Fiction: Portrait by Peter Cherches

I was passing by the local elementary school, P.S. 321. It’s considered one of the best public primary schools in the city. Real estate is at a premium in my immediate neighborhood because of it.

There were three little boys in front of the gate sitting at a little bridge table. “Hey mister, can you help us?” one of the boys asked.

“What do you need?”

“We’re trying to raise money to buy a PlayStation. They’re pretty expensive, you know, so we’re doing portraits of people for a couple of bucks apiece,” the same kid said.

“How are you doing so far?”

“Not great, so far we’ve made 18 bucks.”

I was feeling generous, and I wasn’t in a rush, so I said, “Sure, I’ll let you do my portrait.”

A different boy said, “Two dollars for one color, or five bucks for multiple.”

I admired their initiative, so I said, “Multiple colors!”

It turned out the third kid, who hadn’t said anything yet, was the artist. He took out a box of Crayola crayons and started making an outline in black on a sheet of cream-colored construction paper. I didn’t want to make him self-conscious, so I didn’t watch what he was doing.

As he continued to draw me, the other two would look over his work, sometimes point at something and whisper, sometimes suggest a different color to use in a certain spot. The whole operation took about three minutes.

“Wa-la,” the kid who had first stopped me said, and handed me the drawing.

I was impressed and surprised. It was incredibly detailed and realistic. How had he done that in three minutes? He couldn’t have been more than 10 or 11 years old.

“This is unbelievable,” I said as I handed the artist a fin. “But how did you know what I looked like when I was your age?”

Peter Cherches has been called “one of the innovators of the short short story” by Publishers Weekly. His most recent book is Things (Bamboo Dart Press). His writing has appeared in scores of magazines, anthologies and websites, including Harper’sFlashBombSemiotext(e) and Fiction International, as well as Billy Collins’ Poetry 180 website and anthology.