Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Two Paintings

This is another version of Two Images Separated at Birth. Write a story that is an attempt to bridge two photographs or paintings...As in the previous exercise, use two distinct and unrelated paintings or photographs by two artists...that are very dissimilar. The key to this exercise is to study two images very carefully, taking notes on what you see, long before you've come up with any ideas about the story that might grow out of the two images.
(from prompt #16 in The 3 AM Epiphany)

Read my response:

If he could be anything, he supposes he’d be just what he is; no King enjoys the solitude he does, no King has his view. So what if he does it forever, so what. So what if his life amounts to this, suspended in the sun, one arm holding the ladder keeping him steady, his other arm in motion, whitewashing above the city. His work keeps him lean, keeps him strong; it wears him down, sure, but life does that too and doesn’t pay for the privilege. If he could be anything, he used to say, he used to know, he’d be an actor. He had the looks, the ladies said, and even out at the bars the boys all called him pretty boy. And that’s how much he used to know, which is nothing, and even now. No need to know what’s being kept from you if you already know you got what you need, his mother used to tell him and his brothers. She said it when she left for the evening, when they were boys, and she meant it to mean, don’t follow me. She meant it to mean, ignorance is bliss. And if he ever has a son he’ll tell him the same. With a view of the city, he sees it crumble. He sees too much. Painting suits him better than acting, painting is constructive. In his youth, when he was young enough to believe in realities other than the one, he thought acting was about control. An actor—especially on screen, blown up like the truth—portrays a set world, a world that’s been written and rehearsed and constructed, with cuts and edits and better angles. But painting, the construction industry, that’s control he can measure, control he can use. He coulda been a lot of things…how’s the song go? He coulda been a book the way people study his looks. It’s better to be the one who studies how things look, he decides from where he stands.

As for her, she could have been an actress too, the way she lies. He doesn't care what she tells her man. He called out to her, the way they all do, shouting at the woman, to feel like a man as much as anything else. She turned around, looked him straight in the eye, then turned back around and kept on walking. She does that, she conveys so much with her eyes, it’s what makes her lies so convincing. She shudders thinking what she might be capable of, seeing Joan Crawford in the theater. Nobody told her this was a horror movie. Nobody told her that a guilty conscience, like a psychotic mother, can attack at any time, you're never ready. The theater is cold enough that her shudders are not out of place. Her man is next to her and attentive, he leans to put a steadying arm around her, and it’s too much. She murmurs dear, and just a moment; with the dark and the silence, her dishonesty is blatant, but she doesn’t want to address it. She stumbles, apologizes, brushes kneecaps with her thighs, bows her head and blinks back tears until finally she is out of the aisle. Once in the hallway, in the light, she leans on the wall and is relieved to find it doesn’t lean away. She thinks if she ran off with her other man, her painter, how long until she died out of self-disgust. Now in the hallway, away from the crowd, her blue blouse feels comforting, long sleeves that warm her arms. She should go back in and sit next to the kind attentive man, or head outside, find her painter, but she does neither. She stays right where she is, relieved to be the only one in her company.


  1. I've actually seen both paintings in person, the Hopper in the last year-and-a-half, in fact.

  2. the last line has me thinking of you. how close you get with your stories. i do it as well. i think it makes for a better story, no matter how far the story is from nonfiction, bringing it in makes it better. again, good job, sorry months late.


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