To note: for this debut issue, only one Challenge Answer is presented here because we didn't have any others! We need lots more to fill up this space for next time -- and remember, the criteria for getting something in the Challenge Answer section is much easier than with the stories. So write, write, write!

Challenge Answer #1
Between the Lines
by Kitteridge

He is a collector of art. Piled up in his apartment for years he has kept fine works of great art, stacks which the museums of the world will ignore forever. Which makes no sense: he visited the Museum of Modern Art alone a bunch of years ago, during a lunch break when his partner was somewhere else, and stood in front of the elaborate, carefully organized pieces of what the world had accepted as art. To him it was layer after layer of glop, and he knew he looked silly standing there with his hands on his hips trying to figure it out, but he gave it a good try.
Then he would come home and look at hers and decide it didn't matter whether she had it hanging on some big blank wall in a building where people forked over eight bucks to watch it or not. It was art. Because it made him feel so good just looking at it.

She came with him to MoMA one afternoon when he was still a beat cop and she was only fifteen. Her curly brown hair shone and bobbed as she yanked on it incessantly, and he was out of uniform, scrubbed and a little anxious, eyes darting around, waiting for someone to say something hurtful about the way she walked, or how her voice was just two shades too loud for proper museum etiquette. He expected that to happen at any moment. He would be mortified first, then pissed off, and then he'd have to make a scene. All he could hope was nobody would say anything.
To his surprise nobody did, as if the moment they handed their tickets over she was no longer different, everyone ignored the two of them. He took her hand and guided her through the barriers and up the escalators, holding on tight. Sometimes she would gaze up at him, not so much with gentle love but a kind of dependent, forceful possessiveness, a glance he would catch out of the corner of his eye but never acknowledge by looking back. Instead he would squeeze once and she would squeeze back twice. Their signal. Holding hands like this they were eventually noticed, but passed as a couple on a date. Steering her forward, he dragged her through the older works, past the Renaissance, beyond the Impressionists. He intended on bringing her straight to the pop art section, to a place where the art reminded him of her -- frenetic, impenetrable, soft, racing, open to the interpretation of anyone who came to stare at it. He pulled her along and she grinned at the breeze of their motion, watching the colors of the walls, the bend of the ceiling, the face of her uncle as he moved swiftly by the other patrons.
But then she stopped. She dug her feet in so hard he stumbled and yanked back, as if on a yo-yo that had run out of string. She was strong, he knew that -- one time when she was barely eleven she had taken some offhand comment wrong, something her mother -- his sister -- had said about putting the spoons next to the knives and she had begun flinging plates around like Frisbees. One broke a pane of glass before he had grabbed her arms and hugged her from behind, restraining her, whispering into her ear that it was all right, nothing to fear.
This time she was not angry at all, but her strength took him by surprise anyway. He rebounded and slipped behind her, examining her pale face and saucer-round eyes, almost as big as the frames on her glasses, as she took in the roomful of paintings through which he had been leading her. She was transformed, fixated, tracing the blocky nightmarish forms on the paintings first with her finger, then bringing her hand to her mouth as if eating the sketch she had drawn in the air. He brought out the pad of paper he normally used to take notes while on the beat and handed it to her with a pen. Immediately she began to mimic what she saw, scribbling and drawing. Where the picture which hung in front of her did not fit she simply drew right off of the paper and into the air. After a moment she sat heavily on the yellow wooden floor and he knelt beside, hovering, daring someone in the room to comment.
No one did. Most sketch artists who came to the museum sat in the back of the room, using charcoal, but that she had decided to sit in the middle with a pen made no difference. After a moment he glanced up from her work to the walls before them. A cow. An eye. A vase. A house. He knew what room they hadstopped in, and he understood what she liked about the hard lines and distorted faces. That other stuff he had spent so many hours trying to interpret and understand really was just glop on a canvas, glop with a good PR agent. This was weird, and possibly just really bad, but it had meaning. It spoke to his niece. It spoke to her in ways he couldn't, and he darted his eyes between the art on the wall and the art she was making of his notepad, trying to decipher the language.
That night he brought her back to Brooklyn with a large sketchpad and a set of pointed markers, and she had begun again, sketching and drawing and remembering what they had spent the afternoon staring at. He envied her this. It was love, that's what it was, finding the one thing or person who truly understood what you were talking about, even when you never made a sound. And when he left that day he felt less of an uncle, and more of a matchmaker.

When he asked later on, the guides told him: it's all about context. Some art, they said, truly has a radiant beauty and craftsmanship, but much other art has little to do with the work itself -- it's what it means, who made it, how it fits in the big picture. Why did squares and large blank fields appear a few decades back, why were so many French painters obsessed with blurring their images, of creating a fantasy land of landscapes and featureless people a hundred years ago? Why was one man able to see the face of a person in so many different planes and angles, see it in pieces rearranged in his own way? No one really knew, they told him. That was the secret behind the art. To understand where it came from.
No one really understands his niece, either. He has four other nieces and nephews, and none of them have regular IQ tests, or have to attend special schools, none of them require round-the-clock attention, and none of them are frozen mentally between ages five and six. She is the second of three in her family, her mother did not smoke or drink during the pregnancy. And yet she came out different. But he likes being with her more than the others. She needs him. And she doesn't ask any questions he can't answer.
He has never thought of her as simple, as retarded, as handicapped. She is just who she is, second of three, the middle child who will always be the youngest child, flinger of plates, duplicator of Picassos, strength which has a source he can never expect to discover.

Over the years, he moved up from beat cop to detective, and he is happy where he is now. His visits to his sister's are still regular, but they have longer spaces between them -- since he took his special niece to the MoMA that day she turned fifteen he has moved on and carved out a life of his own. Since the visit to the art school ten years have gone by; she is now the age of his girlfriend. He has taken her to the aquarium, the botanical gardens, to countless movies and once even on a tour of the precinct. But no matter what they do together his visits always include some kind of drawing. She has gone through seventy-four of those large drawing pads since he gave her the first one, not to mention a hundred and twenty two sets of markers. Whenever he visits, before he leaves to head back into the city he always sits with her and they draw together over one large empty sheet of paper, the colors fitting together somehow, the lines blocky and the faces more like geometry shapes: a cow, a house, an eye. As he draws he forgets himself, he thinks of her arm moving in synch with his on the same sheet and he thinks: herethere is no difference.
She gives him the sheet when he goes, carefully pulling it from the spine of the pad, and he rolls it up carefully, securing it with a small piece of tape. He holds it to his chest during the ride back to his own life, and he leaves it rolled up on the table for a day or two, forgets. Until his girlfriend unrolls it, spreading the curled-up sides out like an ancient scroll. Traces the lines of the faces with her finger, runs the tips of her nails over where he has signed his name with his niece. She takes it to be framed without even asking him, and when he gets home that night the strange swirling colors and oddly-angled, random shapes jump out at him from the wall as if alive. His girlfriend comes out from the bedroom and takes his arm, leaning her head on his shoulder, and they watch the drawing for a few minutes. And he realizes that he no longer envies his niece her Picasso, that ultimate understanding and meeting of the wills. He doesn't need to envy her any more, because he has his own twin holding tight to his arm. A warm serenity comes over him as he gazes at the picture, rooted to the spot, not trying so hard to understand. Sometimes it isn't even that important to know every single reason.
He is a collector of very great art.


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