Not having anything to do, or to stave off the heart attack forming in my chest (it turned out to be gas), or to hold off a walk to the gas station for cigarettes, or to creep away from the wife awhile, ornery ever since she noticed a carpet growing on her chin (it happens at this age), I turned on the light in the garage. “That’s better,” I said, maybe to the dust, before I set up my canvas and paints. But I couldn’t think of anything to put to paper, so I went back inside and watched TV.
The light was still on when I went in and sat on my stool and tried to think of what I was going to paint. Wasn’t there some guy who looked at a blank canvas for ten thousand hours and sold it for ten thousand dollars? Some postmodern garbage about painting with the eyes, or the meaning behind the effort. But you need to be an associate professor to pull that crap. I thought to myself: simple. Dab the brush in blue. A sky, maybe. No gradation. No atmospheric perspective. No clouds, either. Just blue. Like a Rothko.
It was a relief to be painting again, but I couldn’t think of anything particularly interesting beyond its base color. My wife was on the couch, reading a book about magicians. I kissed her head, and she made a waving motion like she was fanning away a fart. Take-out again.
I charged into the garage. I'd spent the morning binge-watching Bob Ross and was ready to tap, tap, tap some damn mountains and happy little trees. And I did. They weren’t murmuring mountain-springs, New World canyons, tufts of sycamore growing like weeds, but my mountains and trees were undeniable mountains and trees. Who needs art classes when you have Bob Ross? But that night I had trouble. I cut my finger on broken glass in the sink. Found out the wife dropped a mug in there and hadn't cleaned up. We yelled, she locked the door, we yelled some more. This was becoming something bigger than I had energy for. And worse, I was disappointed with my World. I wanted to make something that made you pause and really have to inspect it because you weren’t sure whether or not it was a photograph, but the painting was coming out vague and blurry and the strokes were clumsy. If it’d been a Bob Ross imitation, I’d be okay, but it was looking more like something my son made back in Kindergarten.
The answer came as if in a dream, but it was really in my deep night pondering as I listened to the old man snores emitting from my wife. If I could put something there, in the center of the image, then nature would become distant, would welcome vagueness, would allow immaturity, because of the diffusion of the object. It would be stylistic, at worse. Versimilitude, best. The painting needed focus.
I touched up the lighting on the mountains. Added crouching shadows beneath the trees. Some low fog, like cottonballs. Then I became really inspired with the M of the sky and cut it in half, the sun setting on one side, emanating sapphires and clouds, the moon rising on the other, purples, silvers, like two eyes peering over the mountains. “This is coming all right,” I said, but I knew I was cowardly. I called the wife over, but she was still mad about the mug in the sink.
I added trim on the lake, a leaping trout, the shadows of smaller fish. Birds, too, little m's like the lines that start a set of lips. Still, I was touching up the frame. I went to get my shoes to go out for a cigarette, when the wife hugged me tightly. She came out and looked at the painting awhile, and agreed it needed something. "Us," she suggested, not realizing I'd started the whole thing to give us some distance.
Deer? I added a silhouette in the trees. Ducks? There they were, paddling by the beachhead. I was afraid I was making a poster for North American wildlife. See Castor canadensis. See Ursus americanus. See Mephitis mephitis.
With the kind of fear that finds you when you've been doing right so far, but you know you're about to do wrong (Other instances of life where this occurs: cards, relationships), I melted browns, whites, and oranges into a dull peach, my color, our color, and put a man crouched behind a rock, his back revealed, face concealed and looking toward the lake, like a neanderthal crawled from ape, or Prometheus put on his prison belly-first.
I could have been done there. But. Us.
I had used the skin tone down to a smear, but the man was still wet. I wiped his back with my brush and added a woman, nude, breasts like fruits hanging from branches, dots for nipples. She was in the water, bathing maybe, swimming maybe, knowing she wasn't alone definitely. And he watched.
I'd added something unnatural to the forest, and I almost felt angry at the pair, like they'd ruined something innocent. But I was done. I called the wife, and this time she came quickly. "It's good," she said almost with relief, and if the woman didn't look like her, she said nothing. That night she cracked open a bottle of wine, some $20 generic label that claimed to be from Napa with a yellow snake on the label, but since she's not the drinking type I finished her glass.
I slept in with my wife and let the World be.