Picture Day, Continued (January 2019, Round 3 winner, Day 7)
Wisdom was ten. Her arms and legs were too long for her, and her hair was “always a fright” according to her grandfather (though he said it with love and a twinkle in his eye so she liked both the phrase and her hair), probably because of all the curls and it’s propensity to reach up rather than down at any given moment. She preferred books over people and she ate all her vegetables first at meals. Wisdom was a typical child, and a witness.
When she woke up that day her biggest concern was the circled words on the calendar that hung above her desk. She’d been watching those words get closer and closer as she marked off each day (a habit she picked up after reading a story about a stranded adventurer). “Picture Day” was, finally, today.
She sat in bed with the covers pulled up to her armpits and thought. The problem with Picture Day wasn’t posing for the photo. Wisdom liked getting dressed up in her own way. You wouldn’t find her in a frilly dress or with her hair done just so on any day much less Picture Day. Wisdom had, since kindegarten, dressed as her favorite author (or one of them – it was simply too hard to pick just ONE author when there were so many good books out there) of the moment. She hadn’t wanted strangers to come into her classroom and take her picture back when she was little. The tears and howls she’d expended the Friday before that first Picture Day had shaken the neighborhood. It wasn’t until her mother showed her that there was a picture – a posed picture – of an author on the back of one of her grown-up books that Wisdom relented…on one condition – that SHE be allowed to dress like an author.
The tradition was born and Picture Day was saved. Wisdom planned for Picture Day like the other children (their parents, really) planned for Halloween. She would decide who she was going to emulate and then work with her mother, father, and grandfather (mostly her grandfather since he was around after school) to gather or make the pieces needed to create her look. Picture Day itself was like a holiday – a sacred holiday – to Wisdom.
Picture Day as a ten year old was setting up to be different than it used to be. Wisdom didn’t feel very different and didn’t understand why her friends (were they really her friends?) had decided to start teasing her about her plans. Last week had been rough, and the jeering words of Ellery and Heidi still bounced around her head. She’d only confided in her grandfather, and only then because he asked why she wasn’t smiling over their final preparations on Sunday.
“Chin up, Wisdom,” he’d said. “You’re a smart enough girl to carry your name, and you’re smart enough to let the words of small people roll right off your back.”
Thinking about her grandfather’s words helped her throw off the covers. It was Picture Day, after all, and she wasn’t going to miss it, especially not this one.
Wisdom loved books. She loved holding them, reading them, seeing them lined up on her bookshelves. Authors all made magic in their creating books, and some were more magical than others. Over the years, Wisdom had dressed as Margaret Wise Brown, Theodore Geisel, Mo Williams, Kevin Henkes, and Ezra Jack Keats. She picked who to be from the books that she loved the most at the time and didn’t care how different the authors were from her everyday self. Dressing like them, Wisdom told her grandfather, felt like borrowing some of their magic, just for the day. He’d said, “you’ve got your own magic, Wisdom,” and “borrowed magic is fine as long as you take a good shower afterwards”. Grandpa’s saying didn’t always make sense to her, and she knew that was part of his magic.
This year, though, she was going to dress as her all-time favorite author. She was in fifth grade, after all, and this would be her last Picture Day at Saddleson Elementary. Wisdom had been saving this author up since the third grade and, as a result, had done a lot of research. A lot. She even got to print out a photo she’d found online on fancy paper made just for pictures. Her teacher, Ms. Janice (the first teacher who let them use her first name since preschool), had helped her in the library at the beginning of the year. The photo was the inspiration for this year’s costume, and she’d worked hard on getting everything just right.
After a rushed breakfast with her mother and father (grandpa liked to “let the sun get its legs beneath it” before waking) she donned her carefully crafted outfit before letting her mother work on her hair. When she stood in the hallway looking at their long mirror her father made a big show of jumping back and saying, “Why, Ms. L’Engle, to what do we owe this honor?” Even though Wisdom knew he knew it was her in her Picture Day outfit it made her smile. Her mother or father always went into work late and drove her to school on Picture Day. This year, because it was such a special day, they BOTH would be there – and for the whole day, not just drop-off.
Wisdom barely fit inside the car with all her excitement. She smoothed the plaid skirt down and looked out the closed car window (it was too risky to have the windows down on Picture Day, no matter the temperature) at the familiar houses along their route to the school. Wisdom felt the author magic inside her and smiled.
She left her parents at the car and headed for the playground to find her friends. No one was playing on the equipment or running around – it was Picture Day, and everyone was dressed up. Wisdom saw the boys she usually played soccer with in buttoned up shirts, some with ties, and smooth slacks (her grandfather always chuckled at that word) and shiney shoes. The girls she usually ate lunch with all – every single one of them – were in straight skirts that stopped just above their knees and flowy shirts. They all had their hair pulled back into tight pony tails, and they all had shoes with a small heel. It looked, to Wisdom, like they’d all gone shopping together and came out with matching personalities as well as outfits.
Wisdom ran over to Ellery and Heidi, who were standing just to the side of a gaggle of girls and boys, and said, “Hi!” with all the excitement and magic only Picture Day can bring.
The two girls looked Wisdom down and up without saying a word. When they got back up to Wisdom’s head, Ellery crossed her arms in front of her chest and said, “um, who are you pretending to be today, Wisdom?”
“I’m not pretending to be anyone, Ellery. It’s Picture Day and this year I’m celebrating Madeline L’Engle.”
Heidi matched Ellery’s stance and jeered, “um, who is that, exactly, Wisdom.”
Wisdom laughed and missed the look the two girls exchanged. “Who is Madeline L’Engle? Do you really not know who Madeline L’Engle is?” Laughter took Wisdom over again and she struggled to get it back under control. “She wrote Wrinkle in Time. You have to know that book. It’s amazing!”
Ellery and Heidi shifted their weight onto one hip – the same hip – before Ellery said, “you’re weird, Wisdom.”
The bell rang and all the children lined up, alphabetically by first name, to go inside so Wisdom took her place at the second-to-last spot in line (only Yuri was behind her, and he’d only joined the school this year) leaving Ellery and Heidi behind.
Picture Day was, easily, the longest school day of the year for Wisdom. The older they’d gotten the later their turn with the photographers. Wisdom had always been careful of her clothes on Picture Day, even back in kindegarden. Her grandfather had told her, on that first Picture Day, “all this work what went in to your outfit, you’d best bring home a picture that captures it.” Wisdom always listened to her grandfather. Always.
Everything was going fine and Wisdom was going through her day with the magic of Madeline L’Engle in and on her until lunch. She had just retrieved the carefully packed meal (no spills, no drips) from her locker when Ellery and Heidi appeared (maybe they had their own Picture Day magic) in front of her.
“Oh, Heidi, look. It’s Madame Wrinkles.”
Wisdom didn’t like the look in Ellery’s eyes. Her father would have called it “mean mugging” which he probably got from growing up with Grandpa.
“Weirdo Wrinkles, you mean, Ellery.”
Wisdom could see that Heidi was just following Ellery. It wasn’t the first time. Heidi “lacked moral fortitude” according to Wisdom’s mother. She’d had to go to dictionary.com to figure out what that meant and had been surprised to discover, as a result, how little her mother thought of her friend.