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  • Jason Eaken

Blue Painter, a short story

Once, there was a painter. He worked from a little shack behind his home. In 23 years, he never had any success. But he kept painting.


He loved the color blue, featured it in all his paintings. Had loved the color since he was a boy, staring at the bright summer sky. No one cared.


One rainy Friday morning, he opened the door to his shack, sat at his easel, kicked on the small heater by his feet, and set to painting. He noticed he was almost out of blue paint. He knew how these things went. If he didn’t order it right now, he’d find himself in the middle of a painting and out of blue paint.


That won’t do, he said.


He stood up, which took some effort, and shuffled back across the yard, damp leaves grabbing his pant legs, and into the house. He called up his supplier and ordered another tube of blue paint.


No no, he said, a case. Better safe than sorry.


He hung up the phone and felt defeated. Little chores were the worst distractions for an artist, because the small physical effort they required masked the vast mental obstruction to concentrated creativity they brought along.


He looked at his armchair. It looked so comfy. It was so wet outside, and it was warm inside. He peaked his head into the living room, where his wife sat in the corner rocker, knitting. She was watching a gameshow, the perfect respite for a rainy day. He took a step in, but his body seemed to lock up on him.


His eyes turned his head back to the shack. The door was still open a bit, and he could see a trickle walking its way inside. He shook his head.


Can’t leave it like that anyhow, he thought.


Back at the easel, he set to work. And as he painted that day, he felt a surprise rising inside him. He began to be inspired! Inspired, he was certain, by the small amount of blue paint left in the tube. It was special, he decided. Blue made him special, made his painting special - more than special, brilliant! So he painted. And painted. And painted.


He painted through the day and all through the night and into the next morning. His wife forced him to go up to bed, but he just tossed and turned for an hour, and sneaked back out to his shack. For three days and three nights, he did nothing but paint. Finally, he relented, and allowed himself to sleep, but even as he closed his eyes, he couldn’t wait to open them again so he could go back to his work.


He slept til noon. Cursing himself, the painter rushed downstairs, and slammed the door behind him, and—


He stopped. Sneaked a glance over his shoulder, then turned around to get a full view. He reached out his hand to the doorknob as a smile tickled its way onto his face. The new case of blue paint waited for him on the counter.


Oh my my my, he said, the things we’re gonna do with you.


He set the box onto the workbench in the shack and carefully opened it. He removed the first new tube and held it in his hands, like a newborn pup. The gloss on the tube shimmered. The painter almost gasped. It was beautiful, and he couldn’t wait to use it on a brand new painting… Except.


Except the painter knew something. Didn’t know how he knew it, but he knew it, and he was sure of it. He knew that the moment he opened that new tube of blue paint, his newfound creativity would vanish. And it would not return, not in a month or five years. Never. But, the new paint was so new! And the old paint was so old!


It’s not fair, he screamed at the shack.


But he knew what he knew. He put the new tube back in the case and closed the box and put the box under his workbench, all the way at the back so he couldn’t look at it, even though he wanted to look at it.


 

A funny thing happened, then. That old tube of blue paint never ran out. Each day, the painter went to the shack behind his house, expecting the tube to be empty, but every day there was aways just enough paint for that day. Some days he had to drive his fingers into the tube to push a last little bit of blue out onto his palette. Other days, the tube felt fat and full.


Another funny thing happened, a few weeks later. He sold a painting. Then he sold another painting. And another one after that. Every painting the painter painted was a hit. Some were beloved. Galleries hosted events for them. Museums across the country begged for more and more of them to display on their walls, year after year. Some time after that, other countries called to demand them, too. A magazine wrote an article that said the painter was one of the best painters of all time. And still the old tube of blue paint never ran out.


It just kept going on like that, for fifteen years. The paint outlasted everything, even the painter's own wife.


The painter was a success. He was adored. And every day when he sat down to paint, he thought about the new tube of paint, waiting for him under the workbench. He began to look at it while he painted. Over and over, he looked under the bench, into the darkness where he had put the new tube. He longed for it. And so he began to hate the old tube of paint.


He resented it, despised its resilience, loathed its refusal to die and let him have the new paint. He was sick of the travel, the museums, and the acclaim. All he wanted was that new blue paint!


One night, he was filled with such despair, such longing for the new blue paint that he went and doused his shack in gasoline and lit it on fire. He watched it burn with a wicked grin on his face and the new tube of blue in his pocket.


The fire spread to the fence on the other side of his shack, and, with impressive speed, to his neighbor’s house. He shrugged, called the fire department, and then went to bed.


Over the next few weeks, he rebuilt his shack himself. Looked just about the same when he was done, a bit roomier maybe, but more or less the same.


He didn’t paint anything for six months. Each morning, after he finished his coffee, he looked out at his shack and thought, Not today. Then one morning after he'd hadn’t slept that well and wasn’t in a very good mood at all, he found his fingers pulling the back door open, his feet moving themselves outside and onto the grass. He forgot to put his slippers on, and the wet grass sent a little shiver up his back. Didn't matter.


In no time at all, he was seated in front of his easel, the new tube of blue paint in his hands before his eyes. He looked at it for a while, sighed and put it down. He thought about standing up and going right back into the house to his chair and another cup of coffee. Thought about that a while.


Oh, hell with it, he said.


He grabbed the new tube of blue paint and opened it in an instant. As soon as the delicious fumes reached his nose, he felt as though the warmth from all the memories he carried in his body, bound up in himself since birth, had been blown out like a match. Instantaneous and irrevocable.


Still, he painted. But nobody liked these new paintings, the painter least of all. He felt lost. The tube of new blue paint was gone in a matter of days, and he felt relief when he threw the tube in the trash bucket. Couldn’t remember why he’d cared about it in the first place.


It was cold out again. He kicked on the heater and sipped on his coffee, wondering about something. He shook his head, set down his coffee and picked up a brush, and he kept on painting.