Sunday Storytime: “She wanted to make art all day long.”

If you’re visiting this blog for the first time: I post an excerpt from one of my novels-in-progress every Sunday afternoon. This one is an urban fantasy which I usually call Book 4, though its working title is Suicide is for Mortals. For more excerpts from the same WIP, please visit the “meliana and miranda” tag.

This one is from the POV of Dorian Gustafsson, the psychiatrist who looks after the Lucas family. He is talking to Miranda, who wants to know about Meliana.


While the Lucases were moving to New Mexico, I left my job at Spelsburg College and set up my own practice. Amanda and Daniel had occasional sessions with me over the phone. Meliana started her life as a very pleasant, communicative, though apparently normal baby. That did not change until she was two and a half years old. Amanda was three months pregnant with a second child, and while Daniel was at work, she woke up from a nap and came down the stairs to find Meliana on the landing, drawing on the walls with two shades of Amanda’s lipstick. This would have been an irritating, though unexceptional occurrence if Meliana had been doing the usual random scribbles of a toddler, but when I say “drawing,” I mean there was a gorgeous, geometric design of concentric triangles taking shape on the wall.

Amanda took a picture of Meliana’s artwork, called Daniel to tell him that there was something very strange about their daughter and she was taking her to see me, and took the first flight to JFK. She called me from the airport and demanded that I reopen my office at the rather late hour, rented a car and did not stop to take a breath until she reached Apple Creek and plunked her toddling daughter down in my office. I found Meliana tired, disoriented, and confused, which was to be expected in a small child who had just been carried across two time zones at a moment’s notice by her terrified mother. However, I handed her a pad of construction paper and some colored pencils, and she immediately cheered up and went to work. She was very quiet, even unresponsive, while she rendered beautiful, detailed drawings on that paper, but in between pieces, she answered my questions. I showed her to an electric piano, where she played with the keys for a few minutes and then hammered out one of Amanda’s cover songs.

She likes to make pretty things.

I was sure Meliana could have kept making art all night, but I had left my dinner half unfinished at home and the late hour was getting to me, so I brought the session to a close and called Amanda in. She was stunned when I had Meliana play a song for her on the keyboard; she had heard the music earlier but assumed that I had been the one playing. I told her that there was absolutely nothing wrong with her daughter; quite the opposite. She was raising a very well-adjusted, intelligent and preternaturally talented child. I told her that Meliana was an exceptional case, possibly unique and should receive regular evaluations by a mental health professional, but that she showed no signs of pathology.

Amanda took Meliana to spend the night at a local B&B and flew home the following day. She explained to a bewildered Daniel that their daughter was the one responsible for the lipstick design on the wall, and that I had given her a clean bill of mental health.

The Lucases continued to send me progress reports, photos and videos of Meliana’s works over the next several years. Amanda gave birth later that year to a son named Jerome and two years after that to a daughter named Rachel, both of whom were predictably bright, high-functioning children with no sign of their older sister’s talents. Meliana experienced some difficulties in her schooling which took some years to understand. She had a mild delay in language arts but was exceedingly gifted at arithmetic. Her motor control was nothing short of miraculous; she could construct a perfect straight line, circle, right angle or any regular polygon with a free hand in kindergarten. Her classmates were unfortunately, and predictably, hostile. They thought she was retarded when she stayed so quiet in reading lessons, and then found her threatening when she performed so well in math, music and P.E. classes and flew clean above the teacher’s head in art lessons. Meliana was a well-behaved and pleasant child but had limited social skills, and we could discuss to what extent her parents encouraged and coddled her oddities at the expense of her social functioning, but her main difficulty was that she wanted to do little other than make art all day long. She doodled on her math worksheets, made origami with notebook paper while she should have been tracing letters, and often danced to music in her head in the hallways. She could draw, paint, sculpt—you name it, Meliana excelled at it. She did not, however, understand why the other children bullied her. She did not understand why her teacher yelled at her for drawing on worksheets, or stopped her from making chalk designs on the blackboard. Amanda spent much of her daughter’s first four years of elementary school fighting with the administration to accommodate Meliana’s inclinations and intercede in her classmates’ mistreatment of her. A sort of ad hoc IEP was eventually constructed, in which Meliana was allowed to make art with available supplies in free time, as long as she finished her classwork on schedule. When she was allowed to spend her unoccupied moments being creative, she caught up with her class in reading. When the worst offenders were punished severely enough for bullying her that their followers were also deterred, she became more verbal and even volunteered answers during lessons.

She was happy and affectionate at home and when she wasn’t focused on being artistic, she loved to play with her younger siblings and was especially close to her brother. She will drop everything and sit raptly in the audience to watch her mother perform. However, she did not have a friend outside the family until sixth grade, when her classmate Clarice Adrianson reached out to her and decided that her oddness was a gift rather than a defect. They have been inseparable ever since then.