From Self-Portrait With Boy by Rachel Lyon. Copyright © 2018 by Rachel Lyon. Reprinted by permission of Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
SELF-PORTRAIT WITH BOY BY RACHEL LYON
S pring made it easier to stay. The weather warmed early that year. By March there were buds on the trees and we could go outside in sweaters. It was on a cool blue day when the trees still looked like cracks in a windowpane that I took my favorite student, George Washington Morales, to the Cloisters. We went up on a Friday around noon. He said his math class was canceled and I didn’t ask questions. After a few attempts at conversation, finding he’d give me nothing more than one-syllable answers, I stopped trying. We rode the train together in silence. George Washington spent the whole ride drawing on his pant leg in ballpoint pen. Emerging into the light at the end of the hour-long subway ride
found the Unicorn Tapestries, and George Washington Morales sat down on the carpet just to look. I sat down beside him. This shit is so old , he whispered almost reproachfully. He needed no instruction in creating a composition. He started with the most complex tapestry, one of the hunting scenes, and made a light grid on the paper, then began to fill in the angles of the spears and unicorn horn just so. I got up and left him to his drawing. He would be a while, I could tell. I left the building to wait for him outside in the chilly sun. I was wandering the perimeter of the wall when I encountered another woman alone. She was striking, with coarse hair, pale skin, and a large knobby nose. She was standing in the middle of the drive
we could feel the difference. The East River is not actually a river at all but a saltwater tidal strait, all quick dark current glistening under bridges and out to sea. In comparison the Hudson, a true glacial river, is vast and stately, surrounded on both sides by deep cliffs, its blue-green depths penetrated by long slips of sun. We made our way up the hill to Rockefeller’s castle and I paid a dollar’s donation for each of us. George Washington hunkered down to open his backpack and retrieve a sketchbook and pencil. I hung back, following his lead. We went into a tall chapel first. It was empty except for a six-foot crucifix. Christ’s head hung limp and his arms were thrust open wide. I stood in the doorway and watched as George Washington knelt down to sketch. He was the only person in the room and so small in the giant space, crouching there before the Christ, making his own kind of prayer. I had brought my Rolleiflex, the better to capture
with a perplexed look on her face, staring up into a tree. I followed the direction of her wide light eyes. Above us, caught in the branches of a tree like a manifestation of sunlight itself, was a golden scarf. She sensed my presence and looked down to see me watching her and laughed, revealing a set of long crooked teeth. I don’t know how it happened! she exclaimed. Her voice was deep and she had an accent of some kind, though I couldn’t tell from where. I was readjusting it, she said, and— poof ! Up it went in a gust of wind. So strange! Very strange, I agreed. Now I amat a loss, she said. Shall I call the fire department? She laughed again. Scandinavian, I guessed—or German? Austrian? I wasn’t much good at accents. Do you have an umbrella? I asked. No, she said, the weather is so beautiful today.
the colors and detail of the stained-glass windows. I held it at chest height and looked down into the viewfinder and focused in, adjusting the exposure so that more light could flood in from the peaked windows. It was beautiful. We walked quietly through rooms full of gold and ivory relics, relics of bone encrusted with gold and gems, supposed splinters from the cross preserved in vials. We saw illuminated manuscripts and he stopped more than once to copy a shining letter, coiled with serpents or half concealed by lilies of the valley. We wandered through silent empty colonnades and dead little gardens. At last we
What we need is a long stick, I said. I went back to the edge of the drive and hunted for a few minutes among the shrubbery and grasses. She hunted too on the other side. Will this work, do you think? she called, holding up a branch about four feet long. I said, Worth a try. She handed it to me as if it was completely natural to expect me to do it for her, though I was shorter than her by a couple of inches. After I reached up and waved the branch around a bit, though, it was clear I’d continue to miss the scarf.
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