Wednesday’s Words/Flash Fiction: Changing Colors

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So she thought better of it when she joined the art class that was free and online. It was to pass the time; time was like sludge, it built up into a gloppy mass: you got up, faced another bothersome, even gruesome day on the job and crawled back home. That about covered it. Escapism–television, streaming movies, music faves, books teetering in three piles– had become a thing she was so intimate with that it grated on her like a slow toothache. So when she saw the ad for five free lessons–why not only one, why not a half dozen, she wondered–it was a knee jerk reaction. A new way to pass the minutes and hours in the resoundingly empty studio apartment. Let her not be thought unadventurous; it used to be her middle name. Now it was “blech” or whatever mononsyllabic noise she managed upon awakening.

She ordered the few items needed and noted it on the calendar like she was soon going to a real class and meeting fascinating people, having fun. She knew that was silly but still nursed the illusion for all it was worth. The shiny new things looked like delicate tools for somebody singularly important. To feel a tiny bit important in her slumbering life–a nice perk. The unecessary expenditure for those tools hung over her, but swallowed the niggling fear as she opened a window partway. There was such sunshine on the morning of class. A bright blue jay flew past her. It seemed an omen. But one never knew these days–good omen or bad?

That first class Dylan Dennison greeted all as if there was an overflowing classroom, such a big smile. He had longish curly hair with glasses atop his head which he was always putting on and taking off. But he got right into the tool box of brushes, sponges, paints and paper types– who knew there was so many necessities to daub and splash paint about? And water use, big or small useage: it made a difference. She got to place color on different papers, squeezing a few tidy watercolor and acrylic tubes–from ends only. The paints looked like little mounds of stage makeup sitting there. Lifeless until slathered on. And then the class was over.

She imagined the next class might be somewhat more exciting, but it didn’t matter. She had nothing else to do on Friday at 5:30 pm. Meanwhile, her small and large papers with rich color splotches glowed a bit as she lay them to dry on her table. She left them there to look at off and on. The evening seemed to slip into darkness and that felt good. She ran a steamy bath scented with eucalytus, soaked awhile thinking of paint color names. When she got out she felt her body humming as she setttled in bed, so closed her eyes. Slept in an instant.

The next Friday class was, in fact, more exciting: there were techniques to learn. They were not easy to grasp and when she clutched the brushes they were cumbersome implements. The simple free-style scenario she coinjured and painted turned into muddied rises and gulleys. That’s what they were–rain-flooded mud sinkholes trying to be rainbows of beauty. Fat chance. She tossed them immediately as cheery Dylan applauded them all. The twenty students were faceless, barely named and far away from his contemporary, light-drenched studio where he painted profitable pictures; it supported his life in paradise. Or so she imagined. His luminous watercolor paintings hung everyhwere. To intimidate? To trick her into paying for the next set of classes? To show off? To illustrate, perhaps, what might happen if they were unrelanting in their pursuit of art, plus had loads of talent? She thought him a good teacher if she no longer appreciated his cheeriness. But that was not a requirement. She had a few more classes for free, to pass the time, to have a memo on her calendar.

She soon enough reconsidered and thought about quitting near the end of the second class. Controlling the effect of paint splotches on paper was like trying to control hamsters with messy feet let loose all over a clean floor. Impact looked terrible. But who’d know or care if she disappeared? Shut her comuter and done. Yet she hung on, watched, mimiced.

By the middle of the third class she was letting go of expectations. When pigments suddenly bloomed on a page she became, dab by dab, attuned to an interior stillness. Strokes of a brush, soft or bold, filled a welcome blankness as it began to change the space. Dylan talked about fine details, about the tempermental properties of watercolor and fast-drying acrylic tendencies. His reedy voice skimmed over her as the idea of painting began to plant a tentative root in her center. The fourth class she forgot the time, utilized lots of paper and paint, and had to replenish water every few minutes. She was alert, almost fully alive. At bedtime she stared into the soft darkness, painting with ghost brushes upon the popcorn ceiling, a carnival of bright forms.

The rest of the week she kept looking at the calendar, waiting for the last class. When it arrived she was at the table twenty minutes ahead of time, having cancelled a dinner date at Telly’s Tacos food cart with Hank. Of course, Hank didn’t know of her class; no one did. She kept it a secret as she kept al tender happiness secret, anymore–so many were apt to stick a pin into any delights she scavenged. This time it was a deliberate thing, a self-made pleasure. He’d never understand the allure of a painbrush; she barely understood its function or her interest.

At the end of the fifth class when Dylan asked to hold their paintings up to be shared. Though it felt like kindergarten show and tell, she did so, slowly.

“Delilah?” Dylan said.

She frowned from behind her painting, wishing she hadn’t revealed it at all. “Yeah?”

“Wonderful start. You’ve probably painted before, yes?”

“No…”

“Well, then, I hope everyone can see what you’ve discovered in 5 weeks. It’s a matter of taking a chance, being surprised…and it’s also a matter of practice.”

He went on in his verbose fashion, switching to salesman-speak to persuade students to pay for more classes. But she had stopped listening. She studied her uneven but flowing painting–at the very least basic and awkward to a trained eye. And yet Dylan had been encouraging. Kindly so. The colors and shapes that she’d created hyponotized, then she lifted hands up in the air and let out a very quiet, “Whoop!”

When Delilah logged off, she hung up her last class painting with clothespins next to the others on a taut twine she’d strung across a sunny corner. She didn’t study the picture; it was done. She sat down once more at the table and situated a white sheet of paper, got a huge glass of rinse water, uncapped herself an icy ginger ale that tingled on her tongue. And she soon swept across glowing blankness with a new spectrum of colors–vermilion, lemon, cerulean. Her life lit up.

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