PAINTING IN PEACE • by Arlan Gerig

I sit in front of the blank canvas. There’s only a bright sun in its top right corner. My brush sits full of lemon yellow paint, but a dark tempest dominates my mind.

I get gooseflesh as I replay Chuck’s threat at the funeral home. “Whatever’s in the will, Rosa, I want the house. Don’t get in my way or you’ll regret it!”

Chuck had continued ranting so fast that I struggled to read his lips. Pete had ushered me out in a hurry.

I try again to focus on this painting for Father Lewis. The priest is an admirer of my popular paintings featuring our city square gazebo. He wants an image of peace in his church’s vestibule, but my attempts at normal depictions feel flat and lifeless.

I’m drawn to the dazzling sunrise. I relish every morning when darkness evaporates into brilliance, chasing away charcoals and grays to reveal gorgeous hues of sky blue, forest green and dandelion yellow.

Nothing else conveys peace to me –– the peace sign, a cross, a dove, nor the parish itself. Only the sun. I dip the brush in goldenrod to deepen the lemon yellow. It’s a start.

I sense the foreboding storm seconds before I see the door fly open in my peripheral vision. It reverberates when it slams against the wall. I drop the brush and jump to my feet. Chuck bursts into the studio, his right hand gripping a switchblade with a copy of the will in his left. His disheveled clothes look slept in and he reeks of stale sweat. His face is flushed, his cheeks twitching.

The storm is here.

“Leave my house now,” I sign with an angry flourish.

Knife extended, Chuck steps forward. His words spit like venom. “Of course he gave you the house, Rosa. How typical of the old bastard. I don’t want his damn cars.”

“One’s a Porsche,” I sign back. “Dad gave you more than this house is worth.”

I’m vulnerable. My hands shake, and my only weapon is a clumsy folded easel. I grab it, knowing it’s not much use. I step forward, brandishing the easel, but I’d rather melt into a corner. I’m no match for his powerful rage.

Chuck approaches some of my finished paintings. He grabs the portrait of a young girl I met in the park, and holds his knife over it, his face crazed and triumphant.

“Our old man always favored you. It’s why I moved out, but I want it now. I’ll turn it into a brewery.”

I hold the easel under one arm to sign my response, holding back my anger. “Why would you do that? Dad hated beer.”

“So what? It should be mine because I’m older.”

“I nursed him while he was sick. He wanted me to have the house.”

His storm crescendos. He slashes the girl’s face down the middle. I yell and wave the easel. It’s all I can do against his violation of my creativity.

Chuck grabs a painting of our cat, pokes holes in both eyes, then slashes its throat. “You probably manipulated him, you spoiled brat. Give me the house or you’re next!”

I shake my head, tears blurring my vision. I throw the easel, which he easily avoids. It lands in a corner, and now I’m scared, furious, and defenseless.

Through the window behind Chuck, I notice something large and brown. A red-tailed hawk sits alone on her nest. She watches us, her head cocked in curiosity. She’s an odd comfort in the midst of my brother’s tempest while he destroys every piece important to me and my business.

I rush forward while Chuck slashes another painting in maniacal pleasure. In my own rage, I can’t stand by and watch. I’d rather die trying to protect what I’ve created. I push him away from my other paintings, but not before he swings his knife. Pain strikes like a lightning bolt.

I back away, screaming and cradling my arm. Blood drips in a crimson puddle on the hardwood floor, and a chill goes through me. Is my artwork really worth dying for?

Chuck raises the knife, his face twisted in fury, then freezes. He spins to face the window.

Someone else has joined our fight. The hawk is on the windowsill, silhouetted by the sun, wings beating the window, talons scratching the glass. Chuck jumps back. I release my injured arm, spring forward and snatch the knife.

He turns to me, eyes wide. Pete has returned with breakfast and Chuck has lost his weapon. Chuck dashes across the studio, sidesteps my husband, and rushes down the stairs. Pete drops the bag of food to chase him.

Our hawk takes to the air.

Unsettled calm hangs over the destruction strewn throughout the studio. I sit and wrap my arm in clean paint rags. I am weak and shaken, struggling to maintain consciousness.

Pete returns and signs that Chuck disappeared. He calls the police on our way out the door to the hospital.

I can’t stop thinking of the canvas with the bright yellow sun, one work my brother missed. While I recover over the next couple days in the hospital, I think of elements I want to include. Peace may not be possible with Chuck, but I’m seeking it for me.


A month later, Pete stands with a proud grin and his arm around me. I feel better knowing that Chuck will be in jail for a long time and the house is securely mine.

Father Lewis enters with an excited shuffle. His eyes light up when he sees the painting. “Rosa, what a beautiful image of peace.” I smile at him and nod. He doesn’t know the cost at which it came.

We stare at my work. Rays of a warming sun peek through threatening purple clouds that shed rain and lightning. In the middle of a tree sits a mother hawk on her nest, wings stretched out to cover two fledglings.

Arlan Gerig has a love for fantasy and sci-fi that is often reflected in his writing. He has several stories published with Havok Publishing and is currently working on a fantasy novel.

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