A Portrait of the Sketch Artist as a Young Man

Submitted into Contest #225 in response to: Write a story about someone trying to paint (or otherwise create) a self-portrait.... view prompt

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Suspense Crime

This story contains themes or mentions of sexual violence.

He couldn’t care less about catching criminals, but there wasn’t much else for an art school dropout to do around here. He snickered at the thought of having “artist” in his job title. Not once did he ever envision having a piece hung up in some gallery. He only went to art school to piss off his dad. As a kid he drew to distract himself from the fact that he was distracted. As a teenager he drew girls to get girls. That’s why all the criminals he sketched had feminine eyes. He could never figure out how to draw a man’s eyes.

When they came into the police station that day he barely noticed them. When they sat down next to his desk he didn’t look at their face, let alone their eyes. He never looked at the victims. It was too awkward and he wasn’t any good at pretending to care. It wasn’t his job to care about what happened to them anyway, just ignore the trembling and the tears and draw the perp. If it’s just a witness, even better, he can relax. “Handsome fella,” he’d say sarcastically once Mr. Potato Head had his face.

He often wondered why the sheriff’s office kept paying him what little they did. A small handful of times in eight years did one of his sketches contribute to an arrest, and none lately. All he got for it was a pat on the back from the sheriff. Besides, there are cameras everywhere now, and facial recognition software to boot. Once the tri-county area enters the 21st century he’ll have to find a new career, maybe at one of the wind farms being built nearby, he tells himself.

The unlubricated slide of cheap steel legs on laminate means it’s time for him to get to work. They take the seat facing his left side, torso straight and leaning slightly towards him, feet flat on the floor, hands folded in the middle of their lap. They seem different to him; they don’t belong here. They don’t smell like ammonia or diesel or a hog farm or the unwashed laundry of a meth head. If he had his druthers he’d dress as neatly as they were, but the guys would make fun of him.

He coolly performs his preamble, asks for the basics, and begins by taking notes. He records the race, sex, age, height, build, hair and eye color. He slides them a catalog of stock photos of male faces and instructs them to peruse it for inspiration. “Thousands of contemporary hairstyles including dreadlocks and braids!” the cover boasts. The catalog is a godsend and a crutch. It has the added benefit of diverting the victim’s attention away from him as he draws, but this time they don’t touch the catalog.

“We won’t need it.”

He cocks his head, raises his eyebrows, and switches from pen to pencil, then asks for more detail. A heart-shaped face with a pointed chin. A straight, thin nose. They go on curtly and confidently. He can barely keep up. They haven’t moved a muscle below their neck and their self-assuredness intimidates him. Trying to stem the rushing tide he pauses his sketch and flips open the catalog, then points his pencil at one of the sample faces and asks, “Kind of like this?” points to another, “Or more like this?”

“Neither.” They ignore the ploy and continue. A dimple on the left side only. Stubble.

He feels imaginary heat from the fluorescent bulbs overhead and starts to sweat. Their calm voice washes over him, and the depiction continues with a predictable rhythm. His pencil is now skidding all over the sheet without any effort. It’s as if he’s drawing from a memory he can’t see. He keeps sketching; they’ve stopped talking. He delves deeper into the crevasses of this face, on a familiar path to an unknown place, adding details that weren’t provided to him and yet appear exactly right.  

Their neck straightens in uneasy recoil to take in his arched spine, the zealous twitches of his pencil, his ogling gaze shifting along a fixed plane only inches from the desk. They reach out a phantom limb to pull him back but their body knows it’s futile and doesn’t follow. Every muscle remains tensed and primed as their eyes search the station for reassurances. Several desks away, two uniformed officers are bemusedly watching the scene – not reassuring at all. Flight gets an inch of takeoff as they shift their weight to their feet but fight lands them gently back onto the seat.

His fervor breaks and he is reabsorbed back to the station, the drafting table, the paper, them. They are still. “I’m sorry, I… got a bit carried away,” he mutters, unsure if he spoke the words out loud. He straightens his spine in order to take in his work and allow air to his lungs but all he draws is one shallow breath. His eyes, those eyes, distort to capture his criminal. Hot blood flashes to his face. He has drawn this one before, in Mr. Okazaki’s class. It was Mr. Okazaki that taught him how to draw his own wavy hair, longer then. He swivels to meet their face, expecting a space of bewilderment for him to park his embarrassment, but finding only indignant satisfaction.

His eyes narrow to theirs. He’s drawn those eyes too, but not the rest. After clearing his throat he can’t help but eke out his closing routine, “Hope this helps catch the guy.” Their satisfaction revises to despondence.

“It won’t. The statute of limitations ran out.” They stand up as sternly as they came in and leave the station.

He sulks back to his sketch, head still radiating. A hard slap on the back shoves him into a freezing lake of awareness and he straightens up. The slap comes with a haughty laughter, that same laughter that was the soundtrack to the sketched man’s life, only this time it’s paired with the jangle of cuffs.

The next morning he discovers his sketch hanging flamboyantly in the station’s break room; only someone added a heading: “WANTED”. Sub-heading: “Tranny Fucker”.

November 24, 2023 22:59

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1 comment

Elijah Oglesbee
20:38 Dec 22, 2023

Not as good as your other two but still pretty good


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