Terrence saw the poster on campus a week after his grandpa’s funeral. The library bulletin board was always overcrowded with ads for study groups and info nights and suites for rent and textbooks for sale. Once, someone had pinned a used condom under a poster advertising a safe-sex workshop. But there were no biohazards posted now. Front and centre on the board was a flashy graphic — bright colours and matte paper — calling for work from visual artists. According to the Baskerville typeface, the Fine Arts department wanted to exhibit “noteworthy and unique” pieces of work from the student body. Drawing, painting, ceramics, whatever — all would be considered. It promised a cash prize and gallery exhibition. There was a row of tear-off phone numbers at the bottom.
Terrence considered the phone numbers for a moment, blowing steam from the brim of his pottery mug (Americano — no cream, no sugar). He took a slow sip, careful not to burn his tongue. The poster stared at him without expression. Terrence readjusted the pencil tucked behind his ear, then continued walking. Halfway to his study room, the pencil slipped out from its nook and clattered to the scuffed linoleum. Terrence bent to pick it up and turned back to the poster as he stood.
His hand shot out and tore off one of the numbers, folding it twice and tucking it into his pocket.
Terrence had a mug with his name inscribed on it. His grandpa had been a master craftsman. As long as he could remember, Terrence’s vacations to the farm where his mother had grown up had been punctuated by visits to grandpa’s pottery. The small building had a row of awning windows along one wall that opened to let the breeze in, not that they did much when the kiln was firing at a thousand degrees celsius in the corner. Rows of rickety shelving laboured to hold up a hodgepodge of unglazed bowls, metal shaving tools, empty cardboard boxes preemptively stuffed with newspaper, and finished ceramics gleaming through the clay-dust speckled air.
The summer after grade two, Terrence’s grandpa had sat him on his knee at the wheel and showed him how to throw a mug. He held Terrence’s soft hands in his own, his calloused palms pressing gently to apply just the right pressure, and guided them around the spinning lump of red clay until a cylindrical shape emerged. Terrence thought it was magic.
He showed Terrence how to cut a handle from a slab of rolled clay and graft it onto the cup by scoring and splitting before pressing the two pieces together. Then he gave Terrence a knife and let him carve his name into the soft clay. Gently, now. Once Terrence finished, his writing shaky and angular, his grandpa turned the mug around and wrote “Love, Grandpa” on the opposite side.
Two weeks later, Terrence’s mom brought home a shoe box with a ribbon tied around it. Inside, the mug lay nestled in crumpled newspaper. His grandpa had painted it with a clear sealant and dripped purple glaze over the red clay. Terrence took it out of the box and placed it on his desk beside his stack of notebooks. He stood back and inspected the effect, then shifted the mug a few inches to the left, closer to the pencil holder. Again, he stood back, pausing and evaluating, then stepped forwards and repositioned the mug. And then again, and again, until it was in the perfect spot.
“Do you like me?” Terrence said.
He watched the graveyard disappear in the passenger side-view mirror. The car smelled like whiskey and aftershave. Or maybe that was just him.
“Of course I do,” Emilia said.
“When I’m not drunk?”
“I like you all the time.” She sounded tired.
He unbuttoned his dress shirt and readjusted his seatbelt.
“You only ask me if I’m okay when I’ve been drinking,” he said.
She opened her mouth and closed it again.
“Maybe I want to know you care about me even when I’m not wasted.”
“Maybe I want you to express how you’re feeling when you’re sober.”
Emilia glanced at the speedometer, then eased off the gas a little. Terrence crumpled the obituary he had been holding.
“Am I good at drawing?”
“Of course you are,” she said. “You know he thought so too.”
He closed his eyes and smiled.
Terrence had a cup of coffee and a blank sketchbook in front of him. On Saturday mornings he liked to walk to Tinderbox Coffee House. He would follow the sidewalk for a few blocks before dipping off the pavement onto a dirt path. Giant Douglas fir and red cedar soared around him. It hardly felt like he was in the city. The path was flanked by flora that he couldn’t yet identify. They stood sentinel, occasionally reaching onto the path to brush his ankles.
In the cafe, Terrence could see the ocean from a stool at the window where he liked to sit.
He could watch the beach and the people on the beach, the way the two interacted.
“Mind if I sit here?”
Terrence put down his pencil and turned.
A man stood with one hand on the chair beside him. The cafe was filling up quickly.
“Yeah, of course. Go ahead.”
The man pulled out the chair and sat down.
“Pretty, isn’t it?” He jerked his chin in the direction of the window.
“Very,” Terrence said.
He picked up his pencil again and focussed on the ocean. He considered it for a moment — the form of the waves and the movements of the people — then put his pencil to paper and started to sketch.
“How long have you been drawing?”
Terrence didn’t look up. “Thirteen years, on and off.”
“It’s incredible,” the man said.
Terrence squinted down at the collection of lines and curves on the page in front of him, then up at the ocean scene in all its brilliance.
“Could be better.”
Terrence had started drawing when he was five years old. After his grandpa bought him a set of pencil crayons he spent days filling scraps of paper with colourful illustrations. The dog. His mug. An empty bottle of Wiser’s. Stacks of books. His grandpa pinned them to the fridge with magnets shaped like zoo animals and told him that one day they would hang in galleries.
The night of the submission deadline, Terrence was slumped forward in his chair, his forehead pressed against the surface of his easel. An empty two-six of whiskey lay on the hardwood floor. Alcohol and exhaustion had overpowered the effects of caffeine still working through his central nervous system. Crumpled sheets of paper littered the room. There were two broken pencils by the door and another clutched in his left fist. The easel was a mess.
The sheet of paper clamped onto the matted surface was covered in a confusion of black lines scrawled across the page in no apparent order.
The door to his studio opened and Emilia stepped in. She flicked on the overhead light and coughed.
“Hey, wake up.”
Terrence didn’t move.
She approached him, cautiously, and put a hand on his shoulder. “Wake up.”
Terrence jumped up. “Fuck off!”
His voice was slurred, soupy. He stared at Emilia for a second, recognition flickering on the edge of his mind like a dying lightbulb, then collapsed into a heap on the floor.
“Terrence, get up,” she said. “Let’s get you to bed.”
“Not yet, I’m not done.”
The room swam.
“Terrence, get up.” She put out her hand, but he reached for it and missed, so she grabbed him and pulled him up.
“Thanks,” he murmured.
He wrapped his arm around her shoulder and she walked him to the door and out of the room, down the hall, through his bedroom door, and to his bed. When he saw the mattress his legs gave out and he fell face-first onto the duvet.
“I love my bed,” he said, his voice muted.
“I know you do.”
She took his socks off and hoisted his legs onto the bed. She started to remove his pants, but he muttered something about having a girlfriend and wiggled away.
“I am your girlfriend,” she said, but he was already asleep.
When Terrence woke up, he went straight to his studio. He stood in the doorway for a minute, surveyed the mess, then stepped inside. The sweater he had been wearing the night before was in a heap behind his desk chair. He lifted it up and looked underneath, then draped it over the back of the chair. He scuffed aside some crumpled sheets of paper beside the bookshelf.
He found the shards in a corner of the room. There was a big dent in the drywall, behind the door, and a coffee stain radiated outwards from it. He rubbed his eyes.
The mug had broken into six pieces. He almost remembered throwing it, like waking up and almost being able to remember a dream. He had thought it might have been a dream, but there was the mug on the floor.
Terrence gathered the shards in his hands and took them into the kitchen. He set water to boil and spooned two scoops of coffee into a french press. As the water heated he pieced the mug back together with superglue. He could still see cracks running through when he was finished. He sighed and put it on top of the fridge.
Emilia stepped into the kitchen as the water started to boil. Terrence pulled two colourful mugs from the cupboard as she dropped a handful of broken pencils into the garbage.
“I missed the deadline.”
Emilia wrapped her arms around Terrence’s waist as he emptied the kettle into the french press and set a timer.
Morning light filtered onto the kitchen counter through the window above the sink. Cherry blossoms hung like ripe fruit from the trees lining the boulevard. Some were starting to let go of the branches and settle across the pavement in a pink film. The pair stood together in silence, watching the street come to life. It wouldn’t be long before cars scattered the petals on the road, cutting tracks through the cherry snow.
“I miss him.”
Terrence pressed the coffee and poured two cups. Emilia took the mug as he handed it to her, steam rising to kiss her lips.
“I miss him and I don’t know what to do about it,” Terrence said.
“You don’t need to win a contest to impress him.”
Terrence looked up to the mosaic mug on top of the fridge. Even now it was lovely. He thought of zoo animal magnets and pencil crayon still lifes. Beauty wasn’t always perfection. His grandpa had known that. The cracked glaze on the mug twinkled slightly in the sun.