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small strokes

published: 2017-08-21

I had watched him swim with a large branch and then drag it along the beach. Shoulders slumped, one hip raised, the opposite arm seemed longer than the arm alongside his hip. His body was pale and with red blotches where his sunscreen hadn’t protected his skin.
Was he going to lay down somewhere with his prize and chew on it?
Later, I noticed the branch, but now it stood upright against the rocks and two mermaids graced it. They climbed up along the branch, one had bright pink cheeks and reminded me of Marie-Antoinette. A knot in the branch was her navel and it was a bright orange. The other mermaid was in blues.
People were taking pictures of themselves next to the branch.
Later still, I saw the young man sitting by the sea and throwing stones into it. A woman approached him from the sea and asked if she could have the branch. She offered to pay him for it. He giggled and said that of course she could. She went to collect the branch and carefully lay it on the beach.
It was no longer just a branch.
He got out his small bag of paints from the sand somewhere and started painting. Effortlessly, calmly and with confident strokes. He used a stone as a palet, sea-water as his water. We watched and tranquility descended upon us as a third mermaid came to exist on that branch, in her own glorious colours, uniquely different than the other two.
“I have three daughters,” said the lady and I considered how I have two sisters. I would have liked to be the one with the bright orange navel. But I had to be the blue one.
He was 19 and had completed art school, next he wanted to go to fashion academy but he hadn’t been admitted to the one he dreamed of because his style wasn’t funky enough, they said. He asked why I had stopped writing. Novels that is. I explained how I needed to make an income, how years ago I had applied for funding to write a third novel and that it had been denied. How the committee had argued their decision by referring to the single one review I received in an established magazine and how this angry young reviewer had found it necessary to rip not only my book, but me along with it, to pieces. This novel had been thrown onto the market at an unfortunate release date, the start of the Summer holidays. It had been hasty due to problems my publisher was facing which resulted in a buy-out of her publishing house that same month. There had been mistakes along the way, a desk editor had changed various sentences without consulting me which ruined the subtext of various chapters. I found out too late, only after I had crowdfunded the translation to English. The reprint to repair those mistakes never came. I tried hard to find consolation in the fact that my translation received appraisal in renowned literary blogs. But all that didn’t change a thing in how I felt.
The young artist laughed cheerily the whole time, as if I was telling him jokes. Or maybe he had already learned to laugh. I started giggling too. He shrugged something off, picked up his paintbrush again and continued.
Sometimes, I panic. And a psychiatrist once said: “that’s part of the deal. Keep it small.”
I watched his strokes. They were small. And what emerged was grand.

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