Thursday, February 2, 2012

Snow Painting

Story for the Snow Blogfest Hosted by Roh Morgan: Snow Painting

     Thick fuzz coated John’s teeth and his breath tasted like he ate a hot pocket and a tub of stale pretzels the night before. He glimpsed the kitchen’s TV as he staggered to the bathroom. Fanatics waved signs and shouted end of days predictions. December 21 and John wondered if they were let down when they woke up to a still spinning world this morning. He supposed they’d say the day was not spent yet.
He passed the studio door and stopped to look at last night’s work. A bright array of reds and oranges covered the canvas in a sweeping arc. He listened. He knew true art would speak for itself. Nothing. He tried to ignore the letdown. An artist did not give up.
John knew he could paint. He’d done it before—really done it. Before, he’d paid the bills painting copies, but one night something special happened. That night he woke up all at once, not gradually, but instantly and completely. His fingers itched and his mind hopped along, from image to image in an art gallery he hadn’t yet created. He climbed from bed, careful not to disturb Becca, though he wanted to share his excitement with her.
John put on headphones, turned up what Becca called his angry music. The colors seemed to mix themselves. His hands seemed to move of their own volition. He wondered if religious fanatics felt this way. The whole time he imagined Becca’s face when she saw it. It was a trance, a trip, and he finished in a daze. That painting had not spoken, but sung. It sung and he waited for Becca to wake up. Never before had he felt such a high. He lay back on his chair, covered in paint, and heard a crash from behind. Becca walked past him, staring at the painting, a shattered cup in pieces on the floor as coffee soaked into the carpet.
That painting sold at auction for a cool hundred grand. The paper’s art review, written by none other than Barty Winchester, had praised the piece:
Compelled by the pulsating beat of the beautiful, wondrous, and horrific relentlessly butting clandescent heads, the work creates compositions of breathing life-like accumulation.
A meager budget gave John a year and a half to try and do it again, but nothing sang. Though a few had whispered to him, had sold for a pittance to local hotels.
This new painting remained silent. He imagined Mr. Winchesters evaluation:
Nothing but so much dross, a wasted stretch of depressed canvas, yearning like the duck to be a swan but brutally dispatched before the flowering of maturity. They say great artists sell their souls, but this painter unfortunately sold his talent.
He closed the studio door and sighed.
If only he had more time. Between a rotating shift at the hospital and his family, time to paint was rare. Last night his wife, Becca, wanted to watch a movie. As if he had time for movies or reality TV.
“How much time do just you and I have, John?” she’d asked him, “Let’s do something—play a game or watch a movie, I don’t know.”
“I have to paint. I haven’t painted anything for a month. I can’t be a painter if I don’t paint.”
Not a new conversation. John knew he shouldn’t blame her. In truth John spent more time finding animal shapes in the studio’s ceiling texture than painting. He knew writers could get blocked, but hadn’t considered it could ever happen to him. He needed routine. Sometimes it seemed like Becca resisted whenever he wanted to spend more time is the studio.
“You go back on shift tomorrow and we hardly see each other. I thought we could have some you and me time.” She smiled at him, laid a hand on his arm.
“Why is it that you won’t let me work, Becca? You don’t think I can do it? You said you’d support my dreams.” Using such cliché words and it made him angry.
“You had two hours to paint earlier and you played Mario Kart instead. You’re always doing that. I told you to go paint.” She was right, damn.
She watched TV while he stewed at a blank canvas. Finally he forced himself to do something.
Not a very good something apparently.
John stumbled onward to the bathroom. Locked. Damn. He could hear the shower. Why did she have to lock the door? He went back to the bedroom, put on slippers and robe, went out back.
It hurt to breathe the bitter cold air. New snow blanketed the yard. The breeze made the light crystalline snow swirl around his calves. John pulled down his boxer shorts and a yellow arch steamed in the frigid air.
He sighed, shivered. The stream shivered too, painting the white snow with yellow dots.
Sirens whooped in the distance, someone screamed. John looked skyward and forgot all about the pee shivers. The chill grey world made a horrible, stark contrast to the fiery red streak in the sky. If a Balrog mated then that might be what his sperm looked like. Some part of John’s mind recognized the comet for what it was, but the rest remained dumbfounded.
Talking paintings suddenly seemed ridiculous. He’d imagined dying young, dreams unfulfilled but those thoughts did not reoccur. Only Becca. He pulled up his boxer shorts and looked down at his best, most important artwork. Barty Winchester’s voice narrated evaluation:
The canvas of fresh snow clashes wonderfully with streaks and splashing puddles of dank yellow simultaneously bringing to mind the florescent dinginess of a public restroom and the frailty of mankind. But what gives it that certain beat, that visual rhythm, are the scattered droplets caused by the pee shivers, acknowledging the savage garden that is life, the randomness of existence. And the perfect offset to natural beauty? The slipper print marring the biggest yellow splotch, saying, “I am man, behold my print,” even while the work’s admirer knows print and painting will eventually melt, causing the overall reaction and inward reflection: what is really important?
It spoke to John, it yelled at John, screamed her name. He ran into the house and one slipper left yellow-wet prints on the kitchen linoleum. He faced death but didn’t think of silent artwork. He remembered the first time he’d seen Becca in the library. He remembered her smile when he proposed. John found her dressing in the bedroom and kissed her.
“I kinda like you, lady,” he said, “and I’m sorry I blamed my silent paintings on you.”
She laughed, “I know you’re stressed, John. Don’t worry so much. I’ll always talk back to you,” and she punched his arm.
Later in the afternoon John and Becca watched an American warhead collide with the comet. 
“Silly Aztecs.” John said.
“The Mayan’s, hun.”
“Oh yeah.”
They turned to go back inside. Becca took his arm and kissed his cheek, “I can clean up. Maybe you should go paint,” she said.
“Maybe I should just hang out with you. I’ll paint when he goes down for bed.”
John led Becca inside.
After December 21, 2012 John thought of Becca, his paintings spoke, sang, and worshipped Becca, and although he never knew it, Barty Winchester repeatedly praised her in the art column.


  1. This was really good. I enjoyed your voice very much. It was unique and well done.

  2. I am dumfounded by the juxtaposition of the crude with the poignant and the banal with the astonishing and the disdain with the affection. Thumbs up, way up! Then sideways, then down, down and then way up again! *Scratches head and then goes to take a piss*

  3. Wow, Mitch! I love this!

    It's so...different! And fresh and raw and wonderful!

    I liked how the artist's problems mirrored that of writers, and of course in reality they do. John's attempts to place blame elsewhere for his inability to create another 'special' piece builds sympathy in the reader - until we hear the other side of the story from Becca (the two hours spent gaming) which triggers a bit of an 'ahah' moment.

    But I love how his inspiration struck him during a simple, everyday action conducted in a new setting. I could see the yellow stain in the white snow, and laughed at the imagined acclaim by the art critic.

    Awesome. And the tie-in with the end of the world just added another layer to a story that seemed simple on the surface but in reality is quite complex.

    Nice job. Thanks for bringing it to the *Snowfest* Blogfest!

  4. This was SO fantastic. Really just all over the place, but in a good way. I see you're new to the blogging community, or at least writer bloggers. Participating in fests like this are a great way to get followers! Thanks for sharing.

    I'd love to have you stop by my blog on February 13 for a blogfest. Swing by.

    J.W. Parente

  5. It's fun that the details of this work so well, and I like the second half of it a lot. With the first, maybe it could be intercut with actions happening now slightly more, because it feels like a lot of backstory at once.

  6. Thanks Wendy! And thanks for adding to my meager following pool. Aiming for lakehood! ;)

  7. Rob, I had to look at least one word up. Lol, thanks for your kind words!

  8. Roh, You are too nice. Thanks for hosting this, it has been very fun. Oh, and in case you couldn't tell, it was about a writer (one who needed to apologize to his wife).

  9. Justin, thanks for the invite! count me in. Oh, and thank you for your nice words, I am all over the place all the time...

  10. Stu, I totally agree and that is an easy fix. Thanks for your nice words and an honest critique. Fantastic.

  11. Kinda abstract; the way I'm sure John's paintings turn out. I loved the description of the "pee painting" in the snow. Seriously cool.

    This character had a great emotional depth. And what a cool take on the apocalypse to come :)


  12. Thanks dhole! That is very kind of you.