One Sketch Away
“Allow an hour and a half for your tour,” the gravelly voice on the other end of the crackling landline had said. That was over 20 years, two wiry chin hairs, and one case of sciatica ago. Today, standing in front of her mirror, and preening like a peacock, Anna was preparing, yet again, to tour Sun Studio in Memphis. She could repeat verbatim the tour guide’s spiel, and, many nights, jerked herself from a Tylenol PM-induced slumber humming “That’s Alright Mama.” Neither of those things stopped her. They hadn’t stopped her any other Thursday for the last two months.
She knew where to wait and exactly how long to hang back, pretending to read a book on the Kindle her niece had given her for Christmas. She thought she had loaded a book onto it in January, but it was May, and she still hadn’t found it. So, pretend she did. Scrolling always made her look important. Scrolling and tapping. Anna sometimes thought she might look busy, too busy to be taking a tour. When those panic-stricken moments reared their ugly heads, she would click a YouTube video. Her nephew had helped her make an icon for that. She adored icons. She was far too old to screw around with folders. A good video played at a moderate volume made her look the right mixture of disinterested and anxious.
Today, she watched “Grape Lady Falls” and became inappropriately tickled as she stood near the window snorting to herself and trying not to burst into her trademark donkey laugh. With her hand covering the corner of her mouth she turned the volume down a couple notches and began to steal glances behind the counter. There he was! “Look at him!” she almost uttered aloud.
Each week was like the first week. She didn’t understand how, but it was. Almost overcome by him, her own Giorgio, and the smell of a dozen other moist and garlic-breathing tourists, Anna backed up a step as he passed through the crowd, and when she did she felt a stinging sensation above her left elbow.
“Owww!” She stifled a word she was sure was unsuitable for the ears of the little boy with the chocolate-smeared face to her right. Who in the world decided to put a cactus in the lobby? This was Memphis for crying out loud, not San Antonio. Anna rubbed her stinging flesh and grimaced when the little chocolate-lipped kid snickered in her direction. It mattered not. She straightened the side seam of the flowered skirt that had worked its way around to her belly button during her scrolling, tapping, and video-snorting. God, she hoped he hadn’t seen that.
Some mornings were harder than others. This was Troy’s only day to drive. He normally worked cleaning up display rooms in Sun Studio. He had wielded the same feather dusters and looped the same blue carabiner of keys through his ever-expanding belt for the last 21 years. On Thursdays, he shuttled small hordes of Elvis fans and the occasional impersonator to Graceland from the studio. Today was rough. Spring in Tennessee was killing him. He had sneezed no less than fourteen times, his eyes were watering, and he was pretty sure a good scratch in the back of his throat with a fork would feel great. “Lord, please don’t let today’s impersonator be late. My tissues may not last through all that. That’s all, Amen.”
Before Troy backed out of the driveway of his modest two-bedroom home in Colonial Acres, he glanced at the worn sketchbook in the passenger seat. Laying atop the ripped tan fabric was a spiral sketchbook detailing his years at Sun. Every afternoon, Troy sat behind the wheel of his beat up Cavalier and drew a caricature from his day. His book was filled with the exaggerated features of the day’s happiest guests. Yesterday, his allergies had been so bad, he had forgotten to draw. In fact, when he opened his sketch book he saw the tattered edges of a Kleenex between the pages. “Ugh...nasty, Troy.” Yesterday had been a doozy.
He flipped past the pages sugared-up and pink-cheeked toddlers, ladies with too much tube and too little top, men with toupees flapping in the breeze, and an Elvis impersonator with a red, white, and blue coiffure. The most recent pages all featured the same face, though. She preferred skirts, and if he could draw her smell, he would have to draw a tray of muffins sitting on a Macy’s cosmetic counter. He had passed that way enough when trailing along behind his older sister and her friends when she got stuck babysitting him in the summer. He would know those perfumy scents anywhere. No other person had appeared in his sketchbook more than once. She was there no less than eight times, and the first was 21 years ago.
Today, she was there. Of course she was, it was Thursday. She was always there. Today, Troy would ask her. Troy and his tissues.
Anna had watched him walk through the crowd. Everyone in the room had watched. Following the crowd of tourists across the steamy Memphis sidewalk, she stepped onto the shuttle, cut her eyes in his direction once more, and proceeded to trip magnificently on the top step and execute the most awkward fall in Sun’s history. Nearly landing in his lap, Anna caught herself on the pole to the right of his shoulder and uttered, “Oh!” She could not have sounded more like Dorothy when she and the house plop atop the witch if she had wanted.
Smiling behind the dark aviators that hid some graying at his temples, but more importantly his bloodshot allergy eyes, Troy asked, “Would you like a front seat this time?”
As Anna slid into the seat behind him, red flip flop still in hand, Troy could see this evening’s sketch now. For the first time in 21 years, it wouldn’t be a passenger. Tonight, Troy would be sketching himself.