In front of our canvases, we painted quietly. The light of sunset pooled on the floor. I could feel your eyes on me, on the curve of my neck, and I lifted my chin and parted my lips to look like the kind of girl you might draw, turning ever so slightly in your direction to let the light paint me in a glow. I dipped my brush into the cerulean, and you said it was the most beautiful blue you had ever seen. The space between us became warm and we became our compromised colors and dirty water and sunrise after sunset painted over and over on the floor.
I watched your hand paint even, confident strokes of a vision I could not see. I loved the colors you picked, colors I never used of heavy navies and shadowed greens, colors of age and wisdom. I loved the way you fell into your work of clean lines and earnest colors, but more than that, I loved the way I fell into you. I dabbled in your dark greens adding shadows and mystery and places for creatures to lurk and to hide. I added your gray, the color of wet stone, to my sky and I could see the lightning and rain in its darkness bringing fire and renewal. In my painting of firework flowers, your colors made it beautiful in a way I couldn’t see before.
In a shade of light only the rain could provide, I saw a tremor in your hand, and I quieted. I saw nothing, I spoke of nothing, I quieted and smiled at your work, that the crook in the clean line made it magical, and you called me a liar. My lava red, my tiger lily orange, and the kind of blue sky that makes you gasp, splattered into shapes of tropical bursts, you called them foolish. You called them ugly, and something I had loved without question suddenly came into doubt. And then you asked me to prove that your colors were enough. Your hands continued to shake, and I turned my painting away.
I put my brush into the muddied water, washed off my colors, and I reached around you to hold your hands still, trying to guide strokes along a canvas of a painting I could not see or understand. I rested my face along the curve of your neck and I tried to let your heartbeat tell me what it was you wanted to paint. And you let me.
We sunk into colors I had never worn. We danced on the canvas and I felt joy in a place I had never been. But I was delicate to paint strokes of white and grey along your clean blues lines, adding highlights to show a sun in the distance, somewhere just off the canvas, and I delighted in you, so strong and so talented, letting me paint with you. I kept my breath shallow to keep my strokes straight, and I kept my eyes on the canvas to keep my hands still. I wanted so badly to paint like you, clean and steady. I wanted so badly for you to approve. I stepped back to look at what we had done, what we had created, and I watched you set it on fire.
“This isn’t what I wanted.”
“But, but I don’t understand? You led me to believe that… that you were happy, that I made you happy. And that you wanted me to prove… I used your colors?”
I had never stopped to consider what it meant that you wouldn’t use mine. In the wreckage of what we had done, melting away the darkest blue, were the colors I had forgotten, of fire and light and red and orange. Your painting had never been mine to fix. And I would not be the one to extinguish your unhappiness.
I turned to a canvas I had turned away and it was littered in the trimmings of what I had learned from you, with shadowed greens and wet stone gray. I dried off my brush to repaint the faded oranges and pinks. But this time there would be no water colors, there would be no fading, there would be paint so thick it built up like mountains, like flames growing off the canvas. My hand began to shake as I took the brush and I smiled and let the tremors paint the things only my heart could see in the colors that made me: fireworks and flames, and splashes of cerulean, and just a touch a shadowy green.