Painting The Barn


When he notices the change of light, he puts down his brush and looks up. He spent all afternoon painting, and the sun is setting fast. He is finished finally, just in time. His hand is getting numb and there’s an ache down his back, along the left shoulder blade. So he rinses his brushes in warm water, and watches how the light plans to go on without him.

The sun falls beyond the river, so that shadows move up the side of the gray barn. The last rays hit the eves from which he knocked an empty swallow’s nest with a pole. The building looks angry at his going, sad for his weakness.

The threadbare jacaranda in the field beyond the barn takes the dying light into its inner branches, becomes a skeleton. Before he can start the truck and drive away, it is haunted, beyond all hope.

*   *   *

Some nights, it just takes too long to get home. No matter where you start from, how clear the roads and whether, you just can’t get there fast enough. He stops at the market, buys a frozen chicken pie and creamed corn. He waits in line behind a woman writing a check, like she was transcribing Sanskrit from weathered stones.

He loves the night, when the world is drained of its color. All the heavy gradients, brush strokes, vast pallets of green and blue and brown recede to a diffusion of rippled pen and ink. He keeps the lights dim and settles in to watch old movies, surrounded by his walls of quiet swiss coffee.

At two past midnight, the angry gray barn with blue trim and languid shadows, appears in a dream and demands to be red again. Deep brick red, white trim, hinges and hardware stoveiron black.  It wants to stand on the hill in the sleeping hay all night, then command the sun to rise, compel the threadbare jacaranda to leaf out for full summer, put on purple flowers and clash with the cobalt sky. A barn to make the crows wish for clothes like orioles and cardinals and jays.  A barn to fade with happiness – tomato soup with too much milk – in time to lean against its many rust-red parts, and die on the hill.  Gaps between the sagging boards will give the wind a place to sing.

*   *   *

He leans against the fender of his truck at dawn, drinking black coffee, watching the gray barn and the tree as the sun comes up and washes over them. This is what the customer wanted: a barn to atone with the landscape, make peace with the hill. “I want it to blend in, look smaller, farther away,” the farmer said. “My wife thinks it’s ugly. Paint it gray.”

Now he leans against the truck and thinks this may have been a sin, though not his first and maybe not his alone to bear, this time. An ugly decision, a thing not itself.  But why should a barn get to be what it wants if he can’t?  What he wouldn’t give for a proud brightness, a rich red rightness, and a solid hill, room for animals and a tractor, nails driven in posts for hanging tack and tools.

Dammit, it was four days honest work and money earned. There’s half a gallon left of Driftwood Gray. He leaves the can on the farmer’s yellow porch, along with his bill for the job.

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Painting The Barn by Kyle Kimberlin is licensed
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