GIVETHEREADERSWHATTHEYWANT!
One writer's experiment to tackle any subject his friends come up with.
6/15/11-PAT GERHARD

The World of Light

 

Elliott reached across his mother and picked up the odd book. Its pages were stuffed with garish paint in a variety of colors. Portions of it were so thick that each page stood out on its own. Several pages were still wet.

“What the heck is this, Mom?”

“Oh, just a little project I’ve been working on,” Susan replied. She rose up from her lying position to reach for the book. Elliott pulled it back, leafing through its stiff pages.

“You’ve never painted before in your life. What made you decide to try this?”

Susan laid back, and regarded her son through half-lidded eyes. “Well, I’d never painted before in my life. Seems reason enough.”

Elliott smirked dryly and sat back in the overstuffed chair beside his mother’s bed. Still holding the book, he adjusted his jacket and glanced at his watch.

He pried pages apart, frowning at them. Most were simple squares of bright color, a rectangle within a contrasting boundary. Every inch of each small page was covered. “So, what are you trying to paint?”

Susan pursed her lips and counted five drips from the bag overhead.

“Nothing, really. Just pretty colors. I should probably throw the silly thing out.”

Elliott raised his eyebrows. “Well, don’t do that. You obviously put some work into it.” He placed the book on the nightstand by his mother, clearing a new spot among the forest of pill bottles.

“I’m going to have to go now, Mom. Sorry I can’t stay longer.”

Susan gave a tight smile and a nod. “That’s alright, dear. Etta can get me unhooked from here in a minute. Thanks for stopping by.”

Elliott stood, and looked out the french doors that led from Susan’s bedroom out to the patio. The sun was well clear of the horizon now, having risen from the ocean nearly straight ahead. “Looks like another one of those trademark beautiful Florida days,” he quipped.

Susan smiled more widely, answering only with a simple “Yep.”

Elliott kissed Susan’s forehead, told her goodbye once more, and stepped out.

*****

Susan’s nurse Etta smiled at her with a knowing tilt of her head as she turned off the machine and removed Susan’s I.V. “So you’re really not going to tell him? You sure gave me an earful.”

“Yes, but that’s because I don’t care if you think I’m crazy. Elliott will just get worried and try to ‘fix it’. I won’t abide any more of these foolish pills,” she said, flicking her fingers dismissively at the medications clustered on her nightstand. “Besides, I know it’s all in my own head.”

Etta was busying herself at the foot of the bed. “Uh huh.”

“Don’t you have somebody’s life to save or something? I think you’ve folded that quilt about four times now. I don’t know why people feel they can just hang about in my presence. I’ve got things to do too, you know.”

“Alright, I’ll go on to the bus stop. About fifteen minutes early, but I get paid whether I’m here or not. You take care, Ms. Somers.” Etta smiled warmly at Susan, with the confidence of someone who only knew honesty.

“I plan on doing just that,” Susan called over her shoulder as she shuffled through the clothes hanging in her closet. “Don’t forget the pot roast in the fridgidaire. Clyde will shoot you if you walk out of here without my cooking again.”

Alone in the kitchen, Etta shook her head as a smile washed across her face. “That he might, Ms. Somers. I’ll see you Monday.”

“Lord willing and the creek don’t rise,” Susan muttered to herself. Upon hearing the screen door shut, Susan renewed her attention on the closet. She pushed aside the thick curtain of blouses and skirts, things of the past, waiting to be archived. Beneath the crush of dozens of other dresses, irrelevant in their prominence, hung an old, worn apron, a relic of ages past, when she had taken the one home economics class in high school and tried her hand at sewing. The material was an elaborate floral pattern, embarassingly dated now, and thankfully muted by untold cycles in the washing machine. The faint pattern now served as a backdrop for the brilliant firework remnants of her new hobby. She retrieved the apron from its hanger, along with the two shoeboxes of paint supplies that were shelved behind it.

She donned the apron and set up her supplies quickly. The book had become full, and Susan was ready with a small canvas. She set up the unused easel against the wall opposite her mirrored closet doors. She was facing the french doors which led from her bedroom to the veranda. The late morning light spilled across the Atlantic and flowed into her room. She placed her canvas upon the easel, which until now had stayed hidden in the back of her closet. She didn’t understand the need for secrecy, much as she didn’t understand the messages of the colors she had begun to see in that world between sleeping and waking. Etta would tell her she needed more rest. No telling what her son would say if she’d attempted any explanation. She cursed herself for leaving the notebook out, inviting his questions. It had been a foolish slip. But she expected it would be getting harder to hide her new hobby, quest, whatever it was, now that she was trying to bring these visions into bigger realities.

Susan looked down at the array of vibrant colors before her. Tubes of pastels and neons sat in the easel’s tray, most of them squashed and rolled to a fraction of their original size, caked around their mouths with the dried detritus of her previous work. She gazed at these in something akin to wonder, considering their stark contrast to the style of the life she’d carved out around her over seven decades. This compulsion still mystified her. But there it was. Susan closed her eyes tightly, trying to recall the now fading visions she’d been privy to before her son had called on her. In this mindset, when she focused on the visions, she felt a second world behind the one she’d always known, a strong sense of a reality which had always lain there, unrecognized. It held spriteliness and fancy, all the more wonderful for its foreign nature. The visions could not come from her; this feel for life did not reside in her. But the taste of it was intoxicating, and held more passion and depth than the shades her waking life had become.

She focused on the faint memory of color, a rectangle within a frame. She pushed for it, then reminded herself that the willfulness usually led her away from a true recollection. She took in a full breath, released it slowly, and opened her eyes. There on the canvas was that faint image, a frame surrounding an opening, perhaps a portal. It was asking for her input to make it more real. Susan opened several tubes of paint and began whipping them together on the makeshift piece of linoleum that was her palette. Dab, mix, spread, scrape – soon she had the bright mandarin hue she saw on the canvas, and she began to cover it. She surrounded the outer frame in the pulsing citrus tones, then began to focus on the inside, where a shock of aquamarine glowed. More frantic mixing and the color was readily applied.

Was paint enough? Was it the right tool to open this world? She had gained rapid skill in finding and working with the colors in her mind’s eye, but she was beginning to wonder whether these daubs of colored paste were powerful enough to work the magic she felt welling within her. What were the creatures in this world? She imagined a realm of playful spirits, pixies and nymphs, beckoning her into a realm of light and life.

She looked deep into the painting. They always seemed to convey more when they were fresh, newborn and still wet, fragile and therefore more alive, begging a touch that would necessarily obliterate their essence. She heard bells tinkling as she looked on the play of the light from the rising sun through her window, licking across the tips of thick, unsettled paint. Her reverie extended as she dreamed about a land of light and charming wonder. She wondered if she would ever be allowed passage through her visions.

Eventually the pressing needs of the flesh began to crowd out her waking dream, reminding her with tired feet, empty belly, and the ever-present ache in her flagging heart. She put the tools of her new craft away and set the canvas to dry on her dresser. There was truth there; she knew she was exploring a reality wholly new and delightful to her.

Susan shuffled into the condo’s quiet kitchen in slippered feet. She rested her eyes on the old refrigerator she’d had Elliott bring from her home, eschewing his offer to get her one with an ice and water dispenser. She had a tap for water, she told him, and the day she stopped cracking ice out of her own trays was the day she’d just give up. Arthritis had never claimed any hold on her joints, a blessing she was doubly grateful for now that she’d taken up paiting on a daily basis. If only her heart would listen to the rest of her body, telling it how young she really was, how little she was interested in slowing down.

Perhaps her heart hadn’t gotten the exercise she’d given the rest of her body, she mused. She quickly swatted away the frivolous thought like a mayfly. Marriage had been fine, until it hadn’t. It had given Susan her son Elliott, a man of accomplishments any mother would be proud of. And she’d decided not to push her luck on a second shot at the happy ever after. She had joked at the time about prison break movies, and sequels in which the protagonist returned.

Susan prepared herself a turkey sandwich, using the fat-free mayonnaise more out of habit and a lingering desire for texture than any apprecication of the sorry condiment’s flavor. She strolled out the french doors from the kitchen, which, like the ones from her bedroom, exited onto the small back deck. The smell of sea air was a boon to the spirit. As she often did, she descended the deck’s steps, surely in violation of any intent the facility’s original designers could have had. She often saw Sam on one side of Phyllis on the other, enjoying their own verandas, but was never joined by anyone during her excursions out by the ocean.

After a simple breakfast by the water, Susan got the strong urge to take the bus into town today and get some new supplies. Lots of supplies, something told her.

*****

Susan woke up. This time, it was clear. She looked at the clock. 4:32 A.M. She felt wide awake and throbbing with energy. She turned on her bedside light and started to fish around in the closet.

She had to capture the vision still burning in her mind. It was clearly a doorway, opened a crack and allowing light to spill in around one edge. An achingly brilliant invitation. She needed a larger canvas. She needed detail. She opened the bag of new paints she’d picked up just hours ago and began rubbing them directly onto the wall of her bedroom, opposite the mirrored doors of the closet. It didn’t occur to her that she was using her fingers instead of brushes. She caked a dark red border around the door, shading it with magenta and deepening its bounding edges. Then she began to work on the door itself, an ivy green flecked with burnished gold. The light spilling around its edges made the gold spark and flare, as if the door were catching fire or made of some essence of sunlight.

She stepped back from the door and stood transfixed. Light emanated from it, glowing stronger by the minute. It encompassed her vision; its light eclipsed the mundane setting around her. She peered intently into the opening, which began to grow larger. Light poured from it, burning her vision painlessly. She stepped forward, reaching blindly, and passed through to a world of pure, welcoming illumination. She walked effortlessly forward into waves of warmth and comfort.

*****

Elliott parked his car and got out. The sun was already beginning to crest the peak of his mother’s beachfront unit, and would be heating the black leather interior of his Mercedes within minutes.

As much as we pay for this place, he thought, they might consider covered parking. I don’t have a lot of time anyway, just enough to pop in and say “hi.”

Elliott made his way briskly down the walk to his mother’s cottage and stepped into the modest living room.

“Mom? You home?”

Etta came around the corner, a curious look on her face. “Hello, Mr. Somers. I thought Ms. Somers might be with you. Haven’t seen her all morning.”

 

Copyright Cole Bennett, all rights reserved

 

5 Comments to “6/15/11-PAT GERHARD”

  1. Cole Bennett says:

    Thank you, Pat! It’s amazing to hold this and feel how it’s just bursting-at-the-seams with energy and, well paint! :D

  2. Gary Bennett says:

    Cole,
    I love it.
    Dad

  3. pat gerhard says:

    Cole, It’s beautiful! Simple and moving! Ahhh… we are complex beings but paint and color can be such a simple kind of treasure.

    • Cole Bennett says:

      Thank you, Pat. It was a pleasure. I love how putting myself just a little bit into my friends’ mindsets for a time is so eye-opening. :)

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