The Paintings


Very green, very red, very blue.

Thick strokes of colour on cheap, white, crinkly paper.

A brown line so thick that you could see lumps of powder paint on the paper; green dollops of paint on top for the leaves; a thin blue line drawn across the top of the page: the sky. Lolly-pip trees; houses with four windows and a door, and smoke coming out of the chimney; smiling faces on stick men: all neatly pinned in rows on the light blue, peeling walls.

None of them were mine, though.

"Today we are all going to draw faces and I want them to be neat."

We cover our desks in sheets of newspaper and put on improvised overalls to keep the paint off our nice, neat uniforms, and fill jam jars with water at the sink, and quarrel over small trays of powder paint: yellow, green, blue, yellow. From these I am supposed to be able to make any colour I want. I try to make bright silver for my soldier's sword by mixing yellow and white and black. It comes out a muddy, pukey grey.

My colours always come out grey.

We are always drawing, and not only in art lessons. "Now draw a picture" says Miss Beaumont after RE. In crayons, in my exercise book, I try to draw Jacob's Ladder.

Ladders are easy. A circle head, line body, arms and legs: that is Jacob, running away from his brother. I sometimes quarrel with my brother too. He worked for seven years so he could marry Rachel. I am seven years old. There is a girl called Rachel in our class. She has plaits and does everything neatly. All around the ladder, in yellow crayons, I draw angels with wings. And then I put a huge red circle at the top of the ladder, with lines coming out of it like the sun's rays.

"Don't you have any idea when something is neat and when something isn't?" says Miss Beaumont.

When she wasn't looking I added two eyes and a nose and a mouth to the big red circle on the tope of the ladder. God's face.

That night I dreamt that I cam to school and there were no people there no teachers or children. When I got to my classroom, I found piles of big, square boxes. On each box, painted in bright colours, was a face. Not a face like I would draw, with dots for eyes and a lines for the mouth, but a face that looked real. They were talking and laughing and shouting, but I couldn't here what they were saying.

I told one of my friends about the dream.

"I wonder who put them there" he said " Perhaps a witch?" In geography, we had to draw maps. Once, for homework, Miss Beaumont told us to draw a map of the street where we went shopping. I looked it up in a road atlas, so I could get the shape right, and drew squares along the road for each shop, and coloured them in; green for the greengrocers, red for the butchers, brown for the paper-shops.

"What a mess!" said Miss Beaumont, "What a mess!"

Rachel drew a picture of four shops in a row; and coloured them in neatly in coloured pencils. Miss Beaumont wrote "very good" in her book in red pen.

So, this week, Miss Beaumont has told us to draw faces. I try to draw a neat face, doing what she told me; looking at the person opposite me and copying his face. People's skin isn't white or pink or yell. In my tray of paints at home, I have a special "flesh coloured" block of paint. I mix some red and some white and some yellow, but it doesn't look the same. It comes out all yellow, like a chinaman. Then I try to draw some eyes on top, white and then green and then a black dot in the middle, but all the colour run together, making messy green splodges.

It is a strange face: yellow, with green runny eyes. It does not look like Malcolm, who sits opposite me. First I add red lines, like sun-rays; and then I draw a square box around it.

Secretly at play time I stick it on the wall, with the other paintings, in the corridor, and look at it.

"Hello" says the face.

"Hello" I say.

"Have you drawn me?" says the face.

"Yes." I say.

I wonder what it would be like to be the face. I pretend that I am yellow and green, with my red lips dripping slightly into my face; with my messy green eyes smudging over my messy, grey, yellow, dirty skin. I think that the page is a window. I think of myself looking through the page, pressed right up against the paper, pressing my nose up against it so it is squashed up and looks silly. But I am not green and yellow and smudgy. I am handsome and grown-up. My skin is gold. I have green red Indian paint on each side of my nose, making a wavy line across my cheeks, behind my ears. I have long hair, like a girls. Red sun-rays come out of me. I sit on a throne. I side with people like me and Jacob against their brothers. I look out into the world through pieces of paper and boxes in peoples dreams.

"What a horrible, horrible picture," says Miss Beaumont. She wants to know why it has been put up on the wall without her even being asked.

She tears down my picture and puts the one Rachel has drawn up instead. It is a neat picture of the little girl sitting next to her. The paints have not run and she has drawn it in pencil first and the paints have stayed inside the lines she has drawn. It is pretty and neat. She is pretty and neat.

"Don't you hate her?" I say to the little boy who has painted me. "Wouldn't you like to kill her?"

Next week, it wasn't painting, but woodwork. Miss Beaumont gave out little hacksaws to cut up the balsa wood with.

Very red.