I asked Mama how to draw an upside-down man, and she said to just draw a man and turn the paper the other way round so that he was upside down.
“He does not look like he is falling,” I said. “He is supposed to look like he is falling.”
“Well, then, he is not falling,” Mama said.
“He looks like someone tied a rope around his ankles and is dangling him from the ceiling,” I said.
“I don’t know,” she said.
I went away in the fall, to live with Dad, and Jeanie went to live with Mama. They tossed us back and forth, so that I was with Mama all summer and Dad the rest of the time. Jeanie had to be with Mama, they said, because Jeanie was younger and she needed Mama. And Jeanie didn’t need me.
Dad had gotten a new girlfriend that summer and she was very tall and very tan and she called everyone “honey.”
I asked her how to draw an upside-down man and she smiled and said men aren’t supposed to be upside down, honey.
That year in Mr. Kessler’s English class, we were supposed to draw pictures for the reports on the book we were reading, and Dad said in the car that he would help me. But after dinner, he went into his room with his girlfriend and I drew the pictures myself and stuck them all on the board upside down.
Danny who sat two seats away laughed and asked if I was stupid. I said I wasn’t. Mr. Kessler gave me a C+.
Mama got older every summer that I went to see her and I guess Jeanie did, too. I didn’t really see her. I knew she had started to wear black underwear when I found a pair in my suitcase when I was going back to Dad’s. Mama said I grew, too, every year until I was not seven anymore but seventeen and too small for my hands.
Dad married his girlfriend and she said to just call her Lou, honey. Only Dad called her Louise.
Lou was always fixing. She fixed me snacks when I got home, she fixed my bangs when they were getting too long, she fixed Dad’s shirt and his flat tire. She always said she was fixing to open a shop of her own.
Dad asked me if I was still making my little drawings when he saw the dog-eared sketchbook on my desk.
“Can I see?” He reached for it.
I watched him look at the drawings of Mama and the one of Jeanie after she had just gotten out of the shower and her hair was a dripping net on her back.
“Your sister’s gotten big,” he commented, carefully flipping past a sketch of Mama, bent over the kitchen sink as she washed the dishes.
“Is she taller than you, now?”
“Maybe. Almost. I don’t know. Maybe.”
He said okay and left. He looked maybe like he wanted to say something more, but he didn’t.
I went to school and I sat by myself during lunch because Lacy who usually sat with me was sick that day.
“I’m going to be sick tomorrow,” she had said.
“I’ve got a big test tomorrow, so I’m going to be sick.”
So Lacy was sick and I didn’t know what to draw because I usually drew Lacy.
“Why are you alone?” A boy came to sit next to me. I knew him, he sat diagonal from me in math class. He had a big chin, he always stared at the board with his chin in his hand.
“Lacy is sick today,” I said.
“She has a test today, so she’s sick,” I explained. I couldn’t think of anything else to say. I didn’t want him to think I was stupid.
He laughed. “So what are you drawing today?”
“Can I see?” He moved over so that his arm was touching mine.
I showed him the blank page. “Nothing today.”
“Well, why don’t you draw me?”
I looked at him, and I saw his nose, which was big, but not as big as his chin, and his eyes, which weren’t big.
“I can’t right now,” I said. “You’re too close.”
“Why don’t you meet me today after school?” he said. “I’ll see you in the parking lot. We can go somewhere and you can think about how to draw me then.”
I knew Dad was going to be helping Lou. He always seemed to be helping her with something, so I said, “Okay.”
I stood by the curb after school, and the boy drove his truck up to me. It was a tired truck that smelled like rust and sex, but I was only guessing, because I didn’t know what sex smelled like.
I told him that and he laughed. “The rust is there for sure,” he said. “This is an old car.” He rubbed his hands along the steering wheel.
“And the sex?”
We drove and we drove until I didn’t quite recognize where we were anymore. Sometimes he would hit his palm against the radio because it stuttered.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
He pulled up across the street from a very nice-looking house where I imagined nice-looking people lived. It had a trim lawn and dark brown doors and white windowsills.
“Do you live here?”
“My mom does.”
“Have you thought about how to draw me?” he asked, looking at the house.
“Well, get out your sketchbook, and you can think about it as you draw.”
He was still looking at the house. I dug out my sketchbook and a pencil and wondered if I should draw the house, or the people who probably lived in the house.
He leaned in very close, so that I could smell his cafeteria meatloaf breath, and said, “You’re a very beautiful girl.”
“Not really,” I said. “My sister Jeanie, she’s beautiful.”
“You’re beautiful,” he said. “You’re the kind of girl who’s most beautiful without clothes, you know?”
“It’s really hot in here,” he said. “You should take off your jacket.”
And then he tugged on my sleeve, and I tried to shake him off, but he was clinging onto my jacket, so I shook off my jacket.
“That’s a good girl,” he said.
“I think I want to go home,” I said, and tried the door, but he had locked it.
“I’ll drive you home,” he said. “But you should pick up your pencil first.”
I had dropped it when he had grabbed my arm, and it was now under his seat. I reached over to pick up the pencil, and he put his hand on my head and pushed me down.
And so I was sprawled on the floor and his fingers were knotted in my hair and he pulled me up so that my head rested between his knees.
“I’ll drive you home,” he said, “but you haven’t drawn me yet.”
With some difficulty, he worked his zipper down and all the while I was stuck so tightly I could hear his knees in my ears.
He held my head with one hand, his nails piercing my scalp, and used his other hand to force himself into my mouth.
I was crying, or maybe I wasn’t, maybe I was just choking, but I couldn’t breathe, and I couldn’t move, and I couldn’t do anything but beat uselessly against his legs with my hands, and the hairy expanse of him clogged my screams in my throat.
I heard him say “bitch” and I heard him groan and I heard him say “bitch” again, but I couldn’t be sure, because I could mostly only hear my own heart slapping the walls of my chest.
So instead I looked up, at his chin, at his big, big chin, and it was all I saw.
When he was finished, he let go of me and watched me clamber back up onto the seat.
“You don’t tell anybody,” he said, “or I’ll kill you. I’ll kill you, and I’ll kill your sister.”
I could still feel the weight of him crushing my throat and my head and my ears, so I just nodded.
“Besides,” he said, “who would believe a freak like you?”
I didn’t say anything on the way back to school. I didn’t think I’d ever say anything again.
“Clean yourself up,” he instructed, before he drove away. I stood alone in the parking lot for a long while, for long after the sun had set, before I called Dad.
“What happened to your hair?” Dad asked. I hadn’t combed out all the knots.
“Is that blood?” He leaned over and I flinched away.
“Next time you want to try something with your hair, ask Lou for help,” he said, smiling. “Then maybe you won’t hurt yourself.”
I went home and I thought about how to draw him, and then I drew him with the bitter taste of him in my mouth, and I started with his big chin, and I drew the rest of his face and his body, and when I finished, it looked like a picture of him standing up from the point of view of someone lying below him.
Then I turned it upside down, and it looked like he was falling, falling headfirst.
Lisa Liu is a senior at The Harker School in San Jose, California. Her poetry and prose have been featured in Textploit and Phosphene. She is a graduate of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio.