By Abby Melick
This is how you ignore the paper sobbing beneath your scratching pencil because it is not your job to show mercy and besides you must keep moving the graphite nub back and forth and up and down to mimic the shading of the upper lip of this might-be criminal before he finishes the fishy tale of his alibi so that you can live up to your self-appointed title of “conduit of justice,” which sounds so much more impressive than “courtroom doodler,” which is how your mother describes what you do to her book club, and you are getting the greasy flow of this man’s hair right when the might-be criminal moves his head
to the left
to turn towards the jury
to look them straight in the eyes like his lawyer suggested
and the movement reveals a hidden mole on the other side of his chin that you would not
otherwise have noticed, so you guide your graphite nub to the spot on his face on the page where you are shaping the contours of his sharp, wily jawline to capture this mole into existence before it’s too late, but the placement of the mole reminds you that you haven’t yet tackled the hollow of his neck or the tell-tale energy of the might-be criminal’s fingers as he drums them impatiently on the witness stand, and the way his fingers are moving reminds you of the study of Dürer’s hands you were meant to do in art school, and how your professor had asked you to see him after class and he told you then, not unkindly, that while you certainly have a knack for capturing the soul-layers of faces—I mean really, Candice, you have a gift for getting a face to tell you all its secrets, that’s rare, dear girl—yes, despite that soul-layering knack for the face, hands are not your strong suit, Candice, but if you were really serious about improving, he would gladly provide you with private lessons on detailing the sinewy tendons of the fingers, if, perhaps, you would be interested in coming over to his apartment after class one day; so of course, you went, because you were desperate to be good and desperate to be excellent, and after the first, second, third glass of wine you watched his own sinewy hands
trace the curve of your goose-bump-prickled knee
up the flesh of your inner thigh
to the deep heat of the space between your
and you remember thinking to yourself that hands are difficult things to draw with truth because they are brilliant liars, and it stopped you from drawing hands entirely for a good long while, but when you returned to it in your great post-MFA depression you found that the skill had suddenly found you and that the hands still weren’t as telling as your sketches of the faces but they would do alright for a job like this one where all that matters is capturing the image, which you are currently pulsing into existence through your work on the shading under the bridge of this might-be criminal’s nose, which has been quivering with sweat ever since the lead prosecutor cross-examined him, and isn’t it funny how the dark circles under his eyes match the ones of the Title IX administrator to whom you told the story of the professor and his wandering hands, the one who looked at you dubiously when you said the name, the one who asked you are you sure? You’re sure that it was him? People love him!
You are on the eyes now because the eyes are always the last thing you draw and the defense is making their closing arguments, hemming and hawing because perhaps they do not know any more if their argument holds up, but they sure are putting on a good show, aren’t they, the jury is not asleep like they are for most trials, and you take a moment to try to catch the might-be criminal’s eye to understand the complex brown of his irises, and when you do, your heart catches in your throat, because the eyes, unlike the hands, are horrendous liars, they couldn’t lie even if their lives depended on it, and as the judge turns to the jury to begin the instructions for the next steps, to inform them of their responsibility to come to a unanimous decision about this man’s fate, and as the jury members nod silently, and as the might-be criminal widens his eyes towards them in one last desperate plea, your graphite nub slips on the page and slashes a dark gray line across the brow of your simulacrum might-be criminal, and a cry goes out from his flesh doppelgänger as the jury files out into the deliberation room.
You finish the drawing as the might-be criminal is taken away to some holding place and you print your name in tiny careful letters at the bottom of the page as the courtroom empties of bodies, and if you think too much about it, you’ll be catapulted into a doom spiral of fear that, perhaps this once, your pencil has made a mistake, and you’ve marked an innocent man with the black smudge of a faulty eraser,
but in the end, it doesn’t matter
for your mother was right
your only job is to draw what you see.