The painter

aspen

The painter was tumbling down a well of creative stagnation and so he uprooted his life and moved to a strange town and got a job working nights as a cook. But even with the change of scenery and habit he still couldn’t create anything of merit for weeks and so he began to doubt his abilities as well as his decision to move and begin anew.

He had a crush on a girl at work. She worked the morning shift in the back office of the restaurant and never talked to anyone and so he watched her tentatively for about a month before finding the courage to approach her. Hello, he said to her one morning at the end of his shift, smiling, I don’t want to embarrass or offend you but I think you’re a beautiful woman, you’re quiet and reserved and you seem smart. I noticed you might be a bit younger than I am, how young I’m not sure, but one thing I’ve learned through the years is that when a person reaches a certain psychological maturity, age becomes an illusion. You’re negotiating those initial years of adulthood and one thing that’s important to remember is there are some things we can all share with each other, whether they be stories or curative methods or lessons fashioned from time and experience and certainly pain, always pain, but often times each of those things can combine into one cohesive package. And so being an adult, finding another person to connect with mentally, emotionally, spiritually, has nothing to do with how old or how young a person is, but what they have to offer, how they receive and interact with the other person.

As the painter was telling her this she shook her head at him and then she passed on a rather peculiar series of hand gestures and said, as only a deaf person could, I can’t hear a word you’re saying.

That morning he didn’t feel like going home because home was bleak and filled with blank canvases and bare cuts of wood and unused oils and acrylics. He walked down through the commercial district toward the water and he passed through the faith district and all the churches and mosques and synagogues of varied persuasions and denominations stacked next to each other, people walking dazed in and out of them and all of them dressed alike and moving in like manner of attitude and posture, and he realized the only difference between each lot was the architecture of their respective structures. He made his way down through the district of Neophalia and the vast network of bridges there and he stopped to rest in the shade beneath one small bridge and when he looked up to its undercarriage he saw one of the most amazing works he’d ever come across. It was a mural large in size but much larger in scope, a work stretching the entire length of the bridge’s belly and painted in the humble dialect of a master. It was a curious but potent narrative compressing all stages of thought and sprit, an idiom splashed in shades of shades as a volley to the gods: This is the human mind rendered true and real and composed of its own colloquial rites, and how beautiful this truth is, how sacred such offerings are. The painter sat and stared though the mural was faded with age and wear and the spattered shit of birds and other creatures. He was immediately cured of his creative obstructions and walked briskly to his apartment where he called in sick and began work at once on a piece that took him well into the night hours, an oil on wood that he finished feeling utterly alive and exhausted and relieved before finally falling asleep with the title of the work twisting and burning behind the fluttering lids of his eyes, Mirrors.

The next day he woke up in the early afternoon and walked to the kitchen around the corner for lunch. He sat at the bar next to an older woman drinking a martini and he introduced himself.

“What do you do?” she asked.

“I’m a painter,” he said.

“Oh!” the old woman said, delighted. “It must be my lucky day! My house needs painted, and who sits down next to me for lunch but a real life painter!”

“I’m afraid I’m not that type of painter,” he said.

“Oh,” said the older woman. “I see. You’re an artist. I don’t know too much about art. What sort of art do you do?”

“I’m a painter.”

“Well yes, of course,” she said. “But what do you paint? Do you paint people or landscapes?”

“I paint states of mind. I’m more or less a painter of the avant-garde.” And as soon as he said it he wished he hadn’t, for he knew better than most that all art was nothing if not avant-garde, that art by its very nature was at the forefront of humanity’s march across the steaming mouth of the unknown, and what is art if not the light and the bridge, the shield and the key that sanctions and endorses humanity’s greatest leaps?

“I don’t understand,” she said.

“Well—”

“Last night an episode of my favorite television program—or maybe it was the night before or the night before that. I can’t remember. Anyway, it’s the program about the talent show full of famous people with unbelievable talents. They dance and sing and oh, how talented they are! Last night there was a famous actor on the show, I can’t remember his name. But oh my, what an excellent painter he was! He painted these beautiful cottages and he painted scenes of grass and he painted portraits of other famous people. Talk about a real artist! I couldn’t believe my eyes! Really, that’s the type of painting you should be doing, young man. That’s what I call Art.”

“That’s really not my—”

“Think about it,” the drinking woman said. “Don’t waste your time on this ‘avant-garde’ hullabaloo. In my day when something was ‘avant-garde’ it just meant that nobody understood it.”

The lady finished her martini and wished the painter well and walked out into the sunshine.

*

The painter wasn’t feeling well after lunch. He’d been having bouts with his allergies and so he looked up a doctor and made an appointment. When he got to the office he sat down and bobbed his head and tapped his fingers to the muzak and then he dug into his bag for a paperback and started reading it and after a while he noticed a man dressed in a suit watching him.

“Pardon me,” said the man in the suit. “I’m always curious what people are reading.”

“Oh,” said the painter. “This is a book of poems by my favorite Australian poet.”

“The title,” said the staring man. “I’m only interested in the title, not the contents.”

“Oh,” said the painter again. “Identity of Circles.

“Thank you,” said the man in the suit, and leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. Then the doctor’s assistant called the painter’s name and led him down a long narrow corridor of empty rooms and into the last room on the left.

“What’s seems to be the problem,” the doctor’s assistant asked.

To read the story in its entirety, you’re gonna have to buy the book when it comes out.

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