A DAMN SHAME
Peeking up at a peachy Summer sky on a busy street, watching the occupied bodies pushing forward and entangling themselves through the corner of an eye; there was an stagnant heartbeat. The clouds danced to its rhythm, as the scarred palms of the observer rest in pocket with brown eyes raiding the bustling subjects . The motivating pump sat in the chest of Charlie Brimming, attempting to loudly advertise the passion within the boy, out to the crowd. However; the echoing reclusiveness of Charlie’s personality ricocheted from his anxious expression into the faces of his audience. He turned his attention back to his canvas.
“Is busking actually a form of artistic exposure. Am I a sell-out? Am I failing at selling-out ?” He thought to himself. His canvas remained bare, yet ornately painted in comparison to his current state of mind. At either of his sides there were displays of his past works; Charlie painted what he’d seen. Royal Oak, Michigan: a few compilations of speckled trees, dirty old tennis shoes dripping from power lines, neon lights against brick walls, suburban homes shadowed by sky scrapers.
Charlie had lived in Royal Oak nearly his entire life. He often reminisced on past moments with his mother. Most of the time he tried not to think about their past, but he often fixated on the fresh independence he felt when they came to Royal Oak. He’d struggle to avoid regret. He had to face the challenges that came with this new home. It had been twelve years since they fled to Royal Oak. He was eighteen now and not much had changed, except now there was no father around to beat on his mother or him. Charlie’s brain ached at the mediocrity in his life; he wanted more for his mother than a portable home with a tin roof, he wanted more for himself than propping paintings up against market windows for hours a few days a week. Maybe he wanted to go to college. Maybe he wanted a family. Maybe he didn’t really know what he wanted. He thought to himself. And for the majority of his life Charlie hadn’t known. He imagined a God screaming down from the heavens telling him what he wanted. The sun shined down on him and averted his attention back to his task: selling-out.
The first and only customer that day stood smirking at him from across the street. Charlie, wasn’t sure what he should be doing, he smiled back. He tried to distract himself by mixing paint colors. Green mixed into orange creating a light brown pigment, almost the color of eyes.
A set of hazel eyes rested on Charlie’s posture, looking him up and down.
“You’re beginning a painting?” The man stood next to him now. Charlie watched as the thin pink lips beckoned at him, the voice he heard was smooth and deeper than he had expected..
“Oh ... uh, yes. I’m mixing paint. I’m trying to sell it. I’m selling the paintings that I’m painting.” He sat the paint down again.
Charlie was hardly accustomed to speaking, he only talked to his mom, and a few odd strangers on the bus route. He rubbed the back of his neck in an embarrassed fidgety way. He shoved his hands back into his jean pockets and looked the man in the eye.
“I’m going to help you.” the speculator declared, all the while maintaining his intimidating grin. He tossed a hundred dollar bill into charlie’s cash pail and took a deep breath.
“CARICATURES, FAMILY PORTRAITS, TEMPORARY TATTOOS, WE DO IT ALL, FOLKS! FRESHER THAN LAST WEEK’S SHIPMENT OF PRODUCE, SWEETER THAN SOUR, SUNSETS THAT WILL REMIND YOU OF SUNSETS! HAVE AT ’EM!”
His voice rang in a way that momentarily enchanted the crowd. Small groups huddled together praising the thought of some personable piece of art and they giggled at the salesman’s charisma waving over their ears. Charlie was stunned. This was more attention than he’d managed in weeks, but this daze didn’t last long.
” What? No. I DON’T make ANY of those things. I mean they’re art , sure. They’re not my type of art. I wouldn’t know how. I just have the paintings here. I’ve already created them. I don’t know if anything I can do right now will be ... sweeter than sour” he sputtered out.
Just as fast as it had come, the excitement was gone. The passer byes continued passing bye, but with an aura of humorous curiosity.
“ It’s a damn shame. We had a moment there, it could’ve been so much more. You should learn more about art, in fact when I see you again I’ll demand a tattoo, mister.” The hazel eyes gleamed with a ridiculous satisfaction ,“I’ll wear it on my cheek” he added.
“You won’t see me again.” Charlie was pissed, without being fully sure he had a reason to be. He packed away his easel, and tucked his paintings under his arm.
“Design it for me anyways. If you won’t see me, I’ll see you.”
Charlie denied this man the pleasure of reciprocating curiosity. He sulked, “I probably could’ve had real customers had it not been for this chauvinist”. He wouldn’t have.
“ You’ve forgotten something, leonardo” the hazel eyes teased, meeting Charlie’s again. The man crouched to retrieve Charlie’s bucket. He stirred the bucket and beckoned Charlie with the clanging of his chump change, on top of the crisp hundred dollar bill. Charlie opened his fist reaching for the pail, in a tired and defeated manner. The hazel eyes peered at his hands. Charlie thought to shy away.
“You’re worth a-million bucks, baby boy” the man chuckled handing the pail away.
Charlie stifled his smile; the guy was the most fun he’d experienced in awhile, but at eighteen years old, Charlie had already convinced himself he hadn’t any time for fun. He stepped away. It was a tiresome walk to get home. It was late and he’d missed the six o’clock bus pick up, so he headed out.
The city faded into a shaded suburb, with orange street-lights and tiny homes. He imagined happy family of one home resting on the sofa together, watching movies. He imagined children swinging on playsets in backyards, and burying toys in a sandbox. He imagined boys knotting up the laces of their Chuck Taylor’s and tossing them onto trees like ornaments blowing in the wind. He imagined holding hands with this euphoric orange feeling, forever. The light saturated his spirit, making him feel close to someone who was no one at all. He walked slowly.
His house was small and aged, but it was his and it kept him and his mom safe. Above the lot the street-light flickered; Charlie took a break from daydreaming. He dumped his equipment on the tiny wood deck outside the front door and pushed into the house.
That night he spent hours drawing out various temporary tattoo ideas. He told himself that it was because he wanted to, not because he expected to encounter that man again. He sat at his desk and thought carefully about their conversation earlier. He peered down at his twisted and discolored hands, “A damn shame!” he felt embarrassment from his memory crawl down his spine. He shivered thinking of the hazel eyes staring down at broken pieces. Someone interrupted his thoughts. “Hey! I’m driving the morning route too tomorrow, you should ride along. You might see something you want to paint”. He burrowed his fists back into his pockets, vulnerable to his mother’s presence.
“Sure - uh, I’ll make breakfast for us, and then we can walk to the station.”
Charlie’s mom had tired eyes, dirty blonde hair and a frail shape. She worked long hours most days, and she spent most of her free time with him or catching up on sleep. They were one another’s closest companions, routinely each other’s only companion. Charlie carried her same tired, brown doe eyes under his bushy brows. You’d think she made him all on her own, but he had dark black hair and she had a gentle touch, almost incapable of harm. He rustled his hands through the wavy bushel of hair and smiled up at his mom.
“Thank you, honey. I’ll be up at four-thirty”, she silently watched him for another moment and said ,” Love you, Charlie”, she crossed the hall and went to bed. He sighed,
“I love you too” and he thought of painting mischievous eyes.