September 09, 2005

Drawing a Line

A package arrived on my doorstep. I didn’t know who had sent it. It was wrapped in gift paper that was only partly decorated and mostly blank.

The card on the box said: “Your job is to add one line to the wrapping paper, then pass it on to the next person.”

I had a colored pencil in my hand and I had an impulse to quickly swipe down with it, make a line spontaneously, and let it go. But then I told myself, “This is an important project, maybe I should think about it more.”

I brought the box inside and sat in front of it, thinking. Ideas came slowly and fitfully. But I couldn’t bring myself to draw the line on the paper. What if my hand made a line that didn’t match my vision?

I sketched lines in the air above the paper. They seemed promising but I wasn’t sure. Every time my pencil touched down upon the paper, I whisked it up again before a mark showed.

I got a pile of other papers to practice on. I drew line after line. After each one, I looked closely and decided it wasn’t the right line for the package. A big discard pile grew.

At last my stock of paper was gone and my pencil was worn down and I told myself, “Now I don’t have to draw that line.” But of course the box was still there.

People asked me, “How about that line you’re working on?” and I gave shifty answers. As time went by, they stopped asking.

It was time to put the box in a closet, I decided. I picked up the box and carried it. Then, just after I opened the closet door, I looked at the wrapping paper again. Before I knew it, I had drawn a line with the nub of colored pencil in my hand. It was the same line I would have drawn when I first saw the package.

I put the package outside, and the next time I looked it was gone.

I enjoy remembering what my line looked like and what the whole box looked like, but memory blurs over time. I took a photograph of the package on the porch, but photos fade too, and this one’s at the bottom of a drawer somewhere.

I hope somebody liked my line.