Jason Dunn was a painter. An excellent painter in fact. However, he had yet to present a masterpiece that would make him great.
Every day Jason walked the streets of Spokane in search of the right setting or scene that would inspire his finest creation. He saw many wonderful and beautiful things, and they inspired many wonderful and beautiful paintings. Yet none of them rose to the prestige of a magnum opus.
Time sped on. Jason eventually met a sweet girl, fell in love, and was married. Two years later a baby boy was born. And that’s when he stumbled across his greatest stroke of creativity.
Jason entered the house one evening after another long day of traveling the city streets. He turned, and what he saw sent a rush of emotion through his whole body. Sitting in the rocking chair was his wife, her kind face glowing as she smiled down at their baby boy. The little child giggled, burped, than reached to touch his mother’s face with two uncoordinated fists. It was a picture of love, trust, and happiness.
“Hi,” she said in her sweet voice.
“Hi,” he said, and felt a surge of inspiration gather momentum inside him. He walked up, kissed her forehead, and brushed his son’s cheek. It was soft and warm.
“He’s amazing,” he said.
“Yes he is.”
“And so are you.” Jason kissed her again then quickly straightened up. “I’ll get us out of here.” He waved his arms at the room; at the chipped plaster, the dirty paint, and the drafty wood floors. “I’ll make something great, and I’ll get us out of here.”
“I know you will, my brilliant artist.”
She laughed as he scurried to his drawing room. He had to recapture the warmth of the moment while it was still fresh in his mind. He couldn’t waste a minute.
That night, his paintbrush hovered methodically over the white canvas. By morning, the canvas was still white with only a fleck of paint here and there. He knew from the start that each stroke had to be perfect; one flaw and the picture would be worthless. It would take time. He spent hours mixing paint to the perfect shade, hours with his chin in his hand planning the next stroke, and hours meditating on that beautiful moment.
Days faded into weeks, and weeks faded into years. Still he worked. After all, didn’t it take Leonardo da Vinci four years to paint the great Mona Lisa? Didn’t it take Jean Francois Millet two years to depict the Man with the Hoe? Time could not be taken into account when it came to the world of art. It would be worth it in the end.
The voice was like clashing colors, harsh and distracting. He focused on his work, trying to fall back into his creative trance.
“Dad,” it said again.
It was no use. “What?”
He glanced down at the blond, round-headed boy waving a sheet of paper dangerously close to his paint palette.
“Watch out!” he said.
“Did you see it?”
“Yes.” He hadn’t, but it was probably like the one before, a brown mess of finger paints on a limp piece of cardstock. “Now go play with your mom.”
How had he forgotten? She had picked up some odd jobs cleaning houses to pay the bills, a temporary job while he finished his painting. He had made that clear to her. It was only temporary.
“Than go play with your sitter.”
A teenage girl appeared at the door.
“Come on,” she said and led the boy out by the hand.
He wasn’t working hard enough. The thought of his wife scrubbing and polishing rich people’s homes made him sick. She should be the one in the nice house. I’ll get us out of here. He had said that. He had promised her that. He took a deep breath then let it out slowly, focusing his mind on the task at hand.
Slowly he became oblivious to his surrounding. The painting demanded all his energy. He slept before his painting, he ate before his painting, his eyes rarely wandered from the canvas. While the world buzzed on around him, he only saw one thing: the painting.
It was his wife’s voice.
“In the war. Your son. He’s dead.”
The baby in the painting was his son. He was dead? He reached for his wife’s hand to comfort her. It was rough and thin. It felt like sandpaper against his own. It felt strange. He looked into her eyes. They had changed. They were not like the young woman’s in the painting. They were tired. Filled with questions.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
She didn’t say anything, just dropped her sad eyes to the ground and shook her head.
“I’m sorry.” He said those same words to her again, years later when the nurse wheeled her out of her room on a stretcher. Her face was sunken, her skin sallow, her dead eyes empty.
That was not his wife. His wife had blue eyes that laughed. He could still picture them when he crawled deep inside his mind. He would paint them laughing. He would paint a laughing memory filled with those he loved. I’ll get us out of here.
And then one day it was finished. Slowly Jason set his brush down and viewed his work. The picture was perfect. By far the best piece he had ever done. It overflowed with emotion. As Jason stared at it, a tear slipped down his cheek.
Carefully he stood, his old legs wobbling beneath him. Then he carried the painting down the street to the art gallery.
Austin Prettyman lives in the mountains of eastern Washington. When he’s not crafting stories, he’s tearing up the wilderness on his dirt bike.