A Work of Art, Part 1
8.20.2002 by , every Tuesday.
This story's a bit more personal than I usually like, but it's still in bedtime-story style. It's a little long so I'm putting it up in two parts. I hope you enjoy it.
Chris removed everything from his desk and placed it on the floor. He took out his cup of paint brushes, his box of pencil crayons, and his 2B pencil, and arranged them about the periphery of the desk. Then he took out his stack of papers and separated them into three piles: thick, thin, and coloured.
Observing his handiwork, Chris stretched his arms over his head and cracked his knuckles. Then he pulled the stool up to the desk.
He stared at the paint brushes, the crayons, the pencil, and the papers.
They stared back.
* * *
Tonight was going to be special.
Chris was a lit major, but his hobby was art. He’d been drawing since he was very young. His notebooks from high school were densely populated with strange creatures and designs, and his walls were covered with sheets of scribbles and rough paintings stuck up with blue tack. Whenever his friends wanted some art, for a school paper, or a t-shirt, or a Christmas card, they’d come to Chris.
He was The Art Guy.
University had been a strange and messy kind of rebirth. Everything was both exciting and unnerving. Suddenly he had to think about the future. A career. A minor. He had to think about bills.
But his last late midterm was over, and he had no readings or assignments due the next day. Tonight was free. Tonight he would make a work of art.
* * *
Chris sat on the stool, crossing and uncrossing his legs. Outside, the sun was setting, the shadows merging. The rush-hour traffic slackened. Soon each car had its own separate voice, muted and fading into the darkening night.
The stars began to come out. Each one brought its own level of silence. Soon Chris’ room was the quietest it ever became, with only distant murmurs from the street outside and the scrape of bare branches against the window.
And still Chris sat.
Once, he picked up a paint brush. It was smooth and cold, its bristles soft. He reached for a tube of paint. Red.
He hesitated. Then he stopped and put it down.
Chris stood up. He went to his bookshelf and looked through his CDs. There were so many, but he knew them all inside and out. He scanned the titles and the colours; finally, he picked an album and went to his CD player to pop it in.
Warm streams of ambient music poured over his floor and rose in steam around his desk. Satisfied, Chris returned to the stool.
In the face of the new sonic atmosphere, the paints, pencil crayons, pencil and paper looked strangely cold. Chris stared at them for a little while, but he felt no pull from them. He reached across his desk and switched on a standing light.
Now the desk was a spot of artificial white in his jungle-ambient room. He craned his neck and stuck his head under the bright light. It was like a cop movie. He imagined himself being interrogated by the coloured papers and the thick papers.
The thin papers could play “good cop.”
* * *
Time passed. The sun set. A chill crept through the bottom of the window frame. Still Chris sat, staring at the desk, willing the media into motion.
The ambient music was growing tiresome. He took it out. Looking once more over his CDs, he found one with a dark spine, and popped it in.
Now the CD player was a factory, pumping out strange industrial sounds. Chris closed his eyes and imagined metal animals, halogen eyes burning through clouds of grey smoke. They were dancing and hopping.
Chris opened his eyes. He looked at the blank sheets of paper.
Then he closed his eyes again.
His foot started to tap. His hands started to move. He bobbed his head in a vaguely rhythmical fashion.
Then he slid off the stool, kicked off his shoes, and started to dance.
The music skipped. Chris skipped. Notes bent. He bent. The futuristic string section gathered strength and rose towards a blinding climax. He raised his arms higher and higher and squeezed his eyes shut, clenching his entire face into a grimace of indescribable emotion.
Then the strings dropped. The song took a few panting breaths and dissolved.
Chris knew this album by heart, and he knew that he didn’t much care for the next song, whose opening notes were just beginning. He caught his breath as he pushed the “off” button on the player with his toe.
Silence swept into the room.
* * *
Chris walked up to the desk. His footsteps on the hardwood floor seemed too loud. He glanced at the paint brushes, thought a little, and yawned. Then he went to the window and looked outside.
Night had well and truly descended. The wind was picking up; the branches were straining and bending, and striking his window more insistently. He touched his nose to the cold glass.
Clouds were building and spreading in a corner of the sky. One by one, the stars were winking out. Chris exhaled. He reached up and drew a spiral in the circle of steam; it faded away.
Chris returned to the stool. He picked up a tube of paint; put it down. He closed his eyes and grabbed a tube at random. He opened his eyes, looked at it, turned it over in his hand; put it down.
He stood up and went to the mirror and examined his face. Sleepiness was staining dark circles into the soft places beneath his eyes. He stuck out his tongue.
Then he drew his eyes into slits. He grabbed the cheek with a thumb and index finger and stretched it out. He tried to wiggle his ears.
He rolled his eyes and smiled broadly. He stuck out his tongue again, inflated his cheeks, and wiggled his nose. The results were so comical that Chris laughed, and the laughter shattered the silence, ricocheting against the walls and the bookshelves. He jumped.
In the silence Chris could feel his heart beating fast. He sat down slowly onto his bed and tried to calm his breathing.
For the second half, please go here.
As always, thanks for reading.