Sarah always wanted to live in a world of color, not the ash-gray monotone of her home. But color costs. Color isn’t free. You have to earn it. Her mama died giving birth to Jacob, and Sarah had to become his mama. Her papa worked hard but lost most of what he made—trying to forget, to ease his loneliness.
Sarah had a way about her and could sense what people wanted. Nobody could barter like Sarah. She traded a white platter for a green blanket to cover Jacob, her mother’s ring for his blue jumper, even her wedding gown for Sarah’s tangerine dress that brightened her sallow world.
One Saturday Jacob was playing with the sock rabbit Sarah’d made, and she was sweeping the yard in front of their house. A stranger in a dark suit with shine on the jacket sleeves and dirt in the creases of his patent leather shoes walked up to Sarah, almost knocking her over. There was a glint of desperation in the old man’s rheumy eyes as if he’d hiked miles before stopping there. He carried two large buckets of paint and a short-handled brush. Plenty enough for the whole house.
“See this paint, it can turn your clapboard dwelling into a place where stars come out to get a view.”
Sarah smiled, imagining her walls bright as a summer orange and looked down at Jacob, pulling the rabbit’s button eyes. When she picked up Jacob, he grabbed her hair hard. She set him back down.
“Where’s your Papa?” the stranger asked.
“In town.” Most likely getting pissed, she thought.
“You tending the boy?”
‘He’s my brother.’
“I see you like tints by that dress you’re wearing,” he said. “I’m going to show you about color.”
“I’m not supposed to let strangers in,” she said.
“I don’t want an argument, but you will hate yourself if you don’t see what this paint can do.”
With his buckets and brush, he walked straight in and looked around the room, noticing the scattered pieces of green and blue. Sarah watched him search for a spot that would give him an advantage. He went to the board with the coat hooks and streaked it with his apricot paint. It looked as if the sun had settled indoors, laying its refracted glow on everything in sight—the wooden table, Jacob’s crib, her papa’s rocker, the shelves stuffed with ragged newspapers, even the pale face of Jesus staring at the ceiling.
“Want these buckets?” he asked.
“Do you see anything you want?” she replied.
“Make me an offer,” he snarled.
Sarah noticed the old man’s gnarly hands, cracked and calloused, and looked down at Jacob’s chubby arms like a baby angel she once saw in the Bible. His fingers soft and shiny. She trembled, suddenly aware that Jacob was her pot of gold.
Chella Courington is a writer and teacher whose poetry and fiction appear in numerous anthologies and journals including SmokeLong Quarterly, Potato Soup Journal, and X-R-A-Y Magazine. Her novella-in-flash, Adele and Tom: The Portrait of a Marriage (Breaking Rules Publishing), was featured recently at Vancouver Flash Fiction. Courington lives in California.
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