The pungent smell of turpentine and acrylics have become an extension of me. I kissed a canvas everyday for years, until I didn’t. Now my days are spent in this stained, decade-old jar.
He has granted me the mercy of stay by the window. From it, I’ve witnessed whole unsettling days and gloriously warm nights. I’ve seen the fangs of the sun and mystic white moons. I’ve studied the creatures of the world I once didn’t know, but nothing comes close to the feeling of his delicate fingers on my handle, my wet stained bristles swiping, stroking, and dabbing on the canvas at his will.
I was a slave of that will, now I am just his slave.
The last time he used me was a day Moses came. The last day. Moses came a few days of the week, some days more than once. On those days he looked particularly haggard, more than usual. Always, he had on him the same browned white tee with the same fringed seams, faded grey corduroys, and pristine white converse sneakers – a gift from a woman who took pity on his broken rubber slippers.
On rainy days he wore no shoes at all, like the first day we saw him. He was perched on the window’s ledge, giving no heed to the flashes and grumbling of lightning and thunder. At first he appeared as nothing more than a mirage on the glass, something imaginary, but alas he was a breathing, living boy. Though expressionless and having more in semblance to the deceased, he was alive, and it is in my lifelong experience that any alive thing has great power of influence. Like Mark influenced me into being and Moses influenced him everyday just by sitting there, with eyes that questioned everything.
Why is there a paintbrush behind his ear? He has only one ear? What is this place? Who are the people in the pictures? Why is he looking at me?
As if he wasn’t the one crouched by Mark’s window during the heaviest rainstorm of the year.
I memorized the movements to painting Moses like a dance, one that Mark made me practice everyday. ‘The boy behind the window’ became his new ideal. A norm. A habit. Soon enough, an obsession.
There were a hundred and five in the end. A hundred and five paintings of the same boy. A hundred and five skies, all the colors the sky could ever be. He altered his clothes in some, but left them as they were in most. He never once drew him an expression, a face that said something or felt something. Perhaps he liked Moses’ face, stolid and marred with great apathy for a child. Perhaps it grew on him like I did.
A mere paintbrush like myself couldn’t possibly grasp what constitutes the likes of a simple human being, much less a maze of one like Mark. Moses too. I couldn’t even tell if they liked each other. I think they did, by their individual definitions of the term, they did.
Mark gave Moses new clothes and food, and Moses gave Mark himself for painting. There was a dynamic present that was unknown to me, like whenever Moses was around there was a bubble only they two could enter, and I was left in the pocket of the apron to wonder what colors existed inside it.
Mark kept anything he thought might fascinate Moses by the window – because he never came inside – like the tellurium that was older than me. It had a circular wooden base that sprung all sizes of gears from its center. The plastic sun, moon, and earth were propped up on sticks of brass causing them to resemble lollipops. It had a turning handle, black like the gears, that would make everything move how it was supposed to.
The sun spun on its center, the earth round the sun, and the moon pirouetted the earth pirouetting the sun.
He did find it interesting, more than was expected. It became his favorite thing. I understood the concept of favorites because I was Mark’s.
Moses moved like a spirit, silently and unseen. A spirit with sooty, black skin and woolly, inky hair. His teeth were big and creamy. I saw them one time when he looked at a painting and saw himself. He grinned a grin that nearly swallowed his face whole. It was the very first painting we made of him. There he was glistening in the rain behind shimmering glass. His milky white orbs of eyes shone like the moon – if the moon had black pools in its center. Without the sun he was just as black as night. The rain and wind pushed his clothes to betray his weedy figure.
He kept that painting by Mark’s permission, rolled up and tied with twine, like a hard-earned certificate he had great pride for. I also understood pride. I felt it every time I was chosen over the others. Now that he’s left me dry to gather dust, I can’t say that that pride did me any good.
I think a lot about where that painting is today. We didn’t know where Moses stayed or slept. He didn’t look like the other little humans with mothers and fathers; I think it was just him and him alone. I think Mark became like his father, and he became Mark’s little human. That’s why Mark was never the same after that day.
It was one of the loveliest I’ve ever witnessed. White wispy clouds rode the skies in armies, everything in the world seemed right and perfect, everything except Moses.
His skin was ashy and his eyes looked desolate, looking above the tellurium, chocolates, and wrapped present in front of him – a green checkered shirt, blue jeans, and a face cap. Any other day he would’ve grabbed them at first glance, if not everything then the chocolate. That day he just sat and watched, head pressed to the glass and knees folded up. Moses acting differently automatically meant the same for Mark.
If Moses were the moon, then Mark was all the seven seas.
He had tried to approach Moses once, on the third day he came. Mark said, “What’s your name?” and got no reply, so he went forward saying, “Come in. Come down from there. Do you like the paintings? This is my studio, I’m Mark”, then again he asked what his name was.
“Moses”, the boy answered drawing back, threatening to bolt if Mark moved an inch closer. Mark didn’t try to get close to him again, he didn’t want him to go away.
A conversation with Moses was equivalent to an interrogation. Some days he didn’t speak at all, but when he did he didn’t hold back. Mark didn’t hold back on providing answers either. He once asked why Mark didn’t use the other brushes, just me. I wasn’t the biggest or the smallest, neither was I the most expensive. I didn’t rank first in any particular category, except that I was a gift, and that alone was enough set me above and beyond any rank in any category.
That last day, I was between Mark and the canvas as usual, and Moses was across the room out the window, as usual. It was one of his silent days, and consequently one of Mark’s too. He wasn’t going to talk to me. If he did I would’ve warned him. I would’ve told him if it meant losing all my hairs, that there was something behind Moses. I was certain neither of them could see it, because neither went running for the hills when it came. Moses carried on watching Mark and Mark carried on painting Moses.
If I hadn’t been in Mark’s hold, I was certain legs would have sprouted out of me and carried me a long way from it.
When it looked at me I thought my non-existent soul would leave me, and I grew furious when it looked at Mark. It’s final look was for Moses, that young, jaded boy. Oh, how I wish I’d sprouted legs that carried me away.
An introduction would be pointless because I knew what it was, and it certainly knew us all. Death was, ultimately, the promise of the living.
That day I watched as Moses’ promise was fulfilled, his life drawn out of him from the tips of his toes, through all his limbs. The air snatched from his lungs, rendering them – and him – static.
In that moment his eyes flew to Mark, nothing else could. Not his hand, or his voice. He tried to touch Mark with them, scream with his haunting stare, all for naught. Mark was lost in the painting before him, the painting he was making with me, and he didn’t notice Moses choking on his soul.
By the time he did, Death was gone, and so was Moses.
Mark took him into his arms and held him to himself as if he were a part of him. That was the first time he touched Moses and he wasn’t alive to feel it. We both watched as Moses’ eyes fell shut forever, a final solitary tear trickled down his hollow cheek and onto Mark’s thumb.
The echoes of Mark’s screams have been etched into my senses like a carving in stone. His body trembled atop Moses’ wet chest, wetted by his very own tears. We remained on the floor, all three of us, for the longest time. Just when I’d started to think Mark slept on the corpse of the boy, he rose with it, and before then I didn’t know he could carry something so heavy as another human being.
Something in me was waiting for Death to come back and own up to his mistake, to return the Moses he took to the Moses Mark was walking out with.
The next day I found myself waiting for Mark too. I waited as he’d left me, on the floor, for two dozen days and nights. Some nights I heard sounds I’d never heard before, horrible sounds that struck my nerves like a bell – if I had any, and made me wish for the first time that I was unconscious. They were what I presume pain to be; they carried Mark’s pain and brought them to me.
The Mark that came back wasn’t mine. He looked drained of color everywhere. He barely had enough strength to hold himself on his feet, so he sat while we finished the painting, and I knew that would be the last.
Moses was on every canvas in the studio in some way, shape, or form. His spirit lingered in the dead air like a mist. He was the smoke of Mark’s flaming happiness, and in the floating particles of their exploded private bubble.
I found no haven from the new bubble created by Mark’s unhappiness.
Three summers have passed, but the taste of acrylic and turpentine hasn’t from me. I would do anything to kiss a canvas again, to leave this jar and this window, to be held by Mark and create sunrises and sunsets of our own.
Oh how I long to feel my bristles wet again, to swipe, stroke, and dab. But I am a slave with no right or ability to exercise its will, nor its master’s.
I am a paintbrush who wishes for three things; for a second meeting with Death, so that he may strip me of this curse of consciousness and free me from the will of a man who cares not for me anymore – this is the second wish.
My final wish is one that Death cannot grant, unfortunately. It is to be remembered by the young master I was gifted to eleven years past. Death is before me now and so you must tell him for me. Tell him he was my purpose, and now that I have none, infinite sunrises and infinite sunsets and infinite marvels of this world cannot make the burden of consciousness worthy of me.
Tell him Death’s company was better than his abandonment. Tell him I have died just as the boy behind the window had. Tell him I was alive, and it was a bitter gift, because even after life he will remain my Mark.
We are very sorry you didn't enjoy this particular story
Let us improve this story
Tell us how the author can improve