by Liz Xifaras
A mango tree grew in the back garden at home. His real home. Plump, rosy fruit hanging from a billow of brightest green. Birds glinting in branches, lit by a sun rich as the Yellow Bells clustered in the corner.
He left this for a world of black and white. The sky, the concrete. The people.
Chilled, malnourished by the lack of color, he garlanded himself with clothes – green jumper, red scarf, blue gloves. The cold remained, carried with him as he walked the gray streets to work, where his wan-faced colleagues’ smiles of greeting were overwhelmed by stagnant eyes.
In the shadows of his room he sat in the unfamiliar stench of damp, tracing the coconut-leaf pattern of dark, spreading mold across the wall. Remembered the sizzling scents of pimento and jerk spice, the laughter and interwoven voices that accompanied them.
The shop was hidden in an alleyway, a little bright flicker at the edge of his eye, drawing him in. Shelter from a sky of shifting grays. Light ding of the bell as he stepped through the door, caress of warm air. He peeled off the gloves.
Walls piled with an iridescent jumble, tubes and pots and packets. Blocks of paper, lumps of clay, fans of brushes, bouquets of pencils. Scent of wax and sharpenings. He unwound the scarf.
A nourishing feast of color to gaze upon until he brimmed with it, lips twitching, fingers rising, running over the smooth tubes. Lifting each one, absorbing the rich spectrum. Words that were alien and beautiful, rolling in his mouth like peanuts; Rose Madder, Cobalt Chromite, Raw Sienna, Cerulean.
The names did not matter. He saw ripe pinks, leaf greens, sun yellows, bird blues.
The colors stayed with him, shimmering in his eyes, throwing light over the faces of colleagues as they responded to the prism of his smile.
Hours splashed away as he stood in the shop, day after day, gathered its radiance to him. Returned to the room with armfuls of bright tubes. They bloomed, unopened, in corners. A brilliance that thawed his body and bled light into his dreams. Whispered their names as he waded through colors blanketing the floor; Terra Rosa, Mars Violet, Gold Ochre, Scarlett Lake.
He sat amongst them, feet bare, filled with brightness. Grasped the nearest tube. Burnt Umber. Pinched the lid, twisted. Peered at the dark pearl. Breathed in wax and sharpenings.
The door clicked shut behind him. On the floor, a discarded garland of clothes.
‘No paint today?’ the woman behind the counter asked. Her hair bird-blue.
He smiled. ‘Just this.’
He did not hesitate when choosing the color. Sun-yellow. Unscrewed the lid, dipped in his brush.
Hours splashed away as he stood, night after night, spread the radiance around him. Stepped back to admire. Smiled.
Plump, rosy fruit hung from a billow of brightest green. Birds glinted in branches, lit by a sun rich as the Yellow Bells clustered in the corner. On he worked.
And a mango tree grew on the wall at home.
About the painter: Eric Sorensen is a medical student and artist who loves painting, drawing, and photography. After college he studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. Image: Painting, collage on paper (2014), part of a series exploring the unexpected colors and textures that arise when contrasting materials come together.