BRUSH STROKES • by Ruth Schiffmann

Ma always told me there was something special about my paintings. I thought it was just because that’s what mothers say. They tell their shrieking daughters that they can sing, their husbands that they have the most handsome green eyes they’ve ever seen, and their sons who dabble in paint that they are artists. Then one summer she entered her favorite acrylic on canvas in the county fair. It was a canopy of trees as seen from a hammock in our back yard. It took home the blue ribbon and I started to wonder if maybe my stuff had merit. After that she was always on me to enter the local artist’s guild, the high school art club, or anything else that would get my paintings out into the world.

“These paintings are collecting dust in here, Dylan,” she said every time she stepped into my studio. My studio, really it’s the room my parents used to share when the walls were sea foam green and matching curtains fluttered in the breeze. When Dad left, Mom pulled down the curtains, ripped up the carpet and tossed his loafers and creased pants on top of a heap of his stuff behind the shed out back. She had a couple of friends over one night. They drank beer, whooped it up and hauled the pillow-top king sized mattress through the hallway into the spare room where she moved all of her things. One day shortly after the relocation, I came home from school and found cool whip containers full of paint lined up on the floor of their old room: blue, green, red, yellow. We took turns dipping our hands into the cold puddles of paint. Then we pressed our palms against the sea foam walls and made them our own. That was the last project we worked on together, but she always bought me paints, brushes, canvases, whatever I needed to keep creating.

I always wondered if it was that easy for her, to put on a new coat of paint and forget what was past. She never mentioned him again. Neither did I, after the first time, when I saw how much pain it caused her. I pretended that the studio was the coolest thing in the world, as if it could make up for what I’d lost.

Ma never knew it, but those first few days after he left, I snuck out behind the shed and dug through Dad’s stuff; lifting his Super Dad t-shirt to my face to smell him, but afraid to save it for fear she might find it hidden among my things. One day before it rained and ruined everything, I found a shoebox full of papers. Birthday cards and stuff I’d given him. The first hand-scrawled I love you notes of a three year old with a backwards y and a crooked heart colored blue. I wished I had never found that box. I cried myself to sleep for months knowing that Dad was out in the world without my messages of love.

“The Artists’ Guild has a show coming up,” Mom reminded me over breakfast one day. “You should enter the latest painting you’ve been working on.”

“It’s not done.”

“You still have time.”

“We’ll see.”

“That’s what you always say. Why don’t you want to let people see your work?”

“Mom, please.”

“Promise me you’ll think about it.”

It didn’t quite feel ready when the day to enter came around. But it was really just a prickle at the back of my head more than any real feeling. When Mom peeked into the studio to remind me for the fifth time, I finally signed my name to the corner and called it done.

The day the exhibit opened, I would have rather stayed home and started work on a new piece. But Ma would never let that fly. She’d been bragging on me for weeks to her friends and had cut the newspaper clipping with my name listed among the other entrants from the local paper.

I got an eerie feeling when I entered the guild, like a twist on the dream where you go to school naked. I felt like I was hanging my soul there on the walls for everyone to see.

The paintings hung in a long corridor, the light of the early fall day pushing the crowd through at an easy pace. I hung out at the wine and cheese table counting the people who breezed by my painting against the ones who lingered, when I noticed one man looking at my painting for what seemed like forever. I was wondering what he saw there, if he could see the pieces of my heart that textured every brush stroke. I shivered and wished I’d kept it to myself, at home, propped against the studio wall with the others. Finally, I walked up beside him and studied the painting myself, trying to see what he saw. “What is it that you like about this one?” I asked.

He took a sudden, deep breath and his chest puffed up with pride. “The signature,” he said.

“The signature?” I turned to face him.

“It shows so much growth.”

This man had the handsomest green eyes I’d ever seen. In his hands he held a well-worn drawing in crayon of two stick people lying in a hammock. “I love you, Dad,” it said, and it was signed Dylan with a backwards y.

Ruth Schiffmann shares the trials and triumphs of freelance writing with her husband and their two daughters. More than eighty of her stories, articles, and poems have appeared in publications both in print and online. After homeschooling her daughters K-12 (and loving it) she is now enjoying living a writing life, following her heart, and discovering where it will lead her. To read more of her work, visit

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Every Day Fiction

  • Ian Carter

    Awww … mushy and nice.

    The backward Y says it all.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Must echo: ‘Awwwwwwwwwwww!’

    A bit predictable, but a fitting end.

  • Bill Webb

    I liked the story a lot. BUT, why didn’t she know him right off? Seems like she should have? Spoiled the ending for me.

  • Jeff

    A bit predictable, yes, but a great story nonetheless.

  • Beth

    Lovely story, Ruth, whether the ending is predictable or not. ;o) I love Dylan’s voice and think you captured the heart of an artist.

  • AJ Smith

    Sweet story.

  • Walt Giersbach

    If a painting, then this would be a minature. Somewhat wandering in development. Confusing that this is a woman author writing–successfully in the male voice–from the POV of a male narrator. In sum, an “Ah, Shucks” story.

  • Anna

    You’ve captured the insecure young male narrator very well. I think it’s more than just a feel-good story. There is a lot said between the lines, for example, the amount of time apart, implied in the fact that, not only is Dad’s last art example from Dylan a crayon drawing from when he was 3 years old, but also in the fact that Dylan does not recognize his father at first. Lots of good sensory impressions: the artist counting those who linger and those who breeze by on the sunny autumn day, the cold paint, the smell of a shirt, and many other examples made the story for me.

    You could expand it a little and take more time to develop the memories so that it doesn’t feel as compressed. Overall: good job!

  • Step Wesley

    Ruth you are a great writer.

  • Jen

    Great story! I loved the way you wove Dylan’s art with his desire to see his dad. A definite five from me.

  • Amanda

    Very touching story! It brought tears to my eyes.

  • Marie Elena Good

    Well written, imagery that drew me in, warm sentiment … lovely work, Ruth.

  • Julie

    awww, Ruth, it made me cry. Really, really touching.

  • Ralf

    Nice story very good ending

  • Karen Myhaver

    A lot of story, told very well, in relatively few words. Many layers-just like the paint that coverd up the seafoam walls…for Dylan there is more to his work than just the paintings themselves. Nice Job Ruthie!

  • R.A.S.

    Thank you to all who took the time to read and comment. I appreciate all the feedback.

  • Debi Blood

    This is a lovely story, expertly crafted and, like a work of fine art, was built layer upon layer. I was fascinated until I got to the ending and then I’m afraid I was disappointed. I don’t know what I expected, but something less “Hallmark”, definitely.

  • Bernard S. Jansen

    Certainly a sentimental story. I also had a little confusion about the male POV. When a “Ruth” writes in first-person, it’s natural to assume a female character. That said, this phrase in the first paragraph set me straight: “…and their sons who dabble in paint that they are artists.”

    This is more sentimental than my normal reading tastes, but I’ve given this a 5. It’s good flash-fiction.

  • Sara

    aww this story is so sweet. I love it.

  • Sharon

    Ruth, good story, made me cry too!

  • Molly Stoloff

    I was touched by this story, Being a divorced mother I know how kids struggle with wanting to know and be known and loved by both parents. There is such a ring of truth here as every child tries to find their own way to connect. Definitely a five star.

  • Walt Giersbach

    Okay, one final thought about what disturbs me. While the story is well-crafted, the subject matter is a set piece crafted to get a predetermined reaction from readers. You, me, we all have a hardwired response to tragedy, to pathos. That’s how the scriptwriters made Lassie a star. They put the dog through tricks to pull our heartstrings, and the audience responded like puppets. Sio Dyland does his/her tricks until Dad shows up with the Crayoned note. I’m sure that somewhere there’s an “Ah,Shucks” sub-genre, and it worries me because it stands right next to the “Nostalgia” sub-genre that somewhere in our feathered memory things were better.

  • Oscar Windsor-Smith

    Okay, the comments about the ending are justified to some degree, but the ‘showing’ of a relationship gone wrong and a child stuck in the middle is masterful. Neither parent is demonized. In most breakups there’s probably nobody totally responsible for what occurs, just the wrong two people together. For me (having been there, like so many others) it was reassuring to find a lady writing with such humanity from a male viewpoint (okay, the child’s, but’ clearly the father wasn’t all bad, either).

    Thanks, Ruth. I loved your story.


    :) scar

  • Deedee

    Ruth, I LOVED it! I agree with the comment from Anna#8 and with Mr. Windsor-Smith #23. While I did expect the father might turn up at some point I was thrilled by the way you cleverly wove in the crayoned note. I had tears. Despite being written by a woman, I was immediately transported into this young man’s thoughts by your carefully written images. Good job!

  • Margie


  • Patricia Shirra

    Great job, Ruth. As a fellow author who often writes from the young male perspective, I thought the voice was viable and the story plausible.