I sat quietly in my room, listening to nothing. The late evening skies were too cold for crickets or birds. I could see Keith and Lily talking outside, swimming in a dim and sensual lantern light. They stared out into the woods around the retreat, obviously enjoying the brisk air and company. I turned from the window and began sketching. I thought about the grand questions of life, and got tired.
“Oh,” I sighed, talking to myself, “my old boy, what about it, eh?” I drew a cube, paying close attention to the perspective. “What is life about?” What a silly question I thought. “It’s not a silly question! The ‘why’ is it, old boy!” I drew two lines, both travelling straight from the cube, curving gently to the right, and then with the same speed back to the left.
“Yet, my friend, how can you bother with the why when you don’t even know the what?” I looked outside the window again. The two were gone. I could see tracks in the frost heading back home. I heard the creaking of the stairs- weighty, big, slow; the wood beneath my socked feet felt their age. “Hello, Lily. Keith.”
“Hey Teach,” she sounded cheeful, “What’s up?”
“I am drawing, my students. Have a seat on the bed.” I connected the bottom and top ends of my two new lines, and then drew three lines at each, making boxes. From the bottom right corner of the top box, I followed the curve of the bottom line to create volume. I paid close attention to perspective.
“Students, I don’t know what to say. Your teacher is melancholy. The answers to life seem so far away. Why? What? How?”
Lily quietly said, “You’ve told us to look around, exist right now, and see. Isn’t that it?”
“Oh, that’s all bullshit.”
They both laughed. I sighed. “No, teacher,” Keith responded, “it’s not. I think ‘why’ is a dumb question if you can’t answer the ‘what’.”
“You know, I just said that to myself.”
“It’s true! You can’t tell me why you drew what you drew unless you know what it is. What is it anyway?”
“Actually I had not really thought about it.” I turned from them and looked at my drawing table. “Oh. Funny. It’s a question mark laying on its side.”
“See, teacher. You know that these questions are old monuments. Monuments to a privileged few like us- well fed, educated, comfortable,” he stretched his hands above his head and yawned. “They’re good questions and all, but at the end… it’s just… you know, what’s here.”
Lily patted my shoulder, “It’s alright, teach. You’re alright.”
“Hmm, almost, Lily. Almost,” I felt better, “but do you know what would just do the trick?”
Keith curiously ventured, “Who?”
“You!” Lily shouted, “And me! And you!”
I laughed, “Very good! Now go make me a sandwich.”
“God! What a coot.”