Fiction: Without Paint, There Would Be No Suffering

By Felix Anker

I’d been rummaging through the attic last Tuesday afternoon for more than two hours in search of our old VCR. Found all kinds of stuff I never knew we had. Where’d that piano come from for example? A toy piano, mind you, no larger than my hand, but still, I’d never seen it before. A few hours earlier, I’d been to this little store near Third Street, not sure if you know it, it’s more of an alley next to that street, the name of the store’s “A Paintful Life”. 
I’ve never been any sort of artist and never could get the hang of it, but my Angela, my dear sweetheart, she’s always admired artists, particularly painters. So, I decided, because I love her like some men love some women, that I’d paint something for her as an anniversary gift. 
That’s how I ended up in this paintful shop, acquiring essentials: an easel, brushes, and paint, of course, can’t do it without that, even I’m aware of that. The man in the store, like everything else in there reeked of old paint. He called himself Clark the Dark. Quite eccentric, those artists. So, I bought the easel and the brushes and the paint and when I paid up, Clark the Dark handed me an old VHS tape – I hadn’t seen one of those in years – and told me it’d help in my initial artistic endeavours. That’s why I was exploring the attic, discoveringthe piano and stumbling upon old postcards from my latefather-in-law. Eventually, I found the VCR. I dusted it off and stashed it away in the garage to avoid arousing any suspicion from Angela.
I set up the old television in the garage that night, plugged in the VCR and positioned the easel along with all my painting tools in front of it. A friendly man with voluminous hair welcomed me through the screen, standing beside a canvas as empty as mine. The first night I watched. Didn’t paint at all. How effortless that seemed, all his strokes, all that mess that turned into trees and golden skies, he also added this huge lake to it, reflecting all these trees. What a kind man that was. Huge hair too. Bob, he called himself. 
When we met on the second night, I summoned the courage to try it myself. I blended the paints on an old plate and slowly swept my brush across the canvas, infusing it with life. Dark blue lines cut through it, spreading across vast whiteness, gradually transforming the entire canvas into a childhood summer sky. That’s all I did on the second day, blueing my painting while listening to the soothing tone of Bob’s voice. 
In the morning, Angela almost noticed something awry when she searched for the missing plate, but I explained that I accidentally broke it, and she didn’t mind. What a wonderfulwife I had. 
I spent the first part of the third night watching Bob's technique before mustering up the courage to try painting a tree myself. I should have watched some more because it was as crooked as an old tree battered by a night of heavy storms. I tried to rectify it with more paint, but it grew larger, its stump got wider, becoming even more crooked. I sighed and thought about giving up when Bob continued his speech, “That’s no mistake, Peter, it’s just a happy little accident. Just keep going,and everything will work out in the end.” How’d he know my name? It was then that I realized I had been deprived of sleep, prompting me to call it a night. I switched off the VCR, retreated into the house and slipped quietly into bed, so as not to wake Angela.
“I'd like to wish you happy painting, and God bless, my friend...” Bob whispered gently before I drifted into my dreams.
The following afternoon, Angela left the house early to spend the weekend visiting her mother. That gave me time to complete the painting; shouldn’t be too hard, now that I knew the basics. 
Back at the easel, I tried a few more trees on my ownbefore inviting Bob back into my creative space. They looked better now, still slightly askew but not nearly as bad as the first one. How’d he do that lake? Turning on the VCR, I skipped to the lake part. Initially, it seemed easy, but my attempt resulted in a massive, greyish-blueish blob resembling more of a cave than a lake. Setting aside the lake for the time being, I continued painting trees, I really got the hang of that by then. I added one more, just beside a smaller one.
“Because it needs …,” I began.
“…a friend,” Bob continued. 
“What a happy little …,” I said.
“… coincidence,” Bob continued. Was it really? I had sufficient sleep the night before and I just had one beer, so that wasn’t it either. 
“Bob, what if,” I pondered, pausing to dip my paintbrush into the can of grey paint, then sweeping it across my childhood’s sky, “I put this grey cloud here?” Silence. I further blurred my grey cloud when Bob responded, “You need the dark in order to show the light.” He was right; I needed more darkness. The entire sky turned almost black in no time. I now saw what he meant: The trees emitted much more light. 
“I don’t really know where this goes, Peter,” Bob remarked. I paused, observing my painting. It was dark. 
“This was a mistake.”
“Remember, Peter, there are no mistakes, just happy accidents. Just like you, Peter, as your mother always said, you were just a little accident.” At this point, I was certain it must have been the beer or dehydration. How long had I been at this? I checked my watch, but I had a hard time deciphering the digits. I felt light-headed all of a sudden, needed to sit down, down on the floor, just for a moment, it would be over in a minute. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. My head slowly stopped spinning. Another deep breath and I sensed a cold wetness on my forehead. Heavy eyelids, as if I hadn’t slept in a lifetime, prevented me from opening them. The cold wetness brushed down between my eyes, crept over my nose;he covered my lips in cold paint, cold pain, life was paintful, I didn’t want to kiss you, Bob. His brush reached my throat just as I felt water rising, my thirsty trousers soaking it up. Finally, I was able to open my eyes again. A dark sky pressed me down, and raindrops akin to tiny drone strikes bombarded my head. I crawled, attempted to run, and then crawled faster, seeking shelter beneath a massive tree. Where was I?
The grey, cloudy sky parted and out of the light blue of my childhood, Bob’s brush shot down like lightning, striking my back and hurling me through the dirt. I rose, ran, got stuck in the mud, lost a shoe, crawled, ran, got stuck again, and lost the second shoe. His voice thundered through the treetop of the crooked one, “Your life is a mistake, Peter, let me help you end it, let me turn this thing into a happy accident.” Raindrops resumed their attack, staccatoing through the tiny tree under which I sought refuge, stripping it of all its leaves. In pain I rolled through the mud, in paint I rolled, covering under the tree’s friend when suddenly everything was enveloped by silence. Serene silence. The rain continued falling, yet it no longer hurt, no longer screamed through the leaves. All sound vanished. Then, a familiar, loving voice, one I had known for so long, shattered the silence.
“What the hell is this?” Angela said.
“Angela,” I yelled, as loudly as possible. Through the small hole in the dark cloud, I glimpsed her face—the confusion that habitually manifested itself in her eyebrows, less so in her eyes.
“Is that supposed to be a tree?” she inquired, and the crooked tree was immediately decorated with a huge hole. “Ugh, it’s still wet.” Shortly after, the crooked tree diminished, gradually looking better than all the other trees.
“That’s better,” she said, “what’s next?”
“Angela, can you hear me?” Of course she couldn’t. 
“Now, who or what is that, sitting beneath that tree? Is that supposed to be a moose? Oh, Peter, you really can’t paint, can you?” And that was the last thing I heard before sprouting antlers and galloping away, lured by the tune of an otherworldly piano resonating from the greyish-blueish cave.

Felix Anker, born and raised and based in Germany, is a linguist working on the languages of the Caucasus. While most of his publications are scientific, he also writes about things that are not entirely true. Humour, Science-Fiction, and other weird stuff in German and English magazines (State of Matter, Don't Submit!, Maudlin House, Johnny, Veilchen, UND).
Twitter: @bananentupper Instagram: @schundundsyntax


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