Elizabeth Thomas Brewer has a drawer in one of her dressers. It's filled with mementos of four childhoods, report cards and little league plaques and certificates for completing the library summer reading program. There's a good sampling of children's artwork in there, a lot of it sports themed, but also family portraits with arrows pointing out who's who and pictures drawn after trips to the zoo, or the beach, or the city.
One of her favorite pictures is one that wasn't drawn by any of her kids. It's a picture of a knight, and a princess, and what seems to be some kind of jester holding a paintbrush. Just looking at it takes her back to that afternoon.
“What do we wanna play?” She hears Claudia from the living room. The girls are all six, and it's a rainy afternoon in July. David Michael isn't born yet, Charlie and Sam are at a friends house, and Patrick is at work. So is Richard, and both of Claudia's parents, which is why the girls are all in her living room.
Elizabeth is sitting in the kitchen with a cup of coffee. She's leafing through cookbooks, trying to come up with an idea for dinner that she feels like making.
She can't hear what's said next. She has a guess Mary Anne wants to play princesses, because it's the only reason she can imagine why Kristy would announce loudly “We're playing princesses. You and Mary Anne are princesses. I'll be the knight and I'll protect you from dragons.”
“I don't want to be a princess.” Claudia says, almost as loudly.
“You can be a knight, too.” Kristy offers.
“I don't wanna be a knight, either. I want to be a painter.”
“There's no painter in princesses.” Kristy says. Elizabeth can picture her little hands in fists on her hips, a pose Kristy uses when she feels she's said the last word on a subject.
Elizabeth knows enough by now to let kids work out their own games, and sure enough she hears Mary Anne say, “Claudia can be a painter. She can make pictures of us.”
She knows that Kristy is having a fight between her desire to be right and her vanity.
Vanity wins. “Okay. Claudia can make pictures of us.”
She hears the sound of little footsteps towards the stairs, and yells out “Stay out of my bedroom!”
“Okay!” Comes the chorus of three little voices.
A few minutes later and the footsteps return. She can't resist peeking in, and sees Mary Anne wearing a white bathrobe and a paper crown, and Claudia in one of Patrick's hawaiian shirts, cinched at the waist, and a red winter hat with a puff at the top. Kristy is wearing Charlie's catcher's mask, and wielding a wiffleball bat as a sword. Elizabeth goes back to the table quietly chuckling.
“Princess, you're waiting for the prince to show up.”
“Who's the prince?” Mary Anne asks, nervously.
“He's pretend.” Kristy answers.
“Painter, paint us a picture of the prince.”
“What does he look like?”
“Handsome.” Kristy says plainly. “And I'll walk around in case there are any dragons.”
“I'm scared of dragons.” Mary Anne says.
“Well duh, you're the princess.”
“I'm finished! Princess, here's a picture of the prince.”
“Oh look, the prince is so handsome!” Mary Anne says happily.
“You should kiss it, cause he's so handsome.” Claudia says.
“Ewwww!” Kristy shrikes. There's a crumpling of paper and all three of them dissolve into giggles.
“Oh no!” Kristy shouts out.
“What?” Asks Mary Anne.
“A dragon! He's huge and he has a tail!”
Mary Anne screams.
“Princess, you go over there. I'll fight the dragon. Painter, you have to draw a picture of me fighting the dragon.”
“Can I paint me in it too?”
“I want to be in the picture.”
“But I'm fighting the dragon!”
“Well, it's my picture and me and Mary Anne are in it.”
“She's not Mary Anne, she's the princess.” Kristy says, obviously getting impatient. “Fine. As long as you show me fighting the dragon.”
Elizabeth hears a soft thud of the wiffleball bat hitting something. She gets up to make sure no one's going to get hurt, and sees Kristy whacking the couch cushions with the bat. Elizabeth cringes a little, but she knows that the old couch has seen worse. Since none of the girls notice her she stays in the doorway. After a few minutes and some fighting noises Kristy drops the bat and turns around, throwing her arms out “Ta-da! The dragon is dead!"
Mary Anne grins and runs over and hugs her. “Yay!”
“My picture is finished!” Claudia says, jumping up and running over to them. All three girls look at it.
“That's the princess, and that's her crown, and here's the painter and my paint brush, and this is the knight and the dragon!”
“It's beautiful!” Mary Anne says.
“You are the best painter in all the land.” Kristy proclaims. “And you are the most beautiful princess.”
“And you're the bravest knight!” Claudia adds.
“Look! It's 3 o'clock! There are cartoons on!” Kristy says.
“Let's watch cartoons!”
Kristy turns and sees Elizabeth in the doorway. She runs over to her and tugs on her shirt, “Mom, mom, can we watch cartoons?”
Elizabeth finds the game they were playing far more interesting then cartoons, but she agrees that they can watch TV for an hour. All three girls plop down on the floor and Kirsty grabs the remote and turns the TV to cartoons. Costumes are discarded, the props are left where they were dropped.
Elizabeth picks up after them while they watch TV. She puts the clothes and toys in a pile to go back upstairs, she finds the crumpled handsome prince and throws him away. Then she finds Claudia's masterpiece.
It almost goes in the trash with the prince, and a million other pictures from rainy afternoons. But the picture so clearly tells the story, at least if you know it already. And it seems like it tells a hundred other stories that have taken place in her living room. So she keeps it, and puts it in the drawer with the rest of the treasure that only she can see.