To Remember Him By by Melissa Ratner

Omar was sitting at the over-sized desk that had belonged to his father. Books were piled a foot high over most of it. Volumes on history and science were mixed in with comic anthologies and antique editions of Dumas. Omar let his legs swing freely over the edge of the chair, his sandals flying off and landing with a light thud somewhere under the desk. His small hand gripped the pencil fiercely, his tongue protruding through his tightly-cinched lips in concentration. A half drawn face was on the yellowed sheet of paper in front of him. It was his father’s face. He had to finish the picture tonight. Tomorrow, he may not remember what his father looked like.

Omar stopped sketching for a moment and listened to the ticking of a watch coming from somewhere under the books. Time was running out. He bent back over the paper and his pencil scribbled and scratched the eyes of his father. Sunlight slanted through the study window. The day was ending. He had to hurry.

The front door of the house opened heavily, creaking and groaning against its own weight as Mia pushed it inward. The babysitter met her at the door. “He’s in there again,” she whispered as she walked out the front door with her wages. Setting down her keys and purse on the entry table, Mia headed down the hall to Rick’s study. Her son spent most of his time in there lately. Softly, she opened to the door to the room

“Omar.” It was more of a statement than a greeting.

Omar worked, head bowed, hand moving frantically against the sheet of paper.

“Omar,” she repeated. Still nothing. She walked over to her son and looked down at the back of his head. He was filthy. Probably hadn’t showered for a few days. She couldn’t remember. She was always working and meeting with creditors, trying to save her husband’s home, Omar’s home, from foreclosure. “Omar,” she said once more, louder this time. Still Omar did not respond. She looked over his shoulder at the paper he was drawing on.

Omar was aware that someone was in the house. He heard the door open. He heard slow and tired footsteps in the hall. He knew that his mother had come home and that she was trying to get his attention. But he couldn’t stop drawing. If he stopped, he would forget. He would lose the little bit of his father that he had left. He would have only a set of eyes on empty, yellowed paper to remember him by. He kept working. The lead of his pencil wore down. He sharpened it, kept sketching. He felt the familiar pressure in his bladder. He had drunk too much Kool-Aid with lunch. But he couldn’t stop. He continued. A nose emerged on the paper. The rough outline of a chin. His pencil broke. He grabbed another from his pile of No. 2s.

Mia knew that Omar was struggling with the death of his father. He hadn’t spoken since the funeral. He spent countless hours in the study, slowly flipping through the pages of his father’s books. They hadn’t made much more than they needed to pay their bills but Rick had always managed to find a way to get more books. He read everything. He told Omar that he could learn anything, travel anywhere, and escape any of life’s hardships in a book. Omar had never been much for reading but since his father died, he spent all of his extra time with the books. Touching them, smelling them, hugging them. Sometimes he cried silently. Sometimes he just stared at them for hours.

Mia watched Omar, scribbling away, ignoring her, and she thought of her husband. She thought of the mortgage. She thought of her son. Bills, meetings, work, debt. She crossed her arms over her stomach, gripping her elbows, pulling her arms tight into herself. Her lips pursed in silent indignation. A tear slipped out of her eye and slid down her cheek. She needed something. She needed family. She needed her son. But he only ignored her. He only drew an unrecognizable face. Making an effort to relax her body, she put her hand on Omar’s shoulder. “Omar, please look at me.”

Omar felt the hand on his shoulder. He moved his pencil faster. He was running out of time. He felt the hand grow heavier. He heard the breathing speed up. He saw the tear drop land on the desk next to him. There were ears now. Almost done.

Mia took a step back. “Omar!” she yelled. “Omar, look at me! Do something. Talk to me. I’m your mother. Look at me when I talk to you!” she cried.

The hair was starting to take form. He could almost see his father’s whole face now.

Mia walked over to the desk, grabbed the sheet of paper from Omar, crumpled it up and threw it toward the corner of the room. She pulled Omar out of the chair, turned him around so that his body was facing her, and held his face in both hands, forcing him to look at her.

He was just a kid. He couldn’t escape her hold. But he couldn’t look at her either. If he looked at her, he would see a different face, the wrong face, and maybe he wouldn’t be able to finish his father’s face. He looked down at the ground. He saw his mother’s shoes, worn and cracked in the toes. He saw the run in her pantyhose. He wanted to tell her that he loved her, that it would all be okay. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t look at her. He couldn’t do anything until he finished the picture.

Mia stared at Omar. She looked at his face, his small mouth, his little round nose. She looked down at his hands, bunched up and tucked defiantly against his narrow hips, still gripping the pencil. She noticed how tired he looked and she wanted to crush him to her, to love him enough that he would look at her, would talk again. Instead, she let go of him.

Omar walked away from his mother to where the crumpled piece of paper lay in the corner. He picked it up, took it back to the desk, and smoothed it out with his small hands. He climbed back up into his father’s chair and finished drawing. The hair completed, Omar added a small caption in a bubble next to his father’s face. In scribbled letters, he spelled out, “I luv yu Omar.” It was done. He climbed down off the chair, walked over to his mother, lifted up the picture for her to see, and said, “Here mommy, so we can remember Daddy.”