Happy Wednesday! I am back again and participating in the Flash Fiction challenge Suzanne Burke has shared on her blog. This is my third week in a row, and I’m having a blast enjoying these prompts. Below is the photo for this week and my take on it!
Jarrod Hamilton was not a rich man but considered himself a talented one. For the last eight years he’d made a living teaching the upper crust ladies of Victorian London the finer arts of painting with oils. During that time, he’d often had to bite his tongue rather than offer advice. On other occasions, he fawned over inferior work all the while cringing at the substandard quality his students produced. But catering to delicate egos paid the bills and helped him maintain his lifestyle, mediocre as it was.
Perhaps that was why Mrs. Conway so surprised him. Unlike the other ladies who breezed in each Wednesday, chattering like magpies, Millicent Conway arrived early and alone. A quiet woman widowed for over a year—if gossip was to be believed—she rarely engaged with others. Of the near dozen students in his class, she was the only one with a dram of talent. He’d observed the growth of her painting for weeks, maintaining his silence on her progress. Now, with the final brushstrokes applied, he could no longer contain his thoughts.
“Very striking, Mrs. Conway.” Jarrod stood with his hands behind his back as he looked over her shoulder. “The assignment was to paint a representation of self. I’m curious why you chose a waterfall.”
Millicent set her brush aside with a graceful movement, as dainty and refined as a delicate bird. “Your praise is most kind, sir.” She seemed reluctant to say more.
Undaunted, he peered closer. “A more cynical man than I might guess the waterfall is not the subject of your painting.”
She blinked, wide-eyed and curious. “Pardon?”
“I suspect the true focus is the tree in the foreground. Desolate and barren while the waterfall feeds a valley rich with life.” He eyed her sharply, prying beneath the buttoned-up layers of her personality. “The tree is Isolated and alone.”
Her spine stiffened. She fingered her collar. “How observant of you. Sometimes people are much the same.”
“Only by choice.”
She looked away.
“Do you know what I see, Mrs. Conway? Despite the fact the tree doesn’t embrace the vibrance of the valley, its roots are deep. Steadfast. A strong force in the face of adversity.”
She relaxed, her smile wan. “Ah, but you don’t see beneath the surface, Mr. Hamilton. Sometimes there is a reason for that distance. The exterior is gilt and flash, while the inside has been poisoned with disease.”
His gut clenched. The chatter of his other students created a buzz like the constant drone of honeybees in the background. He wanted to swat them away. “Disease?”
She wiped her hands on a rag. “It destroys from the inside out. You can’t see the damage until it is too late, and there is nothing to be done.”
“Like a cancer?”
Bile burned the back of his throat. “Then there is no hope?”
She squeezed his hand, her fingers cold. “There is always hope. Especially when those who suffer have made peace and no longer feel the need to be part of the valley. They have their own verdant dell waiting, guarded by loved ones who have passed.” Warmth touched her eyes. “The tree must bend. Break at last.”
His throat grew tight. He nodded toward the painting. “What will become of this?”
“It matters not to me.”
“May I have it?”
She appeared surprised. “Of course, but I fail to understand why you would want it.”
How could he tell her? Finally, after years of teaching petticoats, dowagers, and debutantes, someone in his class had spoken clearly through canvas and oil. It may not have mattered to her, but even as disease shortened her life, she’d found a way to instill meaning in his work.
It made him believe he could find his own waterfall and valley.
At the very least, she’d taught him how to be a tree.
I hope you enjoyed my short fic. If you’d like to try your hand, visit Soooz’s blog each Friday for a new prompt. You have until Thursday of the following week to post something. Lots of time to get creative! 🙂