Cerulean: Flash Fiction

This week’s 2-Minutes-Go story is not political. I hope you enjoy it.


Cerulean

Eugene had run out of cerulean. How he’d used up his entire supply of paint the color of a cloudless sky over Woodstock in early autumn, like the one that now surrounded him, was a circumstance he couldn’t fathom. Nor could he fathom the luck that his old car started up on the first try and had already made it to the main road. He didn’t remember the last time he’d driven it. But the vision he held so gently in his mind—the sparkle of last night’s rain on the pines, so sharp he could smell it, the freshness of the wind-scrubbed sky—couldn’t wait for his daughter to return from her honeymoon; couldn’t wait for the UPS truck to deliver his shipment, if he were even successful in ordering. Miriam did all that for him. Ordered supplies, picked up groceries, paid the bills. Even cooked his meals.

“Nothing is going to change, Dad,” she’d said as she picked up her suitcase, giving him a too-bright smile that reminded him of his late mother-in-law. “We’ll only be ten minutes away.”

Ten minutes. He could die in ten minutes. But he’d said nothing. Just wished her well and returned to his studio, the echo of each thump of his cane reverberating around the bungalow.

He pushed the memories away and turned left, into the art store’s parking lot. At least it wasn’t crowded. After snapping off the ignition and thanking the old girl for her troubles, he closed his eyes and pressed the names of the items he needed into his mind. Cerulean. Cerulean. Was it also phthalo green? Did he have enough to last until Miriam returned? Damn it. He should have taken inventory. He should have made a list. Why hadn’t Miriam left a list?

A knock on his window made him flinch. He clapped a hand to his chest when he saw the smiling face leaning toward him, the soft hand waving. “Oh, good god,” Eugene muttered under his breath. The young man—maybe not so young, but at nearly eighty, almost everyone looked young to him—owned one of the local galleries. He’d been after Eugene for months—years—to do a solo show, a retrospective, of all distasteful things. Like he was already dead.

One of the reasons Eugene dreaded going into town. He sucked in a breath and undid his seatbelt, reached for the handle…and it was already being opened for him.

He had one of those modern names. Justin… Jason…

“Good morning, Mr. Sokolov.”

Eugene hated that, too. Sokolov was his father, his grandfather. And the way Justin or Jason pronounced it, with a Russian accent, also rankled.

But Miriam was always after him for being short with people, so he tried, despite how it pained him. “Thank you,” he said. “And good morning to you, too.”

The man’s smile broadened as Eugene’s fell. This is why I don’t invite conversation, he would say to Miriam. Because then they don’t let you go home and paint.

“It’s hard to imagine you here,” Jason or Justin said.

“A painter. At an art supply store?”

The young man’s cheeks flushed. Which somehow pleased Eugene. “Well.” He cleared his throat. “An artist of your caliber. It’s hard to imagine that you need something as earthly as oil paints and brushes.”

“With what else do you expect that I paint? Blood and shit and my own fingers?”

The young man seemed to shrink. Jake. That was the man’s name. How odd. When he was a child in Brooklyn, Jake was a Jewish name. It was his grandfather’s name. Jacob. Now Eugene felt sorry for this Jake. Guilty for being deliberately cruel. Yet apologies stuck in his throat around an image of his zayda Jacob, tall and strong and stern. And his words: “We survived the tsar and his Cossacks and his pogroms. Sokolovs apologize for nothing.”

Eugene said, “I hope you’ll excuse me. I’m only here for paint and then I must go.”

“Of course.” Jake held up his hands. “I don’t want to stand in the way of inspiration.” His gaze drifted to Eugene’s unsteady right leg. Instinctively Eugene straightened, even though he needed to hold on to the open car door to do it. “But…can I help you?”

“No. Thank you.” Eugene closed the door much more gently than he would have liked to—the old girl didn’t deserve his anger—and turned toward the shop’s entrance. Stairs. Damn it. He’d forgotten about the stairs. He forced his legs forward. Aware of Jake’s eyes on him. Judging him. Calculating. Wondering if he should ask again about that goddamned show. Or would he wait until Eugene’s death made his work that much more valuable.

But the stairs. So much higher than Eugene remembered. God forbid he fell in front of this man. In the middle of town. Cursing his vanity that kept his cane at home, he said, “One painting. I’ll let you show one painting. If you help me get inside.”

First Show

They came for the wine and cheese; they came because she’d begged them. Since the first day Caitlin had picked up a paintbrush, she’d anticipated this day: her first solo show, the opening reception a splash of bright, elegant people gesturing grandly with their plastic wine glasses and claiming the pieces they simply could not live without. Claiming them with red adhesive dots: sold. But as the last of her so-called friends trickled out, the only red she saw was the state of her finances. How much she’d laid out for this show—the framing, the refreshments, even the damn red dots—most of it borrowed, and how much she’d never get back. She might as well have some wine, since she’d already paid for it; nothing worked as well to drown out the voices in her head and the pity in his eyes, if he were still around to have seen this. As she filled a glass to the brim, she thought about Daniel, and wondered if this was why he’d been so adamant about never exhibiting his own work. It was one thing to be paid to paint something, and quite another to bleed your soul onto a canvas, stand by and watch as people pass with barely a nod. You are entertainment. An amusement to fill the awkward space before the dinner reservations, before curtain time. Like window-shopping for shoes.

The gallery manager drifted over, manicured fingers tapping slowly on the white tablecloth, and gave her a condescending little smile. It was an I-told-you-so smile. If her mother had not raised her to be polite and grateful, she might have thrown her wine in his face, but she only tightened her fingers around the plastic stem.

He could have just said nothing. Saying nothing would have gone down better than the excuses he did offer—that maybe she’d priced herself too high for a new artist, and we’re going through a soft market, and it’s a Friday night when so many other, more well-attended events were already scheduled.

Politely she cut him off, mumbling “Thank you for the chance.” She really should be grateful. He didn’t have to make room for her. There were a lot of artists in the city. He’d only done it on the strength of Daniel’s reputation. A student of his must be worthy of a solo show.

Or not.

She returned to the apartment in upper Manhattan she shared with four other women. Still a little woozy from the wine and the shame, she plopped down on the edge of her bed and stared at her most prized possession: the painting he’d left her. It might have been the wine talking, or the humiliation, or the bone-deep fatigue, but idly she wondered what it might be worth.

The voice in her head felt as real as a slap to the face: No. You can’t. You can’t ever. Aside from the memories, it was all she had of him, the only physical, tangible proof that he’d ever existed. She believed in things like life after death, like ghosts, like guardian angels. That he still lived in the brushstrokes, in the nerve endings of her face where he’d almost, almost touched her.

There had to be another way. She called the gallery owner and told his voice mail that it was okay to lower her prices, to whatever he thought they were worth. She could almost see Daniel smiling at her, saying that’s what he’d do. “Besides,” he’d say, “You can always paint more.”

Win a Copy of Drawing Breath

I know. We give away free e-books all the time. But some of you don’t have or don’t like electronic reading devices, and you want an actual book you can hold in your actual hands. One with the author’s signature, perhaps? Well, if you pop over to Goodreads and sign up by June 6, the nice people who run the place will put you in the running to win one of two signed copies of my latest book.

Don’t know much about Drawing Breath? Here’s what a few people have been saying about this coming-of-age-novel, already the proud owner of nine five-star reviews:

“…an achingly beautiful story of friendship and growing pains, and ultimately, of love – specifically the lengths a girl on the cusp of womanhood is willing to go to prove her love and fix a terrible mistake she’s made before it’s too late.” – TheBookSlave

“Without any illusion, I want to say that Drawing Breath is one of the best indie authored books I have ever read. No offense to others, Laurie Boris has delivered a masterpiece in a short 137 pages……The emotion and tension between the two main characters builds as the novel ticks off the seconds–precious seconds that cannot be regained…. Edited to perfection, this story never succumbs to the cliche, but builds to a climax that tugs at the heart, the kind of feeling that stays with you long after you’ve finished the book.” – J. Devitt, author of The Card

“When I first read the description for this book I was hesitant. As a parent I wasn’t sure how I felt about love between a man in his thirties and a teenage girl, but I needn’t have worried. The writer did a wonderful job telling the story and there was nothing lewd or inappropriate about it. I couldn’t put it down and was left with the feeling that I had been witness to something secret yet innocent, heartwrenching and sad, yet lovely and significant. -wyldfire

I hope you’ll consider entering the giveaway. Read more about the book or read the rest of the reviews here. There’s also an excerpt from Chapter One on the “Drawing Breath” tab of this site. Thank you, and I am grateful for your support.

(Note: I’m terribly sorry, but this giveaway is for US residents only, because of the postage costs.)

Why I Wrote Drawing Breath

May is Cystic Fibrosis Awareness Month. I didn’t know much about cystic fibrosis until I met Bill Fiscaletti, many years ago. He attended the same high school as my husband. The two were introduced through their art teacher and became friends. When I came on the scene a few years later, Bill was a pretty brilliant painter and actively involved with community theater. We’d come to his plays and meet afterward for dinner. When he talked about CF it was mainly to rage about medical funding and why AIDS got all the research money when there were more kids dying from CF. Otherwise, he treated it as a fact of his life. Sometimes he had to go for treatments, sometimes he got sick, and my husband visited him in the hospital. Sure, he coughed, but after a while you just got used to it, waited until he was done, and continued the conversation. Bill was just Bill, not a guy with a disease. Continue reading

Drawing Breath: A Serial Novel

Charles Dickens did it in magazines. Stephen King did it with The Green Mile. I’m very excited to announce that now I’m doing it: publishing a novel in serial installments, which you will be able to download to your favorite electronic device.

In Drawing Breath, sixteen-year-old Caitlin Kelly wants to be an abstract painter, and wants to learn from her crush-worthy upstairs neighbor, Daniel Benedetto. An artist in his mid-thirties, Daniel suffers from cystic fibrosis, a chronic and often debilitating disease that usually kills by age twenty. Although he’s on borrowed time, with a sister who frets over his every move, he longs to live as normal a life as he can. And if Caitlin’s mother agrees, that may include taking the girl on as a private student. Whether that’s a generous act of mentoring or a recipe for disaster remains to be seen.

I’m looking forward to sharing this tale of literary suspense with you. Chapter One is now available for Kindle at Amazon.com. Chapter Two should be up by the end of this week. Installments will appear monthly (or so) after that.

Nook version to come, as well as fantastic cover art from my favorite illustrator.