Salmon In Irish Springs

My late wife Caroline’s art consisted of paint-runs where gravity had won. After her efforts to “fix” the house, the smell of paint lingered for a week. And now the walls in the kitchen are a shade of dead fish, and I can’t convince myself to change them.

“Dad.” My son Timothy poked my arm. “Are you listening?” 

I chuckled. “Sorry. Your mother was—”

“I miss her too, Dad.” Timothy gave me a sympathetic smile then glanced at the newspaper. “Word for a line? Five letters.” 

I furrowed my brows. “Queue.” Sipping my steamy drink, the fresh-ground coffee erased my morning breath, as Timothy filled in the puzzle. I sighed. “I need something more exciting than pushing papers across a desk and counting money.”

“You could move into a retirement home.”

I choked on my coffee. “So, you decided to share your Mom’s sense of humor?” I wagged my finger at him. I glanced at my wristwatch, rising from the table. “I better get going. I start my next venture in a half-hour.”

Timothy’s eyes widened. “You didn’t tell me you had a new job.”

I took another swig of coffee, emptying the cup. Watching Timothy’s reaction was amusing, but I wasn’t going to tell him, not yet. A man needs secrets, they give him distinction.

Timothy raised an eyebrow. 

“I found a listing in the newspaper.” I backed toward my bedroom. “I’d better get in the shower. I need to be clean for my first day, make a good impression. See you next week?”

Timothy nodded and returned to his crossword puzzle. “Mind if I keep this?”

I wrinkled my nose at the smell of rubber cement. Removing my fluffy cotton robe from around my not-so-smooth body, the scent of Irish Spring soap filled my nostrils as a draft blew across my bare legs. Had that mole always been there? Why had I talked myself into this? I stared at my naked body as if it belonged to a stranger.

Shifting the sandpaper chair, I was ready for the modeling gig to begin. Should I cross my legs? No, I’d better stay this way, I’d need to hold this position awhile. When I read the ad, I’d pictured a chaise lounge where I’d smoke a cigarette or have a stiff drink. I could use one or the other—or both. My hands trembled and a bead of sweat gathered at the nape of my neck. 

Young men and women—mostly women—whom I would never otherwise put myself on display for—shuffled into a semicircle. Unaffected by my presence it seemed, their faces were frozen with blank expressions. They pulled out their charcoals, and arranged their easels, before sitting.

A teacher stood with a clipboard, her hair piled high like a ballerina. Framed pictures covered shelves: paintings of animals roaming through the desert, vases with blooming flowers, and rivers winding through banks on a cliffside. 

There hadn’t been any applicants, except me, the teacher had said last week after the interview. It had been a relief, I wasn’t much to look at, not like the famous sculpture of David, with a chiseled chest and rounded buttocks. Caroline, now she was an aphrodite, only with both arms. The students would have beamed at her, instead of the grim expressions they wore now. People would have lined up to see her undress. I sorely missed her lovely form.

My pulse quickened, I hoped they’d emphasize my better aspects and minimize the less flattering er, parts? My foot cramped. I fought the urge to massage it, wiggling my toes, arching, and scrunching. Ugh. It was like when you have to sneeze during flu season and you hold it in as long as you can. Or when you have to whiz in the middle of a job interview.

The door creaked toward the entrance. I started. Moving an inch forward, I squinted at the doorway. Had Timothy discovered me? He had my paper! I hadn’t looked to see if the job ad was still listed. Heat rushed to my cheeks. I’d been discrete, careful, but Timothy was smart, maybe he’d figured it out. The hair on my arms stood, and goosebumps formed. I’d never hear the end of this.

I let out a breath as a young man, not Timothy, harrumphed, rounding the corner. I held my chest still. Part of me wanted to be there, living in the moment, moving forward. The other part of me wanted to flee the scene and run like a real-life streaker.

Charcoal scratched across the canvas. My nose itched. What I wouldn’t give to rub, just there, for two seconds. I wiggled my nose. Don’t itch, I told myself. Think about anything else. I pictured my Caroline, standing amongst the decor. Her face radiating light and joy. Her hair flowing over her petite shoulders. If she were here with me, she’d have learned a thing or two about art and vulnerability. Wait until I tell Timothy what I’m doing, I can’t wait to see what he thinks. 

Pulling the bristles across the wall, I painted in fluid movements.

Timothy knocked, then entered.

Examining my kitchen with hands on his hips, a thin smile stretched across his face. “I wondered if you’d ever change that color.” Grabbing a mug, he filled it with coffee from the carafe. “How’d the job go?” 

Wiping paint off my hands, I flashed Timothy my biggest grin.

Timothy grabbed the newspaper and sat at the table.

“Actually, one of the artists from my class gave me a sketch.” Ambling to my desk I suppressed a laugh and reached inside. I handed the art to Timothy and waited for his reaction. 

Recognition crossed his face as coffee spurred from his mouth and nose. “Good grief, is that you?” 

“Sure is.” I jutted out my chest. 

Timothy glanced at the picture one more time as he laughed from his belly. Tears brimmed his eyes, “Wonder what Mom would’ve said about this.” 

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