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For Christmas, I received a book of “questions for creative exploration”. They are writing prompts, not all questions, and I decided that I would include my responses to them in my blog. They are meant as daily exercises, but I just picked one I liked and got to work. Because I’m a rebel, baby! I also slightly deviated from the instructions because the book’s not the boss of me. The exercise for this day was…

Think of a person and describe his or her personality through writing about a cup they often drink from (real or imagined).

Mr. Avon taught shop classes. To us students, he was Shop. I remember seeing him in the hall outside the teachers’ lounge, even before I took one of his classes. A steaming mug dwarfed his hand, as he stood talking to Mrs. Reid, the music teacher. No smile interrupted his wild beard, but the corners of his eyes crinkled in response to whatever made her laugh. At the bell, he spun on his heel and marched down the hall without spilling a drop.

A year later, I attended my first class in Mr. Avon’s domain. He leaned back against his fortress of a desk and explicitly described the severing of a student’s thumb due to negligence at a band saw. His voice was as monotone as the sand-brown mug at the corner of his desk, the same one I saw him holding outside the teachers’ lounge.

The handle was repaired, I deduced from the thin white lines circling it in two places. It surprised me, those lines, since the mug looked sturdy enough to be a geographic landmark, chiseled out of stone by wind-blown grit and glacial advance. It sat in the desk’s corner, placed so that its edge barely touched those of the desk’s front and right side.

I stared at the mug’s surface. At first glance, it shone with a clear finish; however, underneath there was a sandpaper texture of darker specs over a lighter background. Maybe I had it backwards. I wasn’t sure. The center slightly bowed out, as if the contents exerted enormous pressure, enough to stress the stone. A nearly indistinguishable band of slightly darker brown rode this bulge’s middle, circle around circle.

Mr. Avon cleared his throat and poured coffee into a split in his beard, where his mouth likely hid. The mug returned to its precise resting place, and when he turned his attention back to us, he appeared to notice my eyes fastened to the container. He said nothing about it, though I whipped my eyes forward to the wall of tools hanging behind his desk.

The handle pulled my gaze back to the mug. I hadn’t noticed before, but it looked like half of a heart, the valentine kind. Could the other half be on the inside of the cup? It seemed unlikely, and the realization made my breath catch in my throat, an emptiness swell in my chest when I thought of the missing half. What had broken them apart? Would they ever reunite? I was so certain it began as a whole. Who wants half a heart?

Later, in my art class, I abandoned my clay project to start something new. The walls were thin, a bit misshapen. Surely it lacked symmetry. I didn’t care much if it was perfect, or even if it would leak. I obsessed on the handle, both halves of the heart: one to be grabbed and the other, on the inside of the mug, to make it whole.