“Alright, students! Today, we’re making…” Mrs. Carlson smiles, leaning forward, sitting at the edge of her tall wooden reading chair. The students gaze at her in excitement.
The students cheer, giggling and laughing and clapping. Henry claps along with them, grinning.
“Alright, come along; get some paper. And you’ll each need some scissors, too…”
Mrs. Carlson ushers the students to the craft table in the center of the classroom, topped with hundreds of pieces of construction paper of all different colors and a bucket of small (and rather dull) scissors. Henry runs along after Eli, grabbing a piece of blue, green, and black construction paper. Eli grabs red, green, brown, and purple paper. They each take a pair of scissors.
Henry and Eli sit down on the colorful carpet with the other third-graders, looking expectantly at Mrs. Carlson. She settles into her chair in front of the students, holding an orange piece of paper and a pair of scissors.
“Okay, everyone. Listen closely. First, we need to cut an oval. Like this…”
Henry tries to follow Mrs. Carlson’s movements as she continues, demonstrating how to cut the paper in the shape of a pumpkin. First, she cuts an oval shape, and then shows the students how to cut rivets in the paper to look like the ruts of a pumpkin, as well as a short stem at the top. After he cuts his paper and tries to follow Mrs. Carlson’s instructions, his creation looks more like a large, lopsided blue egg, with odd cuts and scrapes scattered all across the design. He scowls, his little eyebrows furrowed in concentration.
Maybe the next one will be better.
“Alright, students. Want to make another?”
“Again! Again!” the students shout, cheering once more.
Henry forgets to clap––he’s too focused on following Mrs. Carlson’s every move. He’s determined to produce a proper pumpkin this time.
Henry tries to replicate Mrs. Carlson’s movements exactly as she cuts the same oval shape again and the little ruts and the stem. After he’s finished, the pumpkin looks like a strange green pancake with a few bites taken out of it. He scowls again, tossing it on top of his blue egg.
This time, no mistakes. He concentrates on Mrs. Carlson so hard as she prepares to make the third pumpkin that he doesn’t notice Hannah, another third-grader, talking to him.
“Huh?” Henry turns to Hannah, tearing his eyes from Mrs. Carlson just for a moment.
“I like your pumpkin,” Hannah says, pointing and giggling at the green pancake.
Henry glowers, turning haughtily back to Mrs. Carlson. His cheeks redden.
No mistakes this time.
And yet, when he’s finished, he holds an odd black lemon in his hands.
Henry throws the black lemon angrily on top of his other creations and sits back, crossing his arms. He looks down at the ground, fighting back tears, as the other students chatter and giggle, cutting and making wonderful pumpkins. When the bell rings, he shoves the papers in this backpack, all the way to the bottom, hopefully to never be seen again.
Henry doesn't speak for the rest of the day. He’s still quiet as he walks home from the bus stop, trudging through the doors, head hung low.
“Henry? Henry, are you okay?” Henry’s father looks up from his usual place at the dining table. He closes his laptop, standing to approach his son, eyebrows raised in concern. “What’s wrong, son?”
Henry bursts into tears. And, as he does so, he drops his backpack to the floor. Through tears, he shakily unzips his backpack and pulls the crumpled pieces of his attempted pumpkin decorations all the way from the bottom of his bag. He throws them on the ground, wiping his nose. His father kneels down to pick them up, flattening them against his knee to get a better look.
“And what’s this? Why are you crying?”
“I––I––I can’t do it!” He sobs. “I can’t make a pumpkin!”
“Hey, now. Come here.” His father waves him forward. Henry falls into his arms, crying hysterically. His father pats his back tenderly. After a few minutes, Henry’s sobbing shifts to sniffles and hiccups. He finally leans backward, wiping at his eyes and nose with the back of his hand.
“I can’t do it,” Henry tells his father mournfully. “My pumpkins look worse than everyone else’s. I’ll never be good at art.”
“Well. I don’t think so. Tell you what––let’s watch some cartoons together. That always cheers you up, doesn’t it?”
Henry brightens immediately, smiling. His father takes his hand and leads him to the living room, helping his son onto the couch and turning on the television, where they watch cartoons and movies for the rest of the night
Henry stirs, opening his eyes lazily. “Dad?”
“Why aren’t you up? Didn’t you remember?”
Henry sits up in his bed, rubbing his eyes. He blinks at his father, who stands in his doorway, dressed in a full suit complete with a navy blue tie.
“Remember?” Henry asks, puzzled––and a little annoyed. He’s not used to being awake this early on a Saturday morning.
“Show––what?” Henry stares at his father.
“Hurry, son! Come on!” His father disappears from the door. “Don’t be late!” he shouts. Henry hears his footsteps patter down the stairs. And, then, to his surprise––several voices, murmuring from down below.
Henry scrambles out of bed, running downstairs after his father, still wearing his Scooby Doo pajamas. When he stumbles onto the first floor, he steps back in surprise, heart thumping against his chest. What was once his living room now is an empty space. Several adults are gathered about, all dressed in fancy clothing––suits and blouses and jackets. They’re all staring at something on the back wall. Cautiously, Henry tiptoes into the room to investigate what they’re looking at.
“Ah, there he is!”
Henry jumps at the sound of his father’s voice, who stands beside the objects hanging on the back wall.
All the adults turn to face Henry. His cheeks redden.
“Come on, Henry,” his father says, beckoning him closer.
Henry shyly walks to join his father, taking his hand. His father squeezes his hand gently.
“Now, ladies and gentlemen––the person you’ve all been waiting for. The artist behind the wonders of this exhibit!” And with that, Henry’s dad gestures to the objects on the back wall. Henry looks up, and gasps as he finally recognizes the objects.
There, his failed pumpkin creations hang in beautiful ornate frames. There’s the lopsided blue egg, the strange green pancake, and the odd black lemon––all neatly situated on the wall.
The adults begin to clap, murmuring between themselves. Henry’s heart flutters––could they really be interested in his failed pumpkins?
“Now, Henry, I think there are some people here that might be interested in these exhibits,” his father says, nodding to a woman with thin glasses and a high bun peering at Henry's work with narrowed eyes.
“Hm. Yes,” she says, approaching the wall. “This lemon… it’s just exquisite. That detail. That color. Very unique,” she says, turning to Henry. “I’ll be keeping an eye on you. Keep up the good work. You have a talent.” And with that, she smiles at him before turning toward the front door to leave. Henry stares at his lemon in wonder.
He doesn’t notice how the woman turns back once she gets to the door. And, he doesn’t notice his father winking at her, mouthing the words, “Thank you!”.
The other adults in the room make additional comments, remarking about the shapes of the creations, the way the egg is lopsided, the significance of the pancake being green. Henry nods and smiles and tries to keep up with all of the compliments.
And, as each person departs, his father winks at them, mouthing the words, “Thank you!”.
Finally, after the last person leaves, Henry turns to his father, unable to keep still, bouncing on his toes.
“Dad! Dad! Did you see that? Did you see that? They loved them!” He says, pointing at his pumpkins, clapping and grinning from ear to ear.
His father smiles, ruffling his son's hair playfully. “Guess you aren’t so bad at art after all, huh?”