Here’s the next entry from our recent Sudden Fiction contest…
Charlotte brushed the last golden stroke unto the canvas. There, she thought, mine forever, a mirror of the forest. She’d have to make sure the painting went with her into the hospital, something to remind her of the trees that surrounded her home and how the sun warmed their brown skins. The brushes rattled as her shaky hands tried to put them back into their slot. She tried not to think what tomorrow was going to bring: doctors, tests, medications as if the disease itself wasn’t enough of torment.
As she strolled towards her car a flash stopped her. It was the sharp white flash of a camera. She froze mid step and turned to see who was there. An old man wrinkled like a shriveled lemon sat in a lawn chair woven with the faded colors of the sixties. He wasn’t looking at her but the trees, her trees. What did he think he was doing?
She stomped over, twigs and leaves crackling under her boots.
“Good evening,” the old man said, not even looking at her. “Nice painting.”
“How long have you been watching me?” she demanded.
“I haven’t.” He raised the camera again. “I’m just here to catch some of this weather, you know. It ain’t going to be here forever.”
“Yes.” She didn’t mean to sound so sad when she said it but it came out that way. The tone caught the old man’s attention.
“What’s the matter honey? The world should be treating you good on a day like today.”
She snorted softly.
“The world isn’t good.”
Another year in the hospital being tested for something the doctors were still clueless about; no the world wasn’t good at all. Why did she have to be the victim of a new disease?
“Nonsense. To a young thing like you the world is wide open. Now me,” he said raising the camera slightly, “I don’t have time to absorb like you. I have to do things quick.”
He tilted his head like a dog watching something it was trying to figure out.
“Doctor said I didn’t have much time left. If I don’t do things quick I’ll never do them. Now you, you’re smart. You’re taking advantage of your time.” He nodded at her brushes.
“I’m going to die just like you, maybe before.” The words popped out. The old man jumped when she said them because they were loud like the first bolt of lightening in a storm.
“Really. Tell me.”
He wanted to hear, fine. She told him like she never told anyone before: the quivers, the embarrassment, the doctors with their long terms that made sense to nobody but themselves how she was treated like a walking germ because nobody knew. Fury tinged each word like a varnish. The old man just sat and listened.
When she was finished, he said, “Yay, your dead.”
He turned around in his seat and craned his neck back so he could look straight into her face.
“You want to be dead so you’re dead.”
“I don’t want to be dead.”
“Yes you do. You don’t want to be bothered with all the tangles of living. The chances the docs are trying to give you, the hope your family gives, nothing. You don’t want to live.”
“Yes I do.”
The old man stood up. It was the first time she noticed his oxygen tank which he grabbed roughly along with his cane.
She watched him hobble around his chair. She even helped him fold it. They didn’t say another word to each other. The next day she went into the hospital. The picture went with her, not as a replacement but as a reminder. I will see those trees again.