MUSED Literary Magazine.
Fiction

Watercolors

Don Tassone

“I’m sorry,” the doctor said to the young couple sitting side by side in the corner of the hospital room. “Sarah is gone. We did everything we could.”

Karen put her head in her hands and let out an awful moan. David wrapped his arms around her. He looked up at the doctor and nodded, as if to dismiss him. Saying nothing more, the doctor slipped out.

The two of them sat there, holding one another and crying for a long time before David got up and asked the nurse if they could see their daughter again.

* * *

As a girl, Karen loved to paint with watercolors. Her mother gave her a little set of watercolor paints for her fourth birthday. Karen loved dipping her brush in a cup of water, wiping it across the little cakes of vibrant colors and creating images on white sheets of paper.

At first, her work was wild, a flurry of bold and colorful brushstrokes. But before long, recognizable objects began to emerge: a tree, a house, the sun.

By six, Karen was painting basic landscapes. By seven, she had begun painting the sea. She had never been to the ocean. But her parents had a coffee table book in the living room which featured a spectacular collection of photographs of the natural world. Karen used to sit on the sofa and study the pictures in that book for hours.

One day, she brought the book into her bedroom, where she now painted with an easel. She propped the book open to a favorite photo: a two-page, panoramic shot of the Atlantic Ocean taken from the docks of a fishing town in New England.

She painted that scene over and over, improving it each time. She even began blending colors to get just the right shades for a wooden boat, a swooping seagull and the glint of noonday sun on the waves.

Recognizing her talent and her promise, Karen’s parents enrolled her in art school at age eight. With instruction by a professional artist, Karen blossomed, painting all kinds of things.

She was mesmerized by things. She could sit and gaze at the horizon or a hillside of wildflowers for hours. Things were stable. To Karen, they seemed like natural objects of art. Maybe for this reason she always painted objects, not people.

She learned to use acrylics, pastels and oil paints, but she always came back to watercolors. She said they felt right to her.

When Karen was 14, several of her paintings were featured in a local art exhibition. Afterwards, a woman contacted her mother to ask if she could buy one of her paintings. Her mother had Karen follow up with the woman directly, and she sold her first painting for $50. The young artist was ecstatic.

Karen kept painting all through high school, and her paintings began to be featured in regional art shows. The broader exposure led to even more interest in her work, and she began selling many of the paintings she exhibited.

Some people asked Karen to do portraits, but she demurred and continued to paint things. People, she said, “moved too much.”

Buoyed by the growing interest in her work and the prospect of a steady income from painting, Karen decided not to go to college but instead open her own art studio. It was there, during an open house one Friday evening, she met David.

They fell in love and were married a year later. Two years after that, Sarah was born. She lived three days.

* * *

After Sarah died, Karen felt lost. She tried to paint but couldn’t. Nothing seemed to interest her anymore. Not trees or mountains or even the sea.

One day, when David was at work, she decided to take a walk at a nearby park. She had walked there many times. Sometimes she even brought her easel and painted there.

Now she walked along a path through the woods. She had always loved nature. But that day, even though she was surrounded by nature, Karen seemed oblivious to it.
Near the end of the trail was a large jungle gym. About a dozen children were climbing on it, sliding down the slide and swinging on the swings, their mothers hovering nearby.

At first, the children made Karen think of Sarah, and she was tempted to keep walking. But she was tired and decided to sit down on a bench and rest.

As she watched the children at play, she looked at their faces and saw how joyful they looked. Joy had been a stranger to her lately.

Karen closed her eyes. In her mind, she could see Sarah’s face. Not as it was in her brief time on earth, but how it was just then. She was smiling, and her deep blue eyes were open. Looking into them, Karen felt so close to her, as if they were one, not just in that moment but for all time.

She opened her eyes and saw the faces of happy children and their loving mothers. She saw trees and birds and clouds too. But these things were no longer her focus. Now they were just a backdrop to the people before her.

Karen drove home. She pulled out a photograph David had taken of Sarah as a newborn. Her eyes were open, and she had a faint smile on her face, and Karen remembered her daughter had been looking up at her at that moment.

She went into their second bedroom, which served as her art studio at home. She clipped the small photograph to her easel and, in watercolors, began recreating the face of her daughter.

* * *

From then on, Karen painted every day. But only people, not things.

In time, she and David had three more children. They filled her life with joy, and she painted many portraits of them.

Over the years, Karen’s paintings became popular all over the world. People said the faces of the people in her paintings spoke to them.

Karen considered painting with oil or acrylics, but she stayed with watercolors. With every brushstroke of every face she painted, she thought of Sarah. Sometimes this made her cry, and her tears would blend with her paint.