Brush Strokes (Fiction)

The brush felt awkward in Kate’s hand and she could feel her frustration mounting. The last time she had painted had been the twin’s room more than a year ago and that was because the boys had outgrown the pastels of the nursery. Now, here she sat, legs crossed on the floor with four other women, attempting an exercise in self-discovery through watercolour.

She’d only come at her best friend’s insistence. Laurel needed one more person to make the workshop a go, and Kate agreed, last minute, to be the ‘one more’. Even Mark had encouraged her, suggesting the break would do her good. So far, the painting in front of her consisted of layer upon layer of red paint on an oversized sheet of paper.

While Laurel had promised that the exercise would be relaxing, Kate felt anything but relaxed. Her mind wandered to home and whether or not Mark would clean up the dinner dishes, and if he’d remember to make the boys lunches for tomorrow.

“Now would be a good time for tea before we move to the next stage of our process,” the facilitator said.

The women gathered their tools and moved into the kitchen where Laurel had put on the kettle and set out snacks. Kate grabbed her purse and checked for any messages from Mark. Nothing. Everything must be going okay.

“So why are we using the colour red?” She asked the young woman who was facilitating the class. “And what are we trying to accomplish?”

Laurel put an arm around Kate and explained: “Kate doesn’t know anything about chakras. Her life is absorbed by her ‘boys’, sports, and a full-time career in accounting.”

“There are seven chakras, or centers of consciousness,” the teacher started to explain. “The root is the first chakra and often represented by the color red…”

“So that is where we are starting,” Laurel cut in, recognizing the glazed look in her friend’s eyes and saving her from further explanation. “We’re exploring creativity.”

“Well, I’m neither creative, nor an artist, “ Kate sighed.

“Just stick with me,” the leader offered kindly. “You might be surprised.”

Teas in hand the women settled back in their places on the floor.

“What we are going to do now,” the artist demonstrated, “is to trace the darker patches on your canvas with green.”

The women fell silent as they focused on their task. Kate, motivated by details, found herself more engaged.

“Is this supposed to look like something?” She asked half-joking.

The others echoed her sentiment, making her feel reassured.

“Not yet,” responded the instructor, who walked amongst them pointing out areas to trace, encouraging the painters to add more green.

When they were done, the women lined up their pictures for all to see.

“They’re all so different,” Laurel noted. “And cave-like.”

“Mine looks like a desert landscape,” Kate remarked. Laurel’s she noticed had more curvy, feminine lines.

When they turned their creations upside down, new images appeared.

“Feet!” Laurel exclaimed pointing at Kate’s work.   “And faces. It looks a person bent over carrying all these others on her back.”

“That about sums up my life,” Kate laughed. “Nothing new here.”

It was only when they turned their paintings on their sides that she felt something stir in her. From this perspective, Kate clearly saw the trunk of an old tree, complete with hanging vines and knotholes. She didn’t know why, but the tree made her feel melancholic, as if there was something familiar about it – something she’d been missing in her life – yet, she couldn’t say what that might be.

“Kate!” Laurel interrupted. “Look in the corner, it’s an alligator!”

Sure enough there was an alligator, right at the base of the tree. The alligator she’d dreamt of only two nights ago. She’d been so startled by the image, she’d called Laurel to tell her about it, and now here it was appearing in her art.

“Next week, orange!” the instructor called out as the women packed up and headed their separate ways.

“Orange!” Kate thought with a tinge of excitement. For the first time in forever, she didn’t care that the hour was late, nor did she peek in the kitchen to make sure Mark had done his bit. She slipped quietly into bed and thought about the possibilities of orange.

(Since becoming a member of the Story Circle Network, I have joined a poetry circle, had a piece published on One Woman’s Day blog, and had two pieces accepted for the quarterly journal to be published in March.  I also enrolled in an on-line writing course. “Brush Strokes” is my response to week one’s assignment. Image from

Tomorrow:  Writing Brush Strokes

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Permission to write, paint, and imagine are the gifts I gave myself when chronic illness hit - a fair exchange: being for doing. Relevance is an attitude. Humour essential.

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