Day 334: The Landscape Artist

The Landscape Artist
by
Matt Zurbo

 

Mook discovered early in life he had a talent. He was great at painting landscapes.
   His family didn’t have much. Mook never used paint brushes, he was hopeless at that sort of painting.
   He used words.
   “Dad…” he said, on a day his father was feeling blue. “How good would it be if we were on a beach right now? Long and sandy and timeless! Every time we had spent forever doing nothing, and looked up, there the sun would be, still directly above us.”
   “I’d be clowning around in the waves. You and Mum would be just feeling the breeze…”
   “Woh…” Dad said, a little wide-eyed, almost smelling the sunscreen.
   It didn’t take too long for Mook’s talent to be found out at school, which was his own fault. For show and tell he brought in the only thing he owned worth sharing.
   Atmospheres.
   Landscapes.
   “Sometimes, I imagine we’re all pirates,” he said, from the top of the class. “That this room is a pirate ship, sailing through rough seas. That outside are octopi and mermaids that want to lure us to the rocks and our doom. But we sail on, against it all, salt on our skins, in out hair, proud and defiant. I imagine that the other classes are other boats, our rivals, and the schoolyard noise is hungry, cackling seagulls.”
   Then, in that moment of silence that comes after something new, when any words can be said, any reaction set a path forever, when anything can happen…
   “Yeah! I can feel the waves,” crooned Tommy Tuckers.
   For the last five minutes of class, everybody just sat back, pretending to do their work, imagining.

From then on the weird little kid who never spoke much became, not so much popular, but, like the bully said… something. Everybody, when they were feeling down, wanted to be near him.
   Bullies, cocky, brash, mean, would ‘accidentally’ sit next to Mook on the school bus, and taunt him into painting a landscape for them.
   Mook would look at them, listen to how hollow their teasing and threats were, and know, like everybody else knew, that the bullies weren’t as special as they thought they were. Like everybody, they needed something special in their lives, something different.
   And he would paint them a landscape.
   “If I was you, I’d be walking through the Viking forest. Or a Viking forest. There are many of them. But this one is big, endless. There are monsters, big, and hairy and mostly harmless – though some would eat you. They are standing casually behind trees not big enough to hide behind. Just letting you know they want something. And, under two moons, you sit around their fire pot, full of sheep stew, telling them about the strange, creepy wonders of that alien place to them, that you call a schoolyard.”
   “Far out,” the bully would tell him. “I don’t know what sort of idiot you are, but you’re really… something.”
   The pretty set could be even meaner than the bullies, but on their own, one-on-one, they would, occasionally, surprisingly, be friendly.
   “Please, Mook…!” Julie Scree, Queen of Meanies, pleaded. “It would be awesome.”
   “You’re walking through a garden of flowers,” Mook replied. “Banksias, red roses, pees, lilies, orchids. Everything is smells, as if they were pathways. Scents that weave and spiral and take you places. It’s a kingdom of one, with no subjects. Just pollen and freedom and you.”
   “And then…?” Julie would bark, suddenly back to being as mean as ever. Ready to destroy Mook if she wasn’t satisfied with his painting.
   “That’s up to you,” he would reply.
   And everybody would wait for nastiness, but Julie would simply stop, and think, and start imagining a story to go with Mook’s landscape.

Not everybody liked Mook’s painting. People could be cruel. He got picked on, laughed at. Beat up sometimes. But, other times…
   “Hey!” the bully would rage to whoever was harassing Mook. “Hands! Off! The artist!”
   Kids would form queues to talk to him in the playground. But they weren’t real conversations. He knew they just wanted a landscape. Somehow, the more popular Mook’s stories became, the more lonely he was.
   Painfully lonely.
   Hopeless and lost. All his own landscapes just seemed silly.
   The playground, though, was now full of desert scapes, their hot air and cracked earth. Parties, everybody with music on their phones and speaker boxes and record players, all of them playing and dancing to the one song, making an echo full of good times. There were lands of giants, there were impossibly lazy hammocks in the middle of broad valleys, there were mists and gorillas. There were medieval battles and family barbecues with 32 kids spread across the backyard playing cricket .
   There was strutting through school as if you’d just kicked the winning goal, and everybody knew it.
   There was a mechanic who was always in debt, and stressed, so found himself – by total coincidence – passing school during recess. Who, after a brief chat with Mook, was dreaming of the perfect car show, where anything was possible. There was a garbo who wanted to smell the eucalyptus leaves of the rolling Outback hills. There were school crossing ladies who wanted to picture themselves in a midnight tree full of sweet, blue-glowing fairies.
   And, once Mook went home, there was more and more loneliness.

Then, a new girl came to school. Silvia did things her own way, dressed however she wanted. Mook watched her, hair beads everywhere, looking out the bus window. She had the best almost smile. It seemed to flow from the gaze of dreamers.
   “What a freak!” scoffed Julie Scree, loud enough to destroy armies.
   “Leave her alone,” Mook said.
   That shocked everyone. All Mook ever talked about was his landscapes. Yet here his words were, out from his mouth, travelling, before he’d realised he’d said them.
   “Don’t you tell me what to…!” Julie Scree started, lunging at Mook.
   She was furious! Mook was just the painter, he had no right to say anything!
   “Hands… off… the… artist!” growled the bully.
   Then some tall men in grey suits stepped in. Julie lunged, the bullies charged… The men started pinning down people. Suddenly, the whole bus was pushing, shoving, pulling…
Mook fell to the ground in the chaos. Everything was painful, stomping, almost dancing feet and legs. It was kind of funny.
   The men in grey suits really scared him though. Who were they? Surely, they weren’t from the government? What if word had gotten out, and they wanted to use him as a weapon?
   “Let’s get out of here…” Mook heard a voice say, and there Silvia was. A few scratches, an accidental black eye, casually crawling through the melee behind him.

The park was simple, quiet. Silvia held Mook’s hand while they walked into it.
   “Why not?” she said, just like that. “I’ve got a feeling about you,” she added. “Besides, it means nothing. This is just a moment.”
   Mook didn’t even know what that meant. He was fascinated! Lost in Silvia. In the way her heart was lost in the sky, always watching it, roaming.
   “These paintings of yours are pretty special,” she said, “You could be anything! Politicians could call on you. Business leaders, movie writers…”
   Mook didn’t know what to say, so said nothing.
   “Or people could be scared of them, want to control them. It could be painfully dangerous.”
   Mook said nothing.
  “Or all the fuss about you could be hot air, gone tomorrow.”
   There was a long, awkward silence. For Mook anyway. Silvia just carried herself through the clouds, thinking about things, easy.
   “Paint me a landscape…” she said, finally. She was so intimidating!
   “What of?” Mook replied.
   Mook wasn’t dumb. Well, he thought he was – often and plenty – but he could still figure things. This was a big question, like; I want to know if I have a crush on you.
   Just like that, he was worried, stressed. His answer was everything…
   “What of? That’s up to you,” Silvia told him. “Paint me a landscape you want to be in.”
Mook was stunned. No-one had asked that before, ever.
   How would he impress this mystery shaped like a girl called Silvia?
   He wanted to tell her of unicorns roaming, and sliding poles that fell through holes into kingdoms. Of mermaids that weaved spider’s webs that caught on sea breezes, capturing lost memories. Of mountain tops, and the invisible paths, slides, and rises into glory the wind up there created. Of dinosaurs that might eat government men that might be after him. Of danger, and noisy, life-filled magician’s markets.
   “I…” he started. “I see easy, short grass,” he said of the easy short grass. “A tree and a rock under it, almost, somehow, framing the sky that is framing them,” he said of the tree and the rock and the cloud-filled sky framing them. “There is a girl sitting on the rock, who could be anything,” he described the girl in front of him, who could be anything.
   Silvia looked at Mook.
   “Oh, you’re so clever,” she casually said. “Do you want to hold my hand again?”
 Mook did.
   “We must make a good painting right now,” Silvia told him.

   And that was the last time, for a long time, Mook felt lonely.                  

 

 

The End

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