Heather was terrified. Her filbert brush was poised over the nepeta green. Then she hovered it over the fern/forest mixture she’d just prepared. Nepeta? Fern/forest? Nepeta? It was an excruciating decision: which green? What if she chose wrong? Sure, she could blend it away, but Heather was a little superstitious. The first colors to touch the canvas set the tone for the entire painting. She’d started the sky with azure and cornflower, partly mixed, so the pure colors swirled and created an undecided shade of sky blue that looked perfect. To mess up that exquisitely-rendered sky would kill her.
With an artist’s gossamer confidence, she plunged the brush into the nepeta and was about to make the first stroke of treeline when–BOOM!
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
The brush leaped from her fingertips at the thunderous claps. It clattered onto the tile floor, slashed a jagged green streak, and splattered flecks everywhere. Heather’s pink house slippers got hit, too. She swallowed a growl and removed her slippers, put them in the washing machine before the paint could set. As she scrubbed the floor, the booms continued. She rolled her eyes.
Neighbors. What was it Jesus said about them? Whatever it was, he surely didn’t mean her neighbors. Her neighbors were the reason cities instituted noise ordinances. Otherwise, they’d set off their apocalyptic amounts of fireworks day and night and every minute in between. Heather almost ran out of fingers to count the number of times she had to call the cops. Not that she liked to kill whatever joy they got from lighting off fireworks. But clearly, they didn’t have jobs. Or dogs. They didn’t paint. Or have working eardrums.
An urgent, violent knock at her door stopped Heather mid-scrub. A panicked voice. “Please help!”
With an accelerating heart rate, Heather made her way to the door. More knocks and desperate petitions. Low and throaty, like a smoker. She didn’t even need to look out the window to know it was her neighbor.
She threw the door open.
And was confused.
Then nearly screamed.
Her hand cupped her mouth, at first in horror, and then to stop the puke that wanted to erupt.
Her neighbor stood, quivering, holding what at first looked like a half dozen burned roses, but the crimson petals dripped down his arm. Blood petals smeared his hair and face, both blackened by soot. The roses were what was left of his fingers, curling the wrong way, outward, bent back at the knuckle. He bolstered the stump with his good arm and offered it to her.
“Can you take me to the hospital?” He stepped into her foyer. Blood, thick as paint, followed making barely discernable plips as it struck the tile.
Without putting her shoes on, she ushered him back out the door. “Of course…oh my stars, my–of course.”
Her car, a recent extravagance that had all the extras, including leather seats, could, hopefully, be cleaned. She felt a tinge of guilt that she even considered her upholstery, but she wasn’t the one fiddling with dynamite sticks. Nobody got hurt painting.
The G-forces from pulling out of her driveway too fast slumped her neighbor over, into her lap. His blood-pumping stump turned her lap into..what? Carmine? Carnelian? Puce? There was no color called blood. Why hadn’t she put a tourniquet on him? Because: panic. Panic didn’t think. It just did. Not like she was a trained medic. She was a mom, a painter. Skinned knees were her forte.
When she pulled into the emergency bay, an EMT saw the blood all over her and assumed she’d been injured. They pulled her from the car and placed an oxygen mask over her mouth. All her words were smothered. In her periphery, she saw other nurses yank her neighbor from the passenger seat and toss him to the curb.
“Wait!” She tried to say, but they paid her no mind. Her neighbor’s moans and sobs followed her until they were killed off by the sliding doors. A masked surgeon flashed a light in Heather’s eyes. They’d wheeled her into an operating room. In response to her thrashing, they put restraints on her arms and legs.
“Now young lady,” the surgeon cooed, “you’re in critical condition. I know you’re scared, but you need to trust us. We know what you need…nurse, jackhammer.”
Heather jolted awake, drenched in sweat. The BOOM BOOM BOOM from next door had woken her again. This time, she welcomed the sweet sound. First thing she did, even before brewing her morning coffee, was to toss out the nepeta green paint. That stuff was cursed.
True: Heather paints pictures. I am awed by anyone who can take a blank canvas and make beauty appear. I LOVE how the sun hits the water and the difference in the actual treeline vs. its reflection. Bravo!! Heather also makes beauty as a mom and wife. She loves Jesus and would’ve been quick-thinking enough to get the tourniquet, I’m sure, but horror doesn’t happen when people make the right decisions. I invoke my artistic license. Art is the magic that happens in the moment of choice: nepeta or forest/fern? Should the word be sassy? Or brazen? Yes, we artists agonize over choices, but we must eventually shrug, decide, and move playfully on. Can you tell I just finished Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert? I heard every creative soul would benefit from reading it. So, you know me. A sucker for any book-as-medicine. My response: now I’m off to read her other big hit, Eat, Pray, Love.
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3 thoughts on “MTO Heather”
Excellent–felt like a real anxiety dream, absolutely terrifying.
Thanks, Rebecca! I had fun researching paint and tying it to writer-fear of picking the right word. I know you know what I mean!
“Horror doesn’t happen when you make the right decisions.” Oh no! What if I should have ‘chosen’ instead of ‘decided’? What if I should have ‘refrained’ rather than ‘abstained’? Oh…to find the right words! 😊
Another engaging tale. Really enjoyed it!