a mark.
Alex took down a book from the bookshelf. It looked old, with a plain black cover and a teal binding. Examining the silver script inscribed on the spine, he said, “As Far as the Yukon. Far enough to give you a hard surface.” He offered her the book. She grudgingly accepted it. The edges of the pages were yellowed, but the covers were smooth and clean. She set the book on the carpet and topped it with her paper.
“Grace inspired me to draw birds too,” Alex said.
“Mmm.” Myra didn’t even look up this time, now that she had such a good distraction in her drawing. She just sketched out her curving pink petals.
“Did you know that cranes dance before they mate?” Alex said.
Myra looked up sharply, but Alex was maintaining a skilled facade of innocence. The kids were focused on their own art, oblivious to any allusions behind Alex’s trivia, whether by ingenuousness or inattention. She picked ‘Maximum Yellow’ and began filling in the spiky center.
“Don’t you want to see?” he asked.
She knew her stubbornness was hedging dangerously close to being unprofessional, but nevertheless she gave him a crisp, “No.”
The center was unrealistically monochrome, the texture wasn’t coming across, so she reached for ‘Mango Tango’ to add some light shading.
“It’s really good,” Grace said in her wispy voice.
“Is it really?” Myra asked. Grace was watching her with luminous eyes. Left with no choice, she said, “Please show me, Alex.”
A faint smile softening his lips, he held up his drawing. He’d only used crayon, so the lines were thick, but he’d captured an astonishing impression of avian verve. Two gray birds faced each other, with large oval bodies, long necks, and slender beaks. The bird on the right stood on two spindly legs, its joints rounded knobs. Its knees bent backwards instead of forwards in a strikingly inhuman stance. It extended its enormous wings, pulling them back behind its body. The wings’ size and position worked with the backwards-bent knees to evoke the impression of a startled angel.
The bird on the left had its wings extended straight out to either side, on the offensive, leaping forward in midair, its knees bent sharply and its scaly, three-toed feet reaching toward its mate. With its long beak open like scissor blades, it appeared to be caught in the middle of an ebullient exclamation. Both birds had warm amber eyes and a vivid red patch on the crown of their heads.
The energy between the two birds was electric. The one lunging forward toward the other seemed aggressive and raw, as if it were overcome by a visceral urge to confront the other, who was clearly fighting the instinct to recoil, holding its ground as if remaining perfectly still through a hurricane through sheer willpower. Although the courtship was more antagonistic than romantic, the cranes seemed like the only two inhabitants of their shared world.
“Do cranes really do that?” Myra asked Alex.
“I wasn’t only inspired by Grace,” Alex murmured. He held up the book he’d been using as a hard surface: Cranes of America. “Yes, they really dance like that. They sing to each other too.”
“It’s beautiful,” she said.
“They choose their mates by dancing together, and then they mate for life,” he said.
She looked again at his drawing, at the brash singer and the resolute angel, their massive wings and their backwards knees, their reciprocal vitality that consumed and elevated their synergistic existence.
Grace was studying the image too. “I told you it was good,” she said. “You can tell they’re going to get married forever.”
At last Grace had resurfaced from her art into reality. Her face was flushed and her bottom lip was imprinted with two horizontal marks where she’d been biting her lip with her front teeth.
“How do you know?” Myra asked. “Don’t they look upset?”
“Maybe,” Grace said, tilting her head. “But look, there.” She pointed to the jumping bird on the left. “Even though this one is kind of nervous, it’s still happy because the other one is reminding it how strong they are.”
Myra felt like she was looking at an optical illusion now, where first the angel was pulling away, and then suddenly it was a commanding pillar of confidence, and then it was withdrawing again.
“So, Myra,” Alex said. “What are you drawing?”
“Oh, it’s nothing,” she said. “A lily.” Turning the paper so it faced Alex and Grace, she said, “I’m not an artist.” But even as she spoke, she looked at her pale pink lily with its vibrant center, like a sun’s fiery core and hazy corona, and she felt a twinge of pride at the energy she’d been able to convey.
“That’s nice,” Alex said in a low, fervent voice that conveyed sincerity rather than condescension.
“Thanks,” Myra said sheepishly. “So, Grace,” she redirected, “are you finished with your owl?”
“Ye-e-es,” Grace lilted.
“Can I see it now?” Myra said.
“If you insist,” Grace said coyly. She raised her paper to reveal the image she’d drawn. A barn owl perched on a tree branch, its downy gold body oriented to the left and its head angled to face the viewer directly. Grace had added the most detail to the owl’s face, a snow-white heart framed by gold feathers, peering out with a pointed-down triangle for a nose and two black holes for eyes.
“Wow,” Myra murmured. “You’re an amazing artist, Grace.”
“Thanks,” Grace said.
“I didn’t realize we had such a talented group here,” Myra said. “We’ll have to do more art.”
“I’d be happy to lead some projects,” Alex said.
Myra thought of the angelic crane, shying away, leaning in.
“We’ll see,” she said.
When the kids started drifting asleep in the middle of their card games, Myra called it a night and nudged everyone off to bed. They returned playing cards to their boxes and moseyed outside through the cool night air to the cabins. As the boys and girls parted ways, Alex caught Myra’s arm and whispered, “Meet me on the dock when the girls are asleep.”
“No,” she hissed.
“Why not?” he said.
She pulled her arm away. “You know why.”
“Myra, it was a misunderstanding. Just talk with me,” he said.
She scowled in his direction in the darkness. “Not tonight,” she said.
His voice dropped and he said, “You’re neglecting the kids if we can’t communicate.”
She felt her heart thudding in her chest. “Is that a threat?” she said.
“No,” he said, louder, almost whiny. “Just talk with me. Please.”
“All right, fine,” she growled. “But only so we can establish exactly how fucked-up your behavior was and how I’m going to make you regret ever even thinking about doing something like that again.”
“Fine. Good. I’ll make you understand,” he said.
“You won’t,” she said, leaving him and walking alone through the hazy indigo night toward the blazing yellow bulb on the girls’ cabin.

She guided the girls into their pajamas and tucked them into their sleeping bags.
“Aren’t you going to bed, Myra?” Grace asked.
“Soon,” Myra said. “I just have to take care of one more thing.”
“Is it something fun for tomorrow?” Zoey asked excitedly.
“Are we going horseback riding?” Caitlin said.
“Not quite,” Myra said. “Don’t worry, we’ll have plenty of fun tomorrow.”
“We’d better,” Cassie said.
“Okay, enough,” Myra teased, patting Cassie’s head, which emerged from the cocoon of her sleeping bag. “Goodnight, girls.”
“Goodnight, Myra,” they chimed.