Sunset

Sunset
Photo by Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash

Her easel in the grass, planted askance in the porchlight’s penumbra, plastic palette on a barstool beside her, my mother used to paint sunsets. One spring, suddenly, she was out there every night, racing its steep demise, scooping the sky’s scattered colors onto the canvas in rich dollops. In the morning I’d find gnats entombed in her generous brushstrokes. The first week I didn’t think much of it: a new hobby—good for her. But then: maladaptive sleep patterns, increased alcohol consumption, violent outbursts. She punched through a blue-red sky at God. I didn’t think she was mad, only grappling with an adversary stronger than reason. The clinicians disagreed. Medicated it out of her. She still paints now and then, but never sunsets. Stuffed the evidence away in the shed. Once when she was with family in the thumb, I laid them all out—ninety or so 24x36’s spilling out of the driveway onto the uneven lawn. Twilight by the time I finished. I had to read them one by one with a flashlight lantern, like a teenager under the tented sheet of the night sky. Intimate as a diary. I never told her what I’d done. Some things shifted in the shed, she said. I felt twisted in the gut. I wanted to tell her what it meant to me to come from something you can recognize, to see real lineage by whatever light available. I just shrugged. I never catch her going in or out, but sometimes when she thinks I’m asleep, I come out to fill my water from the tap and see the shed from the kitchen window—a dim glow limning the door.

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