After the Yellow Moon (Painting Futures)

Later, Mason thought that perhaps his paintings showed all sorts of moments. He recognized the coffee cup in Starbucks that he picked up by mistake and the brush of someone’s fingers against his hand. He saw his painting spread across the street when he walked to work, cramming a bagel into his mouth and leaning on the ache in his shins like any morning. Then, of course, he burned himself on his coffee and sighed with the pain and the stain spreading. He tripped over the sore stiffness in his legs and hit someone’s face with his elbow. The hospital bills and the apologies spilled out after. He began with an ordinary moment, but the painting didn’t show him the hurt that colored it.

When Mason was working, and his brush dabbed and smudged the world together, he couldn’t feel it at all. There had been no heartbreak in the oily light of the yellow moon. When he squinted his eyes to watch the coffee cup take shape, he didn’t have any sense of the spill, of the heat searing his flesh, of the warmth in his cheeks as all thirty people crammed into Starbucks turned to watch him curl in pain and swear like a stained sailor. That only happened in the moment. All he could do was watch it turn into something he hadn’t expected, hadn’t meant to draw and paint and smudge into being.

He kept painting at least once a week, for a while. For months, even. Mason painted the next man, and the one after that, and when he met them he recognized the strokes of their faces from the lines his hand made with the long straight handle of the brush. Afterwards their paintings stayed in his closet, facing the wall. They were easier, hidden away.

He painted getting “let go” at work and the stumbling stutters of three job interviews all in a row after that. He painted a night so steeped in whiskey that the canvas nearly oozed its acrid stink. He only assumed, later, that the shapes on that canvas had happened to him at all. He didn’t recognize the faces or the street. He barely remembered that night at all, except that he’d painted it, so it must have happened.

Author: Vinegartom Image created using Adobe P...

When his paintings came to pass, it was always in a way he didn’t expect. He’d thought, in a vague hopeful way, that perhaps he was getting a promotion. When he finally got a new job, he had never painted that congratulatory call. He smiled at a new coworker, but his brush never traced the answering grin. His canvases stretched from one tragedy to the next, big and small. There was one canvas that ended up with Alan’s face on it. Mason hoped, with a painful twist in his breath just to think it, that it meant they would see each other again. He realized, eventually, that it must have been his tragedy that happened without him.

After a long while painting, he recognized the pattern. His dreams started bring him to his studio and to tell him to paint a car crash, his mother in a doctor’s office, Alan’s death. Mason put his canvases away. Now he waits to see what the future looks like. He doesn’t paint anymore.

Yellow Moon Future

He couldn’t find himself in the painting. Mason knew he was there. He’d felt the shapes of his head and his shoulders somewhere, and he felt the curve of the light slipping against his skin in the tender smudge of yellow. It could have been anywhere though, anywhere tucked into the details of the trees and the buildings. He’d painted a slow yellow moon precarious on the horizon, fat and round against the deep blue-black of the sky. When he looked at the painting, he tried to look for himself. The moon kept pulling his gaze back, though. It almost shone from the canvas. Sometimes he was amazed at the light that came from the smeared shapes of oil and pigment.

There – maybe he was there, in the corner. What was he doing? Mason squinted, leaned, and smiled. There he was, definitely. Now that he’d found it, it seemed obvious. The light trickling down the side of his neck was a ridge standing out from the painting. It would be bumpy and hard when it dried. He – the him in the painting, the little one – was curled against a tree, fitted into the waves of the trunk. The leaves spread out over him in points of light, like a string of Christmas decorations pinned up on the sky. When he looked, Mason could see his head bent and his arms clenched around his knees. He wondered what he was doing, what he was feeling, when this would happen.

The Moon as seen in Hockessin, Delaware.

As it turned out, it was only the next week. Once the paint dried and he could run his hand across the wrinkly-smooth surface of it, the moon was hanging heavier in the sky. He drove out to see Alan. When he pulled up to the house and got out of the car, the balance of the light on the trees and the shape of the leaves on the sky was suddenly and differently familiar. In his painting he hadn’t noticed that forest there, but when he saw the trees he could see his own strokes curling up the sides and pressing in the shadows. When he got into the house he knew something was wrong.

Alan made him a cup of tea. Mason was fidgeting, at once, his fingers moving to scoop the sugar and turn and pour, as he usually did. His heart tapped a rapid tattoo against his ribs. He watched the steam puff and billow over Alan’s shoulders and thought it might spill down his hunched back, the bony spine that curved toward Mason while the rest of his body reached away. Alan poured, stirred, and turned to bring the cup over to the table. When he sat down, Alan looked into the shimmering surface of the tea and said, “Listen, honey, I want to talk to you about something.”

When it was over and the silence had stretched too long, Mason escaped. He curled and bent like Alan had, like a leaf withering and twisting on the ground in the autumn, like he was trying to fold into himself or wrap around the edge of pain in his throat where he wouldn’t let the tears come. He walked, without thinking, not toward his car. He got to the edge of the trees and listened to the creak of the forest, the chirp of the birds and crickets, the timid crunch of his shoes on the bits of forest carpeting the ground. He nearly walked into a tree. It loomed over him, leaves tipping and straightening in the night breeze like uncertain dancers. Mason knelt and leaned, fit himself against the curve of the tree and nestled into it like a lost lover. He stayed there, huddled against the tree, until he realized that he had painted these moments. A canvas at home was splashed with the colors and the beauty of this heartbreak. He closed his eyes then against the glitter of light on the edges of leaves, the fat yellow moon, the forbidden glow of the windows half-hidden.

The Psychic Detective

When this guy walks into the room, I can tell he’s important. He’s short, a little round, dark-haired. I don’t even think it’s something about him, as himself. It’s a connection, maybe. But when he steps up to my desk the feeling is so strong that it hits me right in the chest, and a gasp sucks air into me without my even realizing it. I’m choking on the breath when he sticks out a hand and says, “Hello, I’m Henry. I have – ”

“Yeah,” I say. “I already know.” This is usually how it goes, but I’m usually speaking easily, not thinking about the words. It’s a script by now, and they always say the right words even though they don’t have a copy.

“What?” he says, right on cue.

“Didn’t you read the sign? I already know most of it.”

His eyebrows shoot up. Sometimes I think I should take a picture with each client and line up a hundred surprised faces, tucked into the crown molding of the walls in the waiting room. “So what do you know? What do you mean?”

I look at Henry for a moment. He’s not an especially thick cloud of a person, more scattered memories and drifting objects, so he’s a little easier to read. His parents’ divorce, his absent girlfriend, the lottery ticket that he lost when he was seventeen that he’s still sure won – they’re all within easy reach, so I grab them. Of course, the reason he’s here is the closest to me, so that’s the easiest one to pick out and present.

I aim my gaze at his face, somewhere in there among the memory, and say, “Your dad, right? You want to know what he did with the money.” Luckily, this is the sort of thing I can say without thinking about too much. I’m distracted by the other things, and I set them aside so I can look at them later. I’m still not entirely sure which one is so massively important. I’ll figure it out later. He needs more, though, and something’s calling me, so I tell him to take a seat in the waiting room. He’s still nodding his head, eyes wide, as he walks out.

The next person in is an old man. The missing ring is so bright on him that it flares at me, and while he talks I shut my eyes and trace it back. It’s in the living room sofa. The missing thing seems to be in a living room sofa a disproportionate amount of the time, and I tell him so as soon as he pauses for a breath. He hobbles out of the room and an anxious young man totters in. I can tell he’s only half-conscious out of exhaustion and worry, but it’s too easy to see. I bend over my desk again, sifting through papers. I can feel the problem even now.

“She’s cheating on you,” I say, without looking up. “With her secretary.”

The sudden shock of sadness pulls at me, and I look up to see his face crumpling, his eyes welling and dripping at once. I feel a pang of sympathy for him, for half a heartbeat. “Next!”

My day passes like that – as it always does. Adultery, loss, money. There’s an odd murder or two to make it interesting, but mostly it all passes in a blur. People come into my office, dragging their pain and grief and jealousy, and I send them back out with answers. Maybe more pain, more grief, more jealousy, but sometimes peace of mind. That is why I took the job in the first place, so long ago.

When the day’s nearly done and I don’t see anyone else heading into the office, I call to the guy – Henry. He walks in, a little stiff from sitting in the waiting room for hours. He’s still clutching the tabloid he was reading, and his hands are pressing damp valleys into the paper. I wave a hand and he sits in front of me. The leather of the chair creaks as he shifts.

“Hey, Henry,” I say. “I want to know why you’re so important.”

There is a moment of quiet. Then Henry leans forward, and he smiles.

Toasters and Death

The mall was quiet that day. There were only a few people around, sitting on benches or strolling, relaxed and clasping arms, from storefront to storefront. There was a couple, the woman with a red hat and a round face and several shopping bags swinging from her arms, and the man blank-faced as if he would switch back on when they got home. They walked idly past stores, chattering, the woman’s voice eager and sweet as he nodded companionably. The teenagers sitting on a bench nearby snickered at them, but quietly, and the husband’s eyes slid over before he nodded again. The kids were clustered around one, in the center, a tall blond boy who was showing off his new tattoo. Several of them were round-eyed, but a few were biting their lips and glaring behind calm faces.

A man walked through this peaceable crowd briskly, upsetting the gentle waves of shoppers with the wake of his motion, pushing them to the side with his presence. They looked at him a bit oddly. He was frenetic as he walked, and they watched him go with lips parted and eyes puzzled. He needed a toaster – his had broken this morning – and he hurried through the mall with his brow drawn close and worried, his eyes shadowed and his lips tight.

He tried to avoid things like malls at all costs. Crowded areas – even scattered with the remnants of a Tuesday afternoon, like today – and especially streets, and sidewalks. He never ate in restaurants, never went to bars, never had gotten a job in an office, tried to go to supermarkets when they were emptied of harried housewives.

Sometimes it couldn’t be helped. He knew the mall was never quite empty, and it was usually more full than this. Probably everyone would drift away as soon as he left, that was how these things went.
He did his best not to look at anyone though, shielding his eyes from the giggling teenagers and grimacing as he passed the couple, the wife now clinging to her husband’s arm as she pointed to a very pretty dress in a window. The husband patted her elbow absently.

The man pushed on. The woman was going to die quite soon. The visions, though they weren’t truly that, got so much stronger, more distinct – more solid, perhaps – the closer the death was. They weren’t visions only because they didn’t take place in his head; they took place in the world in front of him, the world he could see and hear. The woman’s death was overlaid, blurred atop her form like a transparency roughly pushed in between her body and his eyes. She was there, pointing, but the shifting shape showed her terrified as she was pulled toward the window with the pretty dress, the windshield exploding in her face and the glass sprinkling across her skin. She slumped forward, her neck twisted, on a dashboard that wasn’t there as the husband pulled the reluctant woman toward the next store. He saw this, not sequentially, but over and over, as if each motion was entwined with every other, and as she dragged her feet he saw her sprawled flat, he saw the fragments of glass sparkling in the passing headlights, and quite faintly he heard her wail as the metal twisted and broke around her.
He shuddered and kept walking. The husband’s death was very far away, faint around him, and the old man coughing and hacking into stillness was barely discernible before the young man’s indifferent expression.
The man couldn’t see his own death. It was the only one. He often wished, staring at the mirror and seeing only his own gaze, his own ordinary face, that he could see it. Perhaps he’d know if he died an old man or despaired sooner, the mirror showing him with a pistol in his mouth or a noose tied and yanking before the crow’s feet around his eyes deepened.

He ducked his head as he passed the teenagers. He couldn’t look at them, always tried to hide his eyes from children. It was almost as if his vision ensured their death, as if his knowledge of their impending doom hastened it to them. The blond boy was still holding court on the bench, and he caught only a glimpse of a face twisted with disease before his feet, tripping, took him past them. He wasn’t even sure which child it was. Perhaps it was another one.

This was always the challenge he faced. When he first realized, or first gained this power – though he couldn’t remember a time before it, and he certainly didn’t feel powerful – he puzzled over what it meant. It should have been easier. Death was natural, something he knew must come to all. Even if that was difficult, it should have worn into him, he should have gotten used to the faint screams and the crashes, the cries of rage and fear, and the choking gasps that hadn’t yet been heard. It had never become bearable.
So he hurried through the mall, head down, hoping to be untouched by death. He hunched his back, and winced occasionally, but he kept on. He needed a toaster.

The people at the mall – shopping, sitting with a drink and a pastry, chatting with their friends – looked after him curiously as he pounded across the floor, wondering.