The Artist, by Vicki Roberts
She jumped out the patrol car’s backseat, indifferent to being let go with just a warning and angry that they kept the spray-paint cans when they picked her up on the other side of town. They’ll probably use them to paint their kid’s bikes or wagons, or some stupid table in their garage.
The air smelled like rain, so she hurried to the closest bus stop and rode until reaching an area where it looked like the cops would have more serious crimes than graffiti to worry about. She laughed when she jumped off, stepping down almost straight into a hardware store. The itch surfaced as soon as she reached the aisle that mattered. Her fingers trailed along the cans, tapping the caps when she came to a favourite colour. She couldn’t help it. It’s not like there were regular art supplies at the foster home she’d been dumped in this month. Or any of the other foster homes in any of the other months for that matter. Mr. and Mrs. Foster were just as interchangeable to her as she was to them.
“Can I help you miss?” an elderly, aproned employee asked.
The way his shaggy white eyebrows arched made her feel guilty. Not like she was going to try and lift something – more like, why wasn’t she at school this time of the morning? She was almost eighteen, but not quite; the last thing she needed was this old geezer calling the boys in blue.
“No thanks. I was just looking for a clear coat,” she said with a toss of her hair that made her look like every other idiot teenager. “It’s for an art project I’m finishing today at school.”
He walked away and picked up a broom that leaned against the wall. She watched him sweep for a moment then walked down the next aisle. Rifling through her pockets, she came up with a dollar in quarters and three nickels. Not enough for even one can. She wasn’t a thief, no way. She walked toward the entrance. When she reached the part of the floor that tripped the automatic sliding door, a large yellow cardboard sign advertised stacks of blue electrical tape - two for a dollar. She picked one up and rolled it around in her hand, then picked up another and made her way to the cash register. The man stopped sweeping and came over to check her out. She smiled at him sweetly and like she often did with strangers, wondered if he could be her grandfather.
She wandered a few blocks in one direction, then another, looking for an inconspicuous target. The main avenue ran north and south, so she turned right at a light and headed east. A few antique stores and galleries dotted the street, but you could see auto repair and construction supply businesses encroaching into what probably had been an arts district not too long ago.
The abandoned building cried out to be something more, with its rounded corners and glass block windows. She looked around to make sure no one from the neighbouring businesses had a reason to come her way. Confident, she walked around the entire back wall and placed her palms against different spots as if she were feeling for a heartbeat.
She worked randomly, furiously ripping the blue tape into short and long pieces. The work evolved minute by minute. She reached up and then quickly crouched to the ground, leaving one thought unfinished and moving to the other end to start something completely unrelated. Her fingers hurt from rubbing the strips down into their shapes hard enough to make them stick.
Shadows began to cast over the building from the low hanging clouds, which suddenly appeared. Her stomach growled. She stood up and stepped back, wiping away a tear and wishing she still had her cell phone so she could take a picture. With no money left, a bus ride back was out of the question. She started walking back toward the main road to thumb a ride. The Fosters would be angry when they got another message from the high school that she hadn’t been in classes. Five months. She’d be eighteen in five months. Out of the system and free to go wherever she wanted. She’d heard graffiti was considered an art form in New York City - maybe she’d go there and teach them what you could do with blue electrical tape.
Vicki Roberts is a writer and graphic artist who lives on Florida's east coast. Her first novel, Oldsters, was published in 2017. In between writing short stories, which have been published in various magazines and anthologies, she is at work on her next book, The Year of Gwendolyn Presley Flowers. Her life selfishly revolves around literature, music and art. Catch up with Vicki at https://iamvickiroberts.com
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