Paint

1.

“There was a summer, well, not that long ago I guess.  It was the summer we went out almost every night to watch the sunset.  There was one night in…July, I think.  We were just lying out on the beach feeling the sand get cooler and cooler under our backs and watching the sky because it was dark and the night was clear and we felt like we could see everything.  We had been lying out there for about an hour just watching the stars, not saying much, when we saw some shooting stars.  You were a lot younger then and you asked me where the falling stars went to when you couldn’t see them anymore, when they went out.  I said that when they went out that meant they were all burnt up, but that whatever was left of them would keep falling and would settle somewhere.  Do you think we could ever find one, you asked.  I said I don’t know, but maybe.  Do you remember that?”

There were a few seconds of silence on the line.

“Yeah, I remember it.”

“That was a great night.”

“Yeah.  I have to go.”

“Already?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Ok.  I love you.”

There was another pause.

“Alright.  Bye.”

Click

“The morning you were born I thought I’d found one,” he thought

———-

2.

After the phone call ended he sat still on the thick leather of his chair.  His eyes alone were moving but even that movement seemed unnatural.  They lurched up the wood grain in the wall of his living room up, up, up to the ceiling and then back down to the floor.  He performed this circuit three times before he blinked.  Then he blinked again.  And again.  Something was rising in his chest now and he could not hold it back.  The drops inched down his lean cheeks and weak chin and paused there, like divers gathering themselves before the plunge.  And then shivering, shining, hesitatingly, they tumbled their way down.  9.8.  9.7.  10.0.  They were fine tears.

“How many others are grieving now?”

———-

3.

He rose before dawn the next day.  Walking down to the beach, he could feel the warmth in the wind coming off the water.  The heat had moved from the Sun to the sea to the air to him.  And from me to….nothing, he thought.  From me to my house, today.

Walking on the beach in the early morning was something that used to always raise his anticipation for the day.  He would focus, centering his thoughts and energy on what needed to be done.  Some mornings he would even go for a short swim.  The duration didn’t matter much; it was about connecting with the elements in the morning, getting grounded.  After the walk and swim he was able to move through the day feeling like he was rooted, standing with flat feet and a straight back.  There were people all over who slouched and slid through their days, but not him.

“Every part of this water is moving.”

———-

4.

He moved through his house like a mortician, efficiently rearranging the furniture into the middle of each room, spreading the plastic sheets, taping what needed to be taped, opening the windows wide.  While the sun burned low in the east and began its ascent he set the stage, preparing for a burial of sorts and for a rebirth.  The king-size couldn’t be moved far enough from the wall so he just threw a big clear plastic sheet over the whole thing.  It lay there on the bed like wax on a butterfly, the burnished bronze-colored comforter smoldering in the morning sunlight.  Its life was ending now but it would be preserved as it had been at its best, as it should have been.  He stood and looked at the way the light played off of the plastic.  The reflected light made the bed itself seem softer somehow.  The glare made everything look softer.  And then the moment died and he was turning away, leaving for the garage.

———-

5.

The battered garage door crashed up.  It was the kind that you pull up with your hands.  There were 20 gallons of eggshell paint there on the ground.  It wasn’t enough for all the walls and ceilings, but it was enough to start.  It was more than enough for today and today was what mattered.

He bent over and grabbed a 10-gallon bucket, paint roller, and pan.  He was wearing the cheapest most disposable clothes he had, yet he still wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Crate and Barrel that Saturday morning.    He felt a brief thrill at the prospect of working with his hands on a home improvement project.  Very middle-America.

“Have to stay focused.”

———-

6.

Opening the plastic wrapped around the rollers, twisting one onto the handle, screwing in the extension rod, rolling it in the paint tray forward and back, forward and back, tap, tap, forward and back, and then he began.  At first he had too much paint on the roller so that it dripped thick tears slowly down.  He paused for a moment and watched them slowly fall, then annihilated them and began again.  Eventually the rhythm took over and the real work began.  He had already decided to begin with the conversation with Sarah last night.  Every time he thought of her now he couldn’t forget seeing her for the first time.  She was red, naked, newborn.  She had cried so loudly and then abruptly fallen asleep.  She had fallen into her first real sleep right before he had to give her back to the nurse.  There had been a moment of peace there that he wished he could live in.  She had been his.  Now she was complicated and cold and spoke in ironic ellipses.  She seemed old to him and so young at the same time.

Up and to the left, straight down, up and to the left, straight down.  His roller was going dry but that was ok.

“Yeah, I remember it.”

“That was a great night.”

“Yeah.  I have to go.”

“Already?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Ok.  I love you.”

“…I love you too, dad.”

And he was off.  The walls of his house weren’t all that he painted over that long afternoon.  It was selfish, yes, but also merciful.  He was being merciful to that girl lying in the sand next to him, her eyes as bright as the falling stars and her love as fleeting.

———-

7.

A week later he was done.  His house was painted over and ready for burial, for sale.  He couldn’t stand any longer to stay in a place whose life he had driven away.

He called Sarah the night the house sold, to give her the news.  He tried hard not to notice her mostly unbroken silence, prattling on and on as he was with asking prices and the back and forth of home ownership changing hands during a recession.  He wasn’t even listening to himself much because inside his head he was getting dizzy from that new life smell and his nostrils were burning from all the paint.

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3 comments
  1. Andrew said:

    Very nice! I suppose it was worth the wait…

  2. I like the style of this one. You do well making an impact without using too many words.

  3. With music like that in your heart there s more than enough room left over for forgiveness, and there were plenty of people who never even got a chance to say sorry.

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