This story is by Mary Ellen Wall and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Marika cut her eyes low, away from the damnable blank canvas. The blasted thing had preyed on her mind for two weeks now. She’d vowed to get a least one spot of paint on it before she removed her butt from the stool. She shifted to stare at the inert jars of paint that could have been an image on a screen for all the good they were.
Ilya had meant well, sure. “Get the big one,” he said. “Don’t pick out two or three brushes, get the whole set!” He’d seen one of her checks from the print sales of Krakow Sunset and got a gleam in his eye. Was she his skinny cash cow there for the milking?
Krakow was the last decent painting she’d done before her idiotic suicide attempt. Or attempt to touch heaven. Whatever it was that had her in treatment for so long. The fleeting memory of feeling and seeing her puny limbs disintegrate into the eternal, the intensely emotional longing for the dissociation to reach her brain, the red ecstasy….
Marika caught herself leaving her seat just in time. Screwing her butt back onto the wooden seat, she clenched her teeth and enunciated, “Stop the lunatic star trip! It was not real!” Her breathing evened out after a few minutes. She calmed a bit and eased her jaws.
One glance at the 30″ X 40″ canvas and her anger ignited. An arm swung to grab the first paint jar in reach. She spun the lid off and scooped out three fingers of thick aquamarine acrylic. In a fluid motion she flung it across the deathly white surface. She smeared it around the awful surface in jagged streaks with those living fingers.
She stopped abruptly, breathless and wide-eyed. Automatically her hand reached for the towel so she could recap the paint jar without making a mess. The act of placing the capped jar back in place brought her closer to her soul, further from the starry precipice.
A tilt of her head showed her that the central figures must be iridescent white. Figures? Yes, she nodded, three figures. Tentatively at first, she painted thin white forms within the widest smears. With greater command she thinned some bright hues on her palette and adorned the perimeter of the upper left of the canvas with translucent yet vibrant blossoms. On the lower right she drew empty, misshapen black stars. They crouched there, waiting for her to stumble.
Her eyes were lured back to the flowered garden, making her smile. Now what? If only she could see more clearly! Fluorescents, bah! Rinsing the black from her brush, Marika saw Ilya leaning back on the work bench, watching her. She ignored him and sat with her hands folded in her lap.
“Sweetie, if I’m bothering you, I’ll go.” He waited for a reply. “Marika? I wanted to make sure you were okay, that’s all. Do you want some lunch?”
She shoved the stool back with her foot and stooped to add strategically placed chaotic arrows in magenta, intersecting with the lower edges of the aqua. Standing, she faced him silently.
He stepped toward her straight-faced, hiding the hope he felt, visualizing the last major barrier as a dozen stairs. “Your studio is all scrubbed up and ready. Do you want me to help you take this up there? The light is so much better there.” He blinked a few times. “I can carry your painting and stuff.”
Breathing with force, Marika finally answered him. “Yes.”
As he decided how to safely carry the wet painting and easel, he allowed a slight smile to escape. She stood ahead of him, hand on the doorknob.
Could his sweet wife really do this? She hated his occasional impatience, so very casually he mentioned, “It’ll be great to get away from this dirty old garage, won’t it?” He could sense her increasing stress. He risked adding, “Let’s head up, Sweetie, up to your sunny studio. There’s a bird nest in the eave right outside the east window; you can hear the little guys peeping.”
She twisted the knob.
“That’s right. One step, one more, one more. You know it.”
The door latch clicked.