|Short piece! Some kind of identity thing, I'm told. Hell, I dunno, I just wrote it. If it seems a little breathless, it's supposed to.|
My name is Theresa Ann Douglas. Not Sam or Sammy, like they call me around here. Theresa Ann. Theresa with an "h". Ann without an "e". I have to repeat it to myself to remember some days.
Kind of funny. I was drawing -- sketching. The day before, my brother had caught a salamander and put it in a jar. Isn't that the sort of thing little boys do? Or maybe it's just humans. Humans like to catch things and put them in jars and look at them. Sometimes shake them to watch them wiggle. My brother did, right before he handed the jar to me and told me to draw it -- just shakeshakeshake, like that. I took the jar away from him with a snatch because I didn't like him doing that and he wrinkled his sun-freckled nose because he knew better. I looked at him through the jar, past the salamander -- still jerking and squirming -- he hadn't put any grass, any water, hadn't punched holes in the lid. "You want it to shrivel up and die" from me, "No" from him.
I told him to take care of it or let it go and I wouldn't draw it.
But he did -- and I did.
I was sketching the salamander out on the front lawn of the school. It was cool in the shade of the big, brown tree, and school didn't start for another fifteen minutes. "Did you want me to sketch him in the jar" I'd asked him, and he'd said "No, on the grass" but I couldn't take the salamander out of the jar until the drawing was done. But I sat down and pulled out my sketchpad, I could fake it, and I took one of my drawing pencils that was a little dulled and got to work.
I didn't even notice them until one of them asked what I was doing. "Drawing" I said, and received "Drawing what" and that irritated me, because he could look in the jar or look on the paper and there's what I was drawing. One of his companions -- it was a girl, and she had a nasal voice and a cough, "Stupid, she's drawing" coughcough "that lizard" and I could see her out of the corner of my eye point to the drawing then the jar.
"It's a salamander" I told her, and I kept drawing; I had his body roughed out and I was working on the details of his head -- I looked up at him, and he blinked his eyes. The group was clustered a little closer now, watching me. That makes me nervous, makes me feel a little trapped. They were muttering over my head, and I bent down closer, concentrating on the salamander, the eyes, the nostrils, the shiny, wet skin.
"Why are you drawing a salamander" asked the first one, and "My brother asked me to" was what I told him. They didn't seem to like that, and they would have kept asking and pressing in closer, but the bell rang.
They were all gone before I stood up, I hadn't seen their faces. The next day I finished him, added the details to his body, his toes, his tail and signed it. My brother had forgotten about it. "Do you want the picture" I said to him, and he said "What picture" and started watching TV. "Do you want the salamander" I continued, and he told me I should let it go in the backyard, because that was what Mom had told him. So I kept the picture in the top of my sketchpad and let the salamander go in the backyard.
That morning they hadn't watched me finish him, too busy, I guess, but they were there the next day, and I had my sketchpad again. "Hey, it's the girl with the salamander" said the first one, and the girl laughed and asked me where the salamander was. "I let it go" I told her and kept drawing. I don't remember what.
They clustered around me and watched again, and I didn't say anything because I was trying so hard to concentrate, and I didn't notice when the girl asked me "Why are you drawing that" until she said it again. She sounded angry the second time, like I was ignoring her on purpose. "Because I want to" I said it apologetically, and she didn't seem as angry anymore. And the bell rang again and we went inside. That day they noticed me in the hall and started calling me 'the girl with the salamander'. It went like that for about a week until it got too long to call me 'the girl with the salamander' and they started to call me 'the salamander girl'.
I didn't mind it because they didn't know my name and I didn't know theirs, so what else were they supposed to call me. I could tell their faces because I saw them in the hall, but that was all. After a month or two of calling me 'the salamander girl' they shortened it again. Salamander -- that was what they called me, and I still didn't have names for them, but they came every morning and clustered around to see me draw, and sometimes I had to ask them to move so I could get a little light and they didn't mind. I didn't know anybody else, then, and people only knew me by what they called me. I had never thought of it as mean -- not until someone I didn't know said "Why do you let them call you that" and I stopped and looked at whoever it was funny and said "I don't know" then walked on.
So the people I didn't know started calling me Salamander, too, but the teachers didn't like it and called me Sam or Sammy. I don't know why that -- why not Theresa or Theresa Ann or if they really wanted the nickname why not Sal or Sally. But I guess it didn't matter, I was Salamander, and they were the way people saw me, through a little glass jar with air holes punched in the top. I don't know what will happen if we move -- Dad says he might, he needs a new job, a change of scenery. I don't know what the people will call me there. If they say Theresa or Theresa Ann I may not answer them, I may not remember, but how can I tell them my name is Salamander?
Sometimes I think about that, and I think about it hard because it frightens me. And after a while I lean back and look up and remember my brother's salamander in the jar looking at me and blinking his little black eyes. And I think about how I can say "My name is Salamander or Sammy or Sam" and smile.