Naima Abu Esber

Jena is creating a self portrait for her portfolio. She likes using the smudge tool. She uses it to blend colors and to obscure imperfections. The portrait is a process of creation and annihilation; it’s full of innuendo and goes deep. On second glance, the self portrait looks more like a younger version of her mom, the way that Jena wants to remember her. Each project starts with a secret, which gets buried underneath pixels and layers. Jena has been accepted to the San Francisco Art Institute. It’s been her dream to study at an art school in America.

Domestic echos have interrupted her aesthetic meditations. She recognizes the smell of fried eggs drowning in oil. She hears virtual buildings being blown up in her brother’s bedroom. For some reason his laziness and lack of seriousness has put more pressure on her to succeed. Dad has given up up on giving Ferris any kind of guidance. Jena thinks a good kick in the ass would be most appropriate, but she’s too focused on her studies and personal endeavors to talk to Dad about Ferris. Jena and her father have yielded to Ferris’s decadence. He has effortlessly become the prodigal son.

The hard heels of her dad’s shoes come down the hall. Instinctively she swipes left. A double helix and tiny black type take the place of the portrait’s Mona Lisa smile and anime eyes. She has a Biology final tomorrow, but it’s the furthest thing from her mind. Her dad thinks she’s going to the Lebanese University this year to study something hardy like finance or something reputable like chemistry. He pictures her as a pharmacist, or bank manager, respectable and steady occupations.

Whump, thump. Each siblings’ door rattles. Dad doesn’t knock; he bangs. The siblings have learned his pithy expressions at an early age, and they’ve learned to obediently react to them. Jena follows her father into the kitchen, and starts preparing the tea.

“You’re not putting enough tea in there,” he says. Dad throws in another clump of tea leaves into the kettle. “Now boil it until you smell the tea cooking.” Jena assumes he’s the only person in the world who cooks tea. She’s been preparing tea since she was twelve. By now she’s learned that his nagging is part of their tea ritual.

Ferris sits at the table and slouches over his phone. “What?!” he says. Jena has given him a sisterly pinch.

“Put that thing away. You’re at the table,” she tells him.

“Who cares anyways,” he nods his head at the kitchen. Jena looks at her father stooped over the stovetop. She feels his sadness or whatever heaviness that he fosters.

“Just because she isn’t here doesn’t mean that you can do whatever you want. She’s set certain expectations for us, and I intend to follow them,” Jena says.

Ferris leans across the table and whispers a little too loudly, “You mean like running away to America.”

“Shhhh, he’ll hear you.” Jena regrets telling Ferris about her plans. They had a rare moment of brother sister bonding when they smoked a bowl together, a daily habit of Ferris’s. She’d just gotten the news that she’d been accepted into art school and felt that her secret was safe with Ferris.

“You’re going to have to tell him sometime,” Ferris sits back and pops an olive into his mouth.

“I know. I will, but not today. He’s not in a good mood,” she says.

“When is he?”

Guilt fills the corners of the room. It feels like grey cobwebs or the dampness of winter. Will she feel the same when she goes away or will this feeling of guilt follow her? She hopes it’ll all disappear when she follows her dream. Jena shifts in her chair. She knows that nothing in life is ever that easy, but if she doesn’t get away now her life will never change.



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