Hello everyone! As part of Short Story Saturday, I have posted another short story, this one entitled An Artist’s Passion. Please enjoy.
“You don’t understand, Dad, art is my life!” the son screamed.
“I understand more about life than you’ll ever know!” was his father’s retort.
A chair flew across the kitchen floor as the son rose abruptly from the table. He ignored the yells of his father and the pleading cries of his mother as he stormed into his room. This was the aftermath of yet another almost cliche argument between the father and son over the boy’s grades.
The father meant well. His son was in danger of flunking several classes during his sophomore year of high school. The son was engulfed with a passion for art and made any external influence, paternal or otherwise, impossible to penetrate. The mother did her best to play peacekeeper but it did little to quell the animosity the two held towards each other especially when their ire was set aflame.
Still fuming, the son hoped to find a metaphorical salve through the therapeutic liniment that was the Internet. Various forums and posts agreed with his sentiments and did little to dissuade him that his views were indeed correct. This was hardly a surprise considering the target demographics of the websites he frequented.
Though the boy had a point and perhaps his father should not have antagonized him so much when voicing his concerns, at the same time, the son should have focused a bit more on his studies. Rather than pondering the latter as at least a possibility, the son focused purely on what was vexing him. While perusing the World Wide Web, he happened upon a website that seemed to be the solution to his predicament of an overbearing father.
It was an art contest where the winner would not only receive a huge stipend but advertising, fame, an interview with the webmasters of a prestigious art website along with an opportunity to intern at a prestigious company known for graphic design. The boy believed not only was it an incredible opportunity for an aspiring artist such as himself, but he believed it would also allow him to raise the proverbial middle finger to his father.
All artistic expression was allowed for this contest. The judges simply wished to gain an assessment of the artist’s ability to gauge whether he or she had potential. They believed that with enough talent anyone could master any sort of art. This appealed to the boy as he often compared himself to the painters of yesteryear. He believed that he was destined to bring back classical styles to the modern repertoire thought it is questionable whether the older styles have been or ever were truly forsaken as the boy constantly claimed.
He knew the medium he’d utilize, canvas painting but the only question was what to paint. He was missing his metaphorical muse. Dozens of paintings adorned his walls with the excess bleeding into his closet but none of them, in his mind, were worthy of entry. He wanted to paint something emblematic of his home town.
Then his muse suddenly appeared and he thought of it, the perfect painting. He envisioned a sort of modern-day depiction of A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Only, instead of using the said island, he’d use the beautiful vista and the beaches lying adjacent to the Chambers Bay Golf Course. To that end, instead of women with parasols, he’d paint joggers. Instead of men in top hats, he’d paint golfers. Instead of depicting women with monkeys on leashes, he’d go for the more traditional route of showing people walking their dogs. He beamed thinking about how he’d bring fame to his home town after winning the contest with this signature piece.
There were subtleties to the original painting that the young failed to notice. The woman next to the water fishing may have been symbolic of the more unsavory aspects of the location in Georges-Pierre Seurat’s original work, for example. Had the boy picked up on any of these nuances he surely would have included his own rather than opting for a relatively straightforward portrait-like depiction of an admittedly beautiful scene.
There was only one potential caveat. He needed an excuse to leave home every night. He knew that telling his father of the contest would only lead to him being stonewalled. To bypass this barrier, the son feigned contrition. The boy told his father that he understood his apprehensions and wished to assuage these fears by studying with his intellectual and bespectacled friend every night to improve his grades. This pleased the naïve father. He truly thought his lectures had finally penetrated the boy’s mental shield and understood the importance of acquiring a comprehensive education.
Proper study in the fields of mathematics and engineering would lead to better employment, after all. That is what the father did and now he was pulling in over six figures a year. His success was proof that his methods were true. His father believed his son had finally come around which nearly overwhelmed him with joy. Had the son truly known to what extent this news pleased his father, even he might have felt a tinge of remorse over the ruse.
Regardless, the son left every night for almost a month after lying to his parents that he was headed to his friend’s house up the hill when in truth he was headed to the walking trail next to the golf course. That is where the sun was poking its eyes out before its head sank below the horizon, where the sands of the beach glittered in the sunlight, and where the townsfolk looked majestic as their shadows and often themselves would dance.
The son was crafty enough to sneak the necessary materials including his canvas and easel in and out of his home without his parents’ notice. Though his grades continued to slide, he believed that the proverbial ends justified the means. Whenever he felt any sort of pangs of guilt over his con, or whenever the endeavor proved to be a bit more stressful than he may have initially anticipated, he’d imagine the look on his father’s face when he won the competition and a smug smirk would creep across his lips.
His painting was nearly complete when he received troubling news in the form of text messages. He initially ignored them but curiosity got the better of him. It was suddenly cold. “Your dad caught me at 7-11. Forgot we were supposed to be studying together. Let it slip where you were. He’s on his way. Sorry.”
The boy didn’t even respond. Death by Slurpee, he thought to himself as that was doubtlessly why his father was at that convenience store as it was one of his chief dietary Achilles heels. His first instinct was to pack up shop and run. He knew his father could arrive at any moment as the convenience store was but a few minutes away. Yet he decided to stay. The painting was near completion and this was probably his last chance to finish. Instead of fleeing, the son mentally prepared himself for what he was sure was going to be a taxing verbal assault and continued his work.
The late afternoon gradually changed to evening and eventually turned to night. The son was so engrossed with his work that he did not notice. There were more touchups than he had anticipated and more colors that needed to be fixed. He knew these little extras were necessary to perfect his masterpiece. Eventually, he finished. As he admired the painting in his hands in the luminescent moonlight, he could not help but beam. He was proud of his work. He had every right to be.
A strange thought crept into his mind and gradually eroded his jubilance. He remembered that no more than a few hours ago he felt an impending sense of doom. Was it merely trepidation that he’d be able to complete the work by sunset? The entry was due the next day so he didn’t have much time to dally, but no, that wasn’t the source of his apprehension. Suddenly it dawned on him. His father never showed. Perhaps something was wrong; perhaps something happened to him. The son quickly gathered his materials and sprinted as quickly as he could home. He flung open the front door not even taking the time to hide his art supplies.
“Where’s Dad?” he screamed. His mother washing dishes in the kitchen nearly jumped out of her skin. Sweat poured the boy’s brow as he braced himself expecting to hear the worst.
“I’m right here, son,” a male voice growled. The son looked to his right. His father was sitting in a recliner reading a book. Next to him sitting on a small table was a Slurpee.
The son expected his father to yell at him after seeing the supplies in his hands. With crimson paint on his fingers, the boy was almost literally caught red-handed. Instead, much to the boy’s surprised consternation, his father merely looked at his son silent for a moment before returning to his book. He had expected his father’s explosive fury. Instead, he received indifference. He would have rather have had the fury.
After a few feeble attempts to get his father to say something, even a couple of not so subtle attempts at a confession, he realized he wasn’t going to cajole him into speech. Dejected, the son silently lumbered up the stairs to his room.
His spirits perked again once he remembered the painting in his hands and the reason for the subterfuge. The boy gathered the materials necessary to send the painting, supplies he had already purchased at an earlier date, and submitted the work via the post office the very next day. It was then time to play the waiting game.
A month passed. During this period of time, the father and son said nothing to each other except for a couple of gruff though still cordial pleasantries here or there. Whenever the father coughed, the son expected a rageful inferno to escape the man’s lips. Instead, the father remained silent. Though the boy had made several guesses as to why the father was mute, all of them were wrong.
As the boy entered the twilight of the school year, suddenly the specter of failing became all too real. Finally, he realized that his lackadaisical attitude had potential consequences so he decided to work harder in school for the first time in months. As taxing as his painting was, in some ways, it was a relief to the boy to concentrate on something outside of art if only temporarily. To that end, the son managed to finally study diligently on other subjects seemingly for once in his life.
Ironically, or at least strangely comically, he actually decided to recruit his bespectacled friend as a tutor during the home stretch of the school year. He had a lot of ground to make up but with his friend’s assistance, he barely managed to pass. That is not to say for a minute that his report card was anything less than lacking. It certainly was not conducive to someone who had any sort of aspirations in higher education except for possibly in the arts, of course. Even a community college would have trouble accepting him with his grades.
The son was still afraid to show it to his father. He anticipated that he would reign wrath upon him throughout the summer. Now more than ever he was glad that his bespectacled companion helped him procure a job working at a local grocery store so that he may have a place of at least temporary refuge. Just before he entered his domicile, he heard a familiar sound from his phone. Gleefully he checked. He smiled widely when he saw the subject line and realized it was from the judges of the contest he had entered.
“Thank you for your entry into the competition. We regret to inform you that your piece, as good as it is, has not been selected as the contest winner. There were thousands of entries and this was by far one of the most difficult ones to judge so please do not feel that your work is inferior just because it was not chosen. Thank you once again for your interest and we encourage you to try again.”
His heart immediately sank. A form letter. All that effort, all that deception, all that goodwill that he had destroyed with his father, all of it was for naught. It was as if a giant boulder had landed on the boy. With a heavy heart, the son ambled through the front door and wordlessly placed the report card on the kitchen table. Ignoring his mother’s murmurs of surprise over the poor grades, the son continued to his room.
He pulled his art off the wall and gathered the rest of his sketches, paintings, and drawings from his notebooks and canvases, marched over to the garbage can outside of his house, and threw them all away. The boy then logged onto the computer lying on a desk in his room, the one he was sure would be taken away from him soon after such a poor showing in school, and proceeded to delete all of the art he had stored on the machine.
His mother entered the room to scold him about his grades only to stop when she noticed that the boy was completely distraught. After a bit of prodding, he confessed why he was so upset. Though the mother was sympathetic she warned that his father is far less likely to be and, in truth, she wasn’t too pleased with his scholastic results either.
The boy nodded. He understood and told her he would accept any punishment that awaited him. After she left, he sat on the bed awaiting the sentence that his father surely would dole out when he arrived home. When he heard his father arrive home from work and heard his mother describe to him the kinds of marks he received, he expected his father to run in immediately to yell and scream.
Only that never happened. The father never showed that night. No punishment was delivered because the father chose not to visit him after hearing the news. It was at that point that the boy figured that his must have given up on him. He hung his head low. There were no depths to his sorrow.
A day passed and the son returned home from the first day of his summer employment. He barely paid attention to the orientation as his mind focused on hiding his despair from his fellow employees.
He was surprised to find his father there when he arrived home. He snarled that his mother had experienced car troubles so he arrived early to work on it for her. It seemed like an odd explanation to the son but he was in no position to express confusion. The father then gruffly demanded that the son get his toolbox from the parent’s bedroom.
The boy agreed to retrieve the item, of course. He believed that perhaps a simple action such as this could be the first step in repairing their relationship. If nothing else, he was just happy they were talking again even if it was but a brusque command coming from his father.
The son did not expect to find what he did in the parent’s bedroom. The sight nearly moved him to tears.
His art decorated the walls. All the paintings were either hung up for display or were clogging his parent’s closet. Everything had been recovered. He noticed as he moved his hands across his paintings in sheer disbelief, that mixed amongst these paintings were a few projects he did not recognize. The boy couldn’t help but admire them.
The strokes were masterful. The characters seemed almost alive. Thoughts, feelings, and emotions emanated off the canvases. They were truly things of beauty. Though he had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of artists, famous or otherwise, he did not know who could have possibly painted these masterpieces. He found himself in a trance in sheer admiration and wonder.
The son suddenly remembered what he was three for and looked for the toolbox sitting atop his parent’s bed. To his surprise, he found a new set of paints which were top of the line acrylics along with some new canvases and a new set of brushes.
“Your mother told me about the competition,” a familiar voice said from the doorway. The son turned, tears beginning to form in his eyes, and nearly fell backward when he saw his father’s face. “It’s a damn shame too because you have a lot of talent. Don’t let one competition crush your dreams.”
The son stammered. “D-dad. Um, what’s going on?”
“Look, I know I haven’t been a really good father the last month or so. When I found out you were lying to me, I nearly lost it. I ran out the door of that 7-11, drove over to the golf course, and was hopping mad as I stormed down that trail with only one thing on my mind, screaming at you for lying. I’m ashamed to admit that I was planning on destroying your art supplies, your painting, everything right on the spot. Only, when I saw you, I couldn’t do it.”
“You were there?”
“Yeah, I was. You never actually saw me. I stopped walking when I caught a glimpse of you painting. It was like air out of a balloon. The rage was gone. I no longer had any desire to destroy.”
“Why not? I mean, not that I mind, but what made you decide not to?”
“I’d like to say it’s because you’re my son and I love you, and I do love you, but that’s not the reason. Destroying your artwork and your tools, as misguided as it would have been, would have been for love. No, I couldn’t do it because when I saw you engrossed in that painting and when I saw the passion and effort you were putting into that piece it reminded me of someone. Do you know who it reminded me of?”
“No way. It can’t be.”
“Yeah, it reminded me of a young me. You probably noticed by now all those paintings mixed in with yours. Those were the ones I painted when I was your age. Your grandmother still had them. I wanted to get rid of them too but she couldn’t bear the thought of getting rid of something I put so much effort and passion into. I didn’t really understand it until I learned that you threw away all of your art. I even spent most of the day recovering that artwork you deleted from your machine. You really need a stronger password than ‘Da Vinci’, son.”
“You were an artist, Dad?”
“Isn’t that something? I never even told your mother. I quit before I even met her. It was my secret. Anyway, when I saw you it left me in a quandary. I thought I needed to punish you for lying but at the same time, I sort of understand why you did it. I understand what it means to be an artist. Still, I should have handled that a lot better. For that, I apologize.”
The father walked up to one of his old paintings and traced his finger down one of the edges. A surge of long-forgotten memories filled his head once more.
“Do you know why I discouraged your art so much?”
“Because you were afraid I wouldn’t make it as an artist. You wanted me to have a more ‘practical’ career because you worried about me, right?”
The father shook his head. “I wish I could say that was my only motivation but I’m afraid it wasn’t. I wish I could even say it was because I didn’t want you to experience the pain I felt when I gave up my dreams. Those aren’t the real reasons, though”
“Then what was, Dad?”
He sighed. “I didn’t want you to succeed as an artist because if you did that would mean that I gave up on my dreams far too soon. When I was young, I thought I wanted to be an artist more than anything in the world but just like you, I lost a competition then gave up. I’ve made excuses, telling myself I did it for the sake of ‘practicality’, but in truth, I did it because it was easier than trying again. I realize now, though, I cannot let that happen to you. Seeing you made me remember what I had lost. You have talent. You have passion. Never give up.”
“You were good too, Dad, maybe even better than me. When I saw the walls I thought it was the work of some sort of master painter or something.”
The father smiled. “Thanks, son. I appreciate it but I think you have far more talent than I. We just need to hone it a little more, get you a bit more formal education. One contest doesn’t define you or your ability. Those people are idiots, anyway, I’m sure you were the best. Who knows by what criteria they choose the winners, it’s probably all politics anyway.”
“I don’t know if I’d go that far.”
“Maybe not, but it’d be a shame if you didn’t keep trying. That’s not to say that I don’t want you to study a little harder in school, though. Those grades were abysmal. I know you are capable of much more and I still want you to become a well-rounded human being, okay? I’m still going to punish you for it once I thought of an acceptable one.”
The young man wiped the tears from his eyes and smiled. “Okay, Dad. I understand. I’ll try harder next time.”
Without saying a word, the father and son walked towards each other and shared an awkward but warm embrace. It was the first time the two had hugged each other since the young man was ten and the first time the two had reached a mutual understanding since the son decided to dedicate himself to art.
The two were not so different, it turned out. In fact, in many ways, to the surprise of the young man, his father would be the only one who’d understand his future trials and tribulations. What the future held for the son was still undetermined. Success is never guaranteed no matter how hard one works. Yet the young man went into the future knowing full well that he had his father’s support and understanding. It made him ready to face the future with an artist’s passion.
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