Nick bought paint, white paint. Enough white paint, he thought. He also bought all of the brushes and rollers that the man suggested should go with it. The man knew plenty about painting houses. Done plenty of painting, myself. What you need is probably 5 gallons. Now, do you need brushes?…
Nick started with the back room…with the closet in the back room. It was a basement apartment. It was once part of the main house upstairs, but the kindly upstairs couple had turned it into a basement apartment for people who needed a place to get back on their feet. They had sealed off the upstairs at the top of the old stairs but kept the stairs themselves, in case they should ever want to open the place back up again. As it was, the stairs now just went up and ended against the wooden boards which sealed off the upstairs from the down. The stairs were there, but went nowhere.
Nick started with the back closet. He had already taken everything out. It was all piled out in the back yard. Piles of it. Clothes, shoes, books, pots, plates, Christmas decorations. He brought everything out earlier that day and piled it into unorganized lumps.
He started piling the stuff after he got home with the paint. Susan had already left by the time he got back. He thought she might have, but he was prepared for her to still be there. Arguments like theirs often needed more time. He rehearsed several lines he might use if she was still there when he got back. It happens to most… Everyone in the meeting said it happened at least once… The first months, they’re hard… Most everyone…
He also rehearsed answers to questions she might ask. She had already asked those questions before but he never had full answers for her and she had the right to ask them again. How would you feel if I did this to you?! What do you think this will do to your son? He had to carry you last night…
He piled all of the stuff in the back yard. He was able to go through the process mostly on remote control. The Christmas decorations had been hard, though. Why? Because….well… The first months are hard… Last Christmas…
Last Christmas Susan told him to run upstairs to the garage to get the used nerf guns she had bought at the garage sales those last months of the summer. They were carefully hidden behind the grass seed bags so their son wouldn’t accidentally find them. Nick was only too glad to be asked. When her back was turned he grabbed his wallet and the car keys. By gunning the car he was able to make it to the store in 2 minutes. He slapped down a bill on the counter after asking for a bottle. He also bought two bottles of Sprite. Half the Sprite was quickly poured out, replaced with the vodka. He drove home, guzzling the concoction as fast as he could. Once he was sure he might puke it back up, but he managed to keep it down. He parked the car, swung into the garage, grabbed the nerf guns, and was back downstairs. The whole thing took about 5 minutes.
But she knew… She must know.
She didn’t say anything later. She had stopped saying much by then.
He piled all of the stuff on the lawn and began to paint. He painted quickly and without much care. He quickly soaked the brushes and threw the paint across the walls. Some of it ran down and touched the old carpet here and there. He started in the back closet. He painted it all. Even the stairs that went up to nowhere. In less than three hours the entire basement was white.
He sat down in the middle of the living room and hugged his legs to his chest, rocking, rocking. Marveling. How much empty space there now is. How much white space all around him.
…has worked as a teacher in Hungary, Moldova, Romania, China, and Cambodia.
…lives and works as a writer in Minnesota.
…has been featured in variations publications including Zoetic Press, Bag of Bones Press, and Mangoprism.
…has a debut chapbook of short stories coming in February 2023 from Alien Buddha Press.
…enjoys books, podcasts, and long, slow films.