The Color – Part 1

I’ve decided to break my longer short stories into two parts.  I’m trying to avoid going longer than 1500 words per post.   This story had no natural break at the halfway point.  Oh well.

The following story is one I semi-consider ready for an attempt at publication.  It is more than based on a true story…it is autobiographical.  The events that happen in the story are very true to an actual event in my life.  I will post part 2 tomorrow.

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The Color – Part 1

He slept–a sleep neither restful nor quite peaceful.

No dreams.  No nightmares.

Just a sleep of images: overpowering–irresistible–images.

His mind raced as his body slumbered.  An adrenalin high.  Memories from the previous day floated into his inner vision.  He framed the memories as images–composed them: a stack a magazines next to a basket; a ladies handbag over the edge of a table, almost, but not quite, spilling its secrets.

But it wasn’t the compositions that mattered–it was the colors.  The colors were everything–the only thing.  Subtle changes in shade.  Brighten the pink on the ribbon of the basket and exaggerate the highlights.  Deaden the colors of the handbag and add a bright philosophical contrast–maybe a toy dump truck–maybe a rubber turtle.  The images danced playfully in his mind.

He could find a composition in every memory.

Into the night, for long hours, he played and floated with the colors.

Buzz of an alarm.  He opened his eyes.  He fumbled with the clock and the buzz stopped.  The colors faded, but did not disappear.  The room glowed with them.  He had once heard what an LSD trip felt like.  He did not take drugs–never had–but he felt he knew the feeling.

His sleep had not been restful; his gut was queasy, but not dangerously so.  He got up from his bed and stumbled to the kitchen to find something to settle his stomach.

He did not look into the spare bedroom as he passed it.

He found crackers, and ate them carefully at first.  He sipped tentatively at ginger ale.  His stomach did not express dissent, and he ate and drank with more confidence.  The queasiness passed.  He leaned back in his chair.

The colors were still there, swirling through his mind.  Everywhere he looked, he could see a composition–the cereal box slanted against the potted plant; the spill of sugar against the tablecloth; the wallet and the keys next to the television…

He closed his eyes again. He rubbed them and the colors changed hues.  Some seemed to leak out beyond his peripheral vision.  He could almost make himself believe that they spilled from his head and soaked into the shirt covering his shoulder blades.

He took a deep breath.  He took another.  Trying to quiet his mind

He opened his eyes and stood.  He felt a little more normal.  The colors in his mind were still uncontainable–compulsive, but he suffered no fear of them, and they did not control him.  He let them play with his mind, for now.

He walked to the spare bedroom and could bear to look into it this time.  There it sat.  The final project for his class.  His obsession.  His masterpiece.

He knew enough about art, of course, to know that this piece was not worthy of awards.  But for him, it was perfection.  Every color perfect.  Every color glowed.  When he had turned out the light in the room the previous evening, he had almost expected the painting to continue to shine with a light of its own.

A simple composition, it was a still life of a dime-store unicorn, a bowl of plastic grapes, and the back of a cable control box.  In the background was the single light source–a dimly lit lamp that cast shade–and colors–throughout the scene.

But the colors…

The tone of the background was not ordinary–not a shade that could be found in nature.  It radiated from the light source and cast its surreal shadows across the ordinary landscape.  It was the right color.  It was the ONLY possible color.  It was that color that made the painting his painting.  It pulsated with life, and made the image so much more than a dime-store unicorn and plastic grapes.

It was dry now.  It was now complete.

Gingerly, with reverence, he lifted the painting and placed it into his portfolio bag.  It rested in front of a couple of other paintings–there was one of a single shoe glowing in a sea of orange.  He liked it, but he knew it was not his best.  His treatment of the cloth of the bed sheet was clumsy.  But he knew it was good enough for an A.

It was only Art 101, after all.

He sealed the portfolio bag, carried it out carefully to his car, and made sure it was well secure before driving off.

The cold spring sky helped him almost completely wash the colors from his mind.  He had finished his art projects early.  He still had finals in physics and computer engineering to complete, and he had spent far too little time studying for them.  He knew that he was going to have to spend a long evening of desperate cramming.  That was why he wanted to turn in this project early: so he could study the more complex subjects in peace.  It was only Art 101, after all–just an elective.  He never intended art to be anything more than a hobby.

Still, his fellow students knew him to be the most talented in his class.  He appreciated their compliments, but he could not make himself take them too seriously.  Most of them were not above the involuntary Picasso stage.  Their odd perspectives and distortions were not caused by deliberate genius, but rather by a simple inability to get them right.

His instructor had suggested that he might want to think about art as a career.  But he liked computers, and the idea of being a starving artist held no appeal for him.

The art studio was a plain classroom with a sink and a half a dozen still-lifes scattered here and there.  Many other students were already milling about–some of the others had finished their final projects early, others were still stabbing at canvases in feverous toil.  When fellow students had asked to see his work, he had shown first his shoe painting, which amused and suitably impressed them.  When however, with timid pride, he brought out his masterpiece, they would drop their jaws and exclaim wows and that is really goods.  He was happy, and anxious to show his work to his instructor.

Half the period had passed before the instructor arrived and looked at.

Again, he showed his shoe first.  She smiled and made no other comments.

Then he took out his masterpiece and placed it proudly upon his easel.

The instructor studied it thoughtfully for a moment

And then she shook her head.

“No, no, no.”

She reached for a brush, dabbed it in some blue paint, and, with three swift strokes, she desecrated the background.

Desecrated his one–perfect–color.

Each stroke felt like a knife across his stomach.

“There!” she exclaimed happily.  “That’s better.  Technical detail.  The background needs to be a cool color–too many other warms.  Just fix it up and turn it in.  Good job.”

Just fix it up.

The background was one quarter of the painting.

He had finals the next day.

The perfect color…HIS perfect color…how could she not have seen it?

And blue?  Blue would change the entire feel of the painting.  Blue could not glow here.  Blue would not try to leap from the canvas when the lights went out.

Blue may, technically, have been the correct color.  But to him, that made it EXACTLY the wrong color.

Finals tomorrow.  Much too tired.  Still feeling nauseous.

Numbly, he grabbed the blue brush.  It was wrong.  The three swift strokes of blue paint upon the background deadened the glow.  The painting was wounded.  He felt its pain.

Finals tomorrow.  This was supposed to be finished already.  This was already supposed to be a gold star in his notebook of pride.

No time.

…continued tomorrow.