The Cerulean Birdhouse

1,000-word limit.

Taking up the Flash Fiction Challenge from Terrible Minds for the first time, where I had to use a random number generator to decide on a title, and write a story of 1,000 words or less that related to the title. (Word Count: 982)

The Cerulean Birdhouse

When I was a kid, my mom made me go to a summer camp for “developing artistic talent” or something equally stupid. I had no artistic talent to develop. She, however, had a relationship to develop with my soon-to-be stepfather, so out of the house I went, nine to noon, six weeks straight. She was always late picking me up.

The teacher was young, probably an arts major at the local college, paying the next term’s tuition back when next term’s tuition could be covered by a part-time summer job. When my mom showed up, she would look down at me, or over my mom’s shoulder. She couldn’t meet her eyes. I couldn’t, either. Her eyes were too close to her disheveled hair and the mismatched buttons on her shift dress.

“Lisa did well today,” Miss Cindy would always say. “She’s really getting down the technique.”

Mom would shrug and take my wrist. “Time to go home, kid.”

I made no friends. Wearing brown and orange dresses still ragged from the ’60s when they were my mother’s, with barely brushed hair, I didn’t fit in with the other 12-year-olds, who wore leggings and neon t-shirts that fell artistically off their shoulders. It was an art class for those who wanted it – and me.

All I knew was that I didn’t want to be there, and no one else wanted me there except Miss Cindy, who probably just saw me as the money she needed for that elective class she was eyeing. Keep me in the class for the full six weeks, get the $120, and let me be, right?

In this place where I felt less wanted than usual, I just wanted to rebel. The problem was not knowing whether doing a good job or a bad job would be the best way to accomplish it. At first, I did a terrible job. I painted everything red and everything with my left hand.

At the end of the first week, Miss Cindy had us take turns sharing our project. I marched to the front of the classroom and held up my one-color, left-handed painting. “This is my anger,” I said, and sat back down.

In the quiet time between the responsible parents picking up their kids and my mom showing up, Miss Cindy sat down across from me. “Is this really the best you can do?”

“I don’t see why you care.”

“Your misery doesn’t make anyone happier, Lisa,” she said. “Especially not yourself.”

It took until after week three before I took her seriously. I couldn’t stand another pitiful look from Miss Cindy as I paraded intentionally bad artwork around her classroom. Plus, she told us we would have a different kind of art assignment.

“For the rest of the class, you’ll be working on one project. It can be with any material you’d like. Just be creative and try your best.” Of course she was looking at me during the last part. Why wouldn’t she?

I spent a week scouring the reference books kept in wooden bookshelves under the windows. While my classmates set up easels and still lifes and began to draw and paint and mold their clay, I sat at my desk, reading. That Friday, I didn’t have anything to share except a newly dog-eared page in the last book I read. When Miss Cindy called my name, I shook my head and kept reading.

After class, she said, “Lisa, you can’t just read forever. You’re going to have to make something.”

“I know. I found something. Do you think…” I looked back at the front cover of the magazine, uncertain. “Do you think I could make something with wood?”

I watched her gaze drop and saw her catch a glimpse of the cover. The time she spent staring at it passed slower than the class itself. “I’ll see what I can do,” she said.

The following Monday, a pile of wood sat on my desk, pre-cut. A hammer. A pile of nails. I looked at Miss Cindy questionably, but she just smiled and went back to patrolling the room. Not only was the wood already cut, it was even labeled – match piece A with piece D, the magazine read. And there they were, right in front of me. Piece A and piece D. I carefully placed a nail and began to hammer.

Other kids hated it. The noise interrupted their concentration. I worked harder. I can’t remember ever caring about a project as much as I did that one, and when class was over but Mom wasn’t there, I kept on hammering. “This is looking fantastic,” Miss Cindy said, “I think you’ve got talent. Maybe you’ll be an architect one day.”

“Nah,” I said, hardly looking up. “Only men are architects.”

She put a hand over my nail so I had to stop working. “Maybe you should change that.”

After a week, the main structure was finished and I shared it with the class. I waited for the snarky comments, for the giggles, but they didn’t come. Everyone just stared at my birdhouse. “Now I just gotta paint it,” I said, and sat down. Their respect was more embarrassing than their loathing.

I spent two hours on Monday picking out a color. I wouldn’t do red this time. I wanted something to go with the trees, something to stand out against the brown and green. I chose cerulean and picked the least-used brush. It was for birds, after all, and now it would match the sky.

When Mom picked me up on the last day and handed over a check, I showed her my birdhouse, nearly feeling proud. “You made that?” she asked.

“Yeah, I made it.”

“For the tree in the back?”

“Yeah.”

“Good job, kid.”

I didn’t have to come back the next summer because Mom already married my stepfather. I came anyway.

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