“Daddy’s busy, Calum.”
“I drew a picture.” Calum slid the paper across the table.
Don tore his gaze from the laptop. A scraggly line formed a kind of—what? A mountain? What was that green thing?
“Very good.” This quarter’s numbers didn’t look right. Maybe the previous—
“Will it go on the fridge?” Calum gazed at him in earnest suspense.
“Yes, of course.” Just a rounding error? But—
“Calum!” Jeannie called from the living room. Calum ran off.
Don rested his head in his hands. Jeffries hated him already. These numbers could be cause for dismissal. Hopefully a revelation would strike soon. Before tomorrow’s meeting.
He reached for his glass of wine. It toppled and rolled.
The red liquid slicked over the table. He pulled the laptop clear, dashed to the counter for paper towels, and laid down an absorbent landscape over the spill.
Calum’s picture— His heart sank. He fished it out. A pink fog now mired the mysterious subject.
Don imagined his son racing downstairs in the morning to see his art on display. The crushing disappointment.
A previous picture had torn on the journey home from school. Calum had howled all evening.
He read Calum a story, kissed him goodnight, and promised Jeannie he wouldn’t stay up late.
He tried to work in the kitchen. The fridge hummed. The drawing lurked on a radiator, out of sight. But Calum kept visiting his thoughts, wandering up and down the grid, fiddling with the formulae, asking, Where’s my picture?
Don pushed the laptop aside.
The picture had dried to a pink, rippled crispness. The ink had bled.
Don found paper and felt-tip pens among Jeannie’s art supplies. He laid the drawing and a blank sheet side by side. The original had a single wandering line that could be a person or a hill or anything. And a green blob that might be a blocky house.
He swept a meandering curve on the blank sheet. Comparing the two, his line was adult, boring. With the green pen he sketched and filled the house-like shape. The final product irritated him, like a self-conscious diary entry. He crumpled it.
The next attempt was even worse. Hesitation dotted his lines. The house looked like a doodle. A second crumpled ball joined the first.
For the third, he swept and wiggled the pen without thinking; scrawled the house and dashed off the fill. This one lacked artifice. But it was still empty. Calum’s work could be man or mountain, for heaven’s sake. His own line—nothing.
Don rubbed his eyes. Lines wiggled everywhere.
He photographed Calum’s drawing and tried to remove the red using an image editor. The results were horrendous. He wrote on a discussion forum: I ruined my son’s drawing, help!
Dark wood pressed against his cheek. Don lifted his head. Had he been asleep? On the laptop, the post waited, unsent. He deleted it.
He laid some thin paper on the drawing and traced Calum’s line. His hand jerked suddenly, and the pen poked through both layers of paper. He swept everything off the table in a rage.
After a few seconds, he picked up the drawing. It swam in front of his tired eyes. The line went up a little, then curved, then…
There was something familiar about that line. He went to his spreadsheet. A few clicks later, a line chart appeared, that went up, and curved, and—
Calum had drawn the budget?
Another sheet had a breakdown of costs by category. Four bars, green. Kind of looked like a house.
Where would Calum have seen this? He clicked on the third sheet. Beneath the numbers, red wine spread across the page, and a hole poked through—
He jerked upright. A dream. His heart thumped. No sleeping, not now. He grabbed the laptop. Okay. The drawing didn’t exactly match the chart. There was a big dip in Calum’s line where his was straight. And one of the bars on his chart was too tall to make the house shape. It was just a coincidence.
He retrieved the tracing paper from the floor and lightly traced the rest of the line and the green blob. He drew over the lines on the blank paper, leaving an imprint, and then inked the imprint. The line flowed clean and natural, from base to peak to base again. The mountain, or man. He took the green pen and followed the outline and fill of the blob.
He held the copy at arm’s length.
No Calum, but… pretty good.
He slumped in relief.
A few minutes later, a sunshine magnet clamped the imitation to the fridge door, and Don stumbled to bed.
When he entered the kitchen the next morning, Calum and Jeannie were already there. Calum was eating yogurt in the least efficient way possible.
“Did you see your picture?” Don asked.
Calum nodded, but stayed focused on the yogurt. Don hadn’t expected rapture, but this was disappointing.
“You were up late,” Jeannie said, handing him a coffee. “Did you solve the budget thing?”
He sighed and dragged the laptop closer.
Jeannie leaned in for a kiss. “I’m taking him to school. Have a nice day.”
Calum stopped by the fridge, staring at his picture. “It’s not right.”
Jeannie took his hand. Calum followed her, glancing back to the picture as they left.
“It’s not right.”
Don hunched over the screen. Great. Not only was he going to get fired, and probably lose the house too, but he’d let his son down.
Calum’s picture flickered in his mind, overlaying the chart.
Wait—wait. There it was.
A negative when there should be a positive.
Don made a change, clicked, and the charts redrew. Much better. The line had a nice dip. And the cost breakdown looked sort of like…
He looked up at the picture on the fridge.
The solution had been there the whole time.
Waiting for him to see it.
Steve Haddon writes stories when he’s not writing code, has a passion for history but no memory, and enjoys playing the guitar badly. He lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.