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Paints

As a boy, he paints. He takes his colors and his canvases out into the garden and sits for hours by the flowerbeds, watching the butterflies make their dainty rendezvous on the lips of his mother’s red carnations. He traces the delicate flair of their bodies and labors over the brilliant shades of their wings; when he’s finally satisfied, he props the canvas up against the side of the house and waits for the paint to dry, and there he wastes away the afternoon, lying on his back among the ticklish flower stalks and counting the dust particles in the sunlight.

As a young man, he paints. He and his friends picnic on the Austrian mountainside, just so they can revel in the glory of youth. He brings out his colors and his canvases and sets about recreating the regal beauty of the Alps, but he is distracted. Maybe he is losing his painter’s vision, but the magnificent mountains seem like nothing compared to the girl picking blossoms in his peripheral vision. Her name is Amalie, and when she smiles at him his thoughts scatter, and he can only wonder what colors he would have to mix to achieve the exact creamy, rose-blush hue of her skin.

As a father, he paints. He and Amalie sit on the front steps of their beautiful white house, laughing as they watch their children tumble about on the grass in the bright sunlight. They run up to him to bring him flowers and sweet kisses, and he chuckles when Amalie scolds them for getting green-yellow patches on the frocks of their clothing. Later, after dusk has fallen and the children are scampering about catching fireflies in their hands, he sits on the porch with his colors and his canvases and makes sure to paint in the grass stains.

As an old man, he is awoken by his granddaughter in the dead of the night. “They’re coming, Grandpa,” she whispers into his ear. “It’s time to go.”

He struggles into dark clothing, fingers aching from age, and says, “You go on, Maria—I must gather my paintings—”

Her eyes are sad as she touches his shoulder. “We can’t carry them, Grandpa; they won’t fit in the car. We must leave them behind.”
He stares at her for a long moment before he finally nods. “Yes—yes, of course. You go on. I won’t be long.”

Minutes later, he is piling his life’s work into a stack of colors and canvases on the front lawn. Not so long ago, when he had still been sure that it would never happen, he had promised himself that if the Germans ever crossed the border, he would never let them touch his paintings. And now it has happened, and now here he stands, risking losing everything just to try to save it all. With trembling fingers, he lights a match; and the same hands that had painted a lifetime release the fire that destroys it.

As an old man, he watches the moments of his life burn away; then he turns and joins his family, and together they flee the fear and the hatred for the promise of safety on the other side of the Alps. Once, he had believed that there was nothing in the world that was not beautiful. Now, he wonders if there is anything beautiful left.

Never have the mountains seemed less magnificent than now.



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TheWordShaker This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 22, 2013 at 2:03 am
This is beautiful and magnificent and moving and it's written so well. Please write more.
 
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