Well well, my friends, happy Thursday! For lack of entertaining stories or inspirational tragic musings, I come bearing a short-story. A very old short-story I wrote last summer and like quite a bit.
In Defense of Pink Spray-Paint
She sings while she paints, and sometimes dances, but no one cares because this is the city and you can do what you want in the city. Spray paint? Big deal. Drugs? Fact of life. Wild teenage girl in a plaid tutu bopping out to the Teletubbies theme song?
Alright, maybe that’s not so normal.
But it’s the city, and it’s summer, and the world is intoxicatingly new. She’s been trapped, but now she’s free. Free to dance and sing and paint. Free to scrape her flip-flops over the asphalt and giggle at the sound. Free to blow raspberries at the sky.
(Sometimes the sky blows them back, and the passersby must scatter to find shelter. She laughs when that happens, and laughs and laughs and laughs – because they look like scurrying ants, because the sky loves her, because the streets turn silvery-slick and her hair smells damp and she has the downpour all to herself.)
Her art is pink. Always pink; not black, or red, or colors dredged up from some awful, punk t-shirt slogan. (The kind she used to wear.) She paints in pink, because she likes pink. Because right here, right now, pink brings no memory or shackles. (Wherever here is; yesterday it was an alley, and tomorrow it might be the abandoned building down the street. At the moment, she’s by the dumpster behind a corner deli.) Here, she is free to paint, since no one notices and no one cares. This is the city and the city is just like that.
A boy charges around the corner, but stumbles when he sees her. He has curly hair and bloody knuckles and a fractured soul showing through his eyes. He stares at her – and at her glorious creation – and licks his lips.
“What are you doing?”
“Expressing myself.” She tosses him a grin (a new friend!) and gestures wildly to her masterpiece. “See?”
“You’re spray-painting graffiti on a dumpster.”
“It’s art,” she insists.
“It’s a blob of pink.”
“Exactly!” She scrawls a flower over top of a particularly disgusting four-letter word, except she paints the petals too close together and now it looks more like a pomegranate than a petunia. Soap-bubble giggles rise in her throat. “Oops.”
“Shut up,” he snaps.
A beast lurks in the recesses of his voice, erratic and unsavory – a creature made of bitter choices and base vitriol and all the things she’s been purged of. The beast – or is it the boy? – curls its lips and spits a word, a word that drives the sunshine out of her soul, a word even worse than the ones she’s painted over.
She flinches, though she doesn’t know why; perhaps because the darkness feels so natural in her ears.
She doesn’t speak that language anymore.
Still, she feels older and grimmer and tad more cynical when she looks at him again. A tiny bit of summer bleaches from her heart. “Were you fighting?”
He stares, unblinking. She wonders if the person he hit with those bloody knuckles gave him a concussion in return, and clucks sympathetically. “Do you need to go to a hospital?”
Maybe the sun is too bright or the air too hot or his jacket too stifling (why does he wear a jacket? Doesn’t this new friend know that it’s summer?), because he jumps – no, flinches – like he’s been burned. Down goes the curly head. His chin burrows into his collar, and a mutter rises up. “I said stow it, kid. D’you want me to brain you too? I mean—”
Pink paint spreads like jam over another vulgarity.
“—someone literally painted that, put all this time and effort into that, and you’re totally ruining it with… with neon-pink walruses, or whatever it is you just did!”
She blinks. Not because someone finally noticed the crimson streaks beneath her art (no one ever notices), or because a string of goopy blood drips from his nose, but because his eyes are a time-machine into herself and suddenly, the dumpsters are different and the can in her hand is red and she’s scrawling “eternally damned” onto the metal container.
She blinks again. Summer strokes gentle fingers through her hair and kisses her on the nose. Asphalt bubbles beneath her toes. The city is quiet and gentle and thrumming with life, real life – not the shadowy daggers of her memory or the greasy, bloody marks of past vandalism.
So she laughs – she laughs and laughs, simply because she can, because she’s not that person anymore, and says, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” since that’s from Shakespeare and quoting Shakespeare makes everything better.
Surely he knows Shakespeare!
“How dare you.”
He doesn’t know Shakespeare.
She sighs, deflated, and says, “You’re right,” with a voice made of feathers and thoughts. “Someone painted that. Someone sad, who carried a piece of Hell in their head and made demons out of little white pills. I wish I could talk to that person. I wish I could show them today and let them see what’s become of their art.”
“You destroyed it,” he insists.
“I’m fixing it.” Her gaze drifts over the dumpster – once covered in smears of crimson jargon, now completely hidden beneath pink – and finds the final bit of old graffiti.
“Watch,” she tells him.
Maybe he does; maybe he doesn’t. She’ll never know, because when her masterpiece is finally complete, he’s already gone – slipped away to whatever dark corner of hell eternity dredged up for him. Maybe, if he’d stayed a second longer, summer might have touched his eyes and glued the broken shards of his soul together again, just like hers.
Or maybe his soul would have splintered.
She doesn’t know – she’ll never know – because that’s life and life is just like that. But she’s saved a dumpster, at least. (Yesterday she saved an alley, and tomorrow she’ll save the abandoned building two blocks down.) And where “eternally damned” once existed, she’s written a new word overtop of the old – a word the color of kittens’ paws, of Easter sunrises, of healed scars:
So she sings a little. She dances. She puts away her pink spray-paint, shoulders her bag, skips back into city life and the busy street – and she laughs, she laughs, because she can.
Because heat whispers and giggles on her skin.
Because dust becomes glitter in the sunlight.
Because it’s summer, because it’s the city, because the past is done away with and all things are made new.
Yaaaay, woot woot!
The mysterious graffiti girl lives happily ever after!
Now, quick FYI: I’m going away next week, and the probability of getting a blog post done is dubious, at best. I don’t feel completely pessimistic yet, so there is a small chance I’ll be able to write one in advance and schedule it before I leave.
Keyword: SMALL chance.
So if you don’t hear from me next Thursday, please be aware: I”m not going to disappear on you again for three weeks. I’ll be back. Never fear.
And with that, my friends, I bid you adieu!