The Bloom, by Norbert Kovacs
A blur of purple and red flashed through Roger Johnson's mind as he stood by his easel. He saw it quickly, a long, purple streak, headed in a ball of blood red that reminded him of a flower petal. He thought suddenly that he might paint a flower, or a bloom of some kind. He caught on this word, bloom, and repeated it to himself. Bloom, he thought. A bloom. He pictured a flower bursting open but did not see the petals, only their motion. He could not focus on them though he tried. He asked himself why he should paint a bloom. He hit on no answer and felt that he might have to paint some type of bloom to learn why he wished it. As an artist, he believed the question one worth considering. He wanted perspective on the matter. He decided he could find some more readily if he went for a walk in the city.
On the morning he made to go out, Roger surveyed the scene outside his window. Among the old buildings across the street was a square-fronted one with a checkerboard of windows. Beside it stood a warehouse building of bluish stone, worn and old. Two limestone office towers flanked its right. The young artist imagined the buildings across the street as large, hard blocks belonging to a long wall. This wall he thought might hide something he should see. He pictured not having the blocks of the buildings so that he could see past them. By the last building at the street corner, the light of the new day shone. It edged the side of the building, the sky a solid yellow beyond it. He would go toward that light and walk into the town he thought. Roger dressed in an old blue shirt, khakis, and worn sneakers. He went from his apartment down the stairs and emerged at the street. On the sidewalk, a man in a suit and a fedora walked, his briefcase in hand. Next came a woman in a dark outfit, the new morning light before her. Roger knew the people were walking for the bus stop down the street where they would get taken downtown to work. They walked and Roger went with them. He went with the warm, bright light in his thin beard and large, brown eyes. When the people reached the bus stop, Roger continued past it further east.
He turned onto a new street. He saw the cement walk beneath him had broken into large, jagged plates along several cracks. Within the cracks grew very short grass and weeds. The weeds in many cracks were bent, their stalks coiled against the cement. The weeds’ green and yellow heads showed strong against the sidewalk’s gray as they pushed the cement upward in small bulges. Roger thought of the force pent inside the cracks and believed the weeds would come through despite the cement. He imagined without knowing the reason that the half-hidden weeds would be tall and strong and grow large.
Roger continued along the walk and saw one of his friends ahead. Fred was another young artist as he was. Fred had a dark wavy bush of hair on his head and a wide pale forehead. His eyes were set, dark and wide. He walked as if tired. When he approached, he failed to see Roger because of the bend in the street. As he took the bend, however, he recognized Roger and his face changed. His eyes softened. The grey in his face left and a light pink entered it. His lips lost their hard line and rose at the corners in a knowing smile as he came toward Roger. Fred had come to life when it seemed he would not, Roger thought.
“Hey, Roger, good to see you,” Fred said, arriving before him. “Nice day to be out, isn’t it? Just look at this sky we’ve got.”
Roger peered toward the sky to confirm it was. The open blue above him had a few white clouds passing. The tallest and thickest of these had white, fat billows emerging from its side. The sunlight in the clear sky gave the cloud a bright sheen. Roger remembered his idea for the bloom. “Yes, it is a good sky. Should be a beautiful day. So how have you been? Painting?”
“Trying anyway. I always can try if I don’t succeed.”
“I don’t think you should say that. Not when you go at it like you do.”
“Hope that I can keep it up.”
“How is it you’re out?”
“I’m going to the store for paints. I’m dong a panorama and it’ll need a full palette. I’m trying to make something of the picture this time. And why are you out?”
“I had to get outside, away from my studio. So I’m taking a walk.”
“To anywhere special?”
“I don’t know yet. Just out.”
“It can be fun avoiding the easel. The canvas needs to relax its charm sometime.”
“No, I really do have to get today. For my own reasons.” Roger disliked to say he had thought of a painting. He had spoken early about other ideas for paintings and been embarrassed at his words. “Well, I don't want to hold you any longer from your painting. I promise I’ll stop by your place soon.”
The friends parted and Roger continued down the cracked sidewalk. He took a new street and arrived at the city park. The park was many small green hills on the side of a larger. Its dark green maples and oaks stood in fours and fives separated by wide stretches of grass. The grass was spring green and grew fine. Throughout the park were asphalt paths that cut between the many hills and clustered trees. Roger walked one from the street and went until he spotted a purple aster in the grass by his way. Since the flower seemed like the one he hoped to paint, he thought he might glean something by observing it. He sat on the nearby bench and studied the aster. The purple aster was short, standing hardly an inch taller than the grass. Its head was larger than that of most asters he had seen and this bowed its stalk. The flower’s many, close petals made a neat ring around its centre.
As he watched, the breeze came and shook the flower, so that it bobbed, swishing side to side. The flower bent, twirled and again bent showing its lighter underside in rolls. As the small aster shifted, Roger considered drawing it. He felt it would be hard to decide on a starting point after he mulled the different views he had of it. Any flex and bend of the flower might have made a good angle for it. He thought it might help him if he had another flower to compare to the first. He surveyed the grass near him and discovered none. However, he saw a garbage can up the path that held an uncoiled, candy wrapper. The wrapper was peeled back in strands, white and red on the outside, silver inside. The sunlight shone on it as on true silver. When the wind blew, the wrapper strands rustled, twisted and curled. The light on them rose and fell. The wrapper and its motion were very much like the aster, Roger thought.
As he observed it, he heard a louder rustle from somewhere else and raised his head. Further down the path, a grey-haired man in a business suit was reading the newspaper on a bench. The man held the paper before him so the folds showed where the newspaper had bent. The folds bulged and the light reflected white along them. The man bent the newspaper to read some item on the bottom half of the sheet. He read it quickly, straightened the paper, and turned to the next page opening the paper wide. He skimmed, bending the page up then down. The paper rose and fell. The man folded and bent the newspaper much as the aster and the wrapper bent with the wind. Roger left his bench and walked down the path, now curious in the park scene. He rounded the corner and stopped by an ice cream someone had dropped on the asphalt. The vanilla was melting in the midday sun, the wafer cone atop it tilted and sinking. The melted cream lay thick and white in a puddle that oozed outwards. He watched the cream spread in streams rolling outward. The cream puddle expanded and whitened the asphalt path. Roger liked seeing the cream expand like the cloud in the sky earlier. Somehow it made him think of painting the bloom. He did not know why.
Roger took the park path to the street and followed it to a diner. It was near the end of lunchtime, and Roger took a table near the window and had a sandwich and grape juice brought him. He let the food sit as he took some paper napkins from the dispenser and a black pen from his pocket. He sketched the bloom he planned to paint. He drew first a small, round button for the centre of the flower, exactly as he had imagined in his vision of the bloom. The button appeared on the page too small when done, even while it matched his idea of the thing. He embellished the button by ringing it in petals close together like on the park aster. He drew the petals thin. Beneath the flower head, he added a toothpick stalk. He found the petals in the sketch too difficult to see due to the picture’s perspective. The drawing appeared more like a T than a flower because of it.
Setting aside this sketch, Roger seized a new napkin and drew a water lily. He drew it with wide fat petals upturned in a half circle. He drew the back petals raised in a wall, the two largest petals furrowed. He believed the furrows were too dark for the lily once he set them. In the lily’s middle, he set a dark, patch-like blotch. He left the blotch ragged, unsure whether to round it. Then he drew a pair of antenna-like pistols to the flower. They were dark, straight, and knob-ended; he thought they did not belong in the picture.
On a new napkin, Roger drew a second aster. He tilted the flower head, so that its face turned part way to him. He made the petals very thin and fine, but rounded their ends. The petals appeared very regular, any difference in them hard to find. He set a rounded button in the flower face, raised like a small mound. Taking his next napkin, Roger sketched a daisy’s head from the side. He showed the left side of the flower raised in a half cup, blocking the view of the flower centre. He drew the petals on the daisy’s right side peeking above these. He studied the picture when he had done and dwelled on the flower’s hidden centre. He felt he should have shown it. The centre had to be seen, open and developed, he told himself.
On another napkin, Roger drew a new aster. He set its petals flat in a circle seen from above and marked them off by clear, thin lines. He left the inside of the petals unadorned. He drew the flower centre as an O and bordered it in heavy black. He considered the neat, blank O but saw no good way to develop it. He set aside the sketch with the others. He found he was hungry now. He picked up the sandwich that had sat untouched on his plate and raised it to his mouth. The sandwich had a lettuce leaf, a wedge of red pepper, and a long, accordioned cold cut between two pieces of wheat bread. He liked the coloured layers of the sandwich. Sort like a sunset at the beach, he thought. After taking a large bite from the sandwich, Roger drank some grape juice. The juice was purple and went down cool. As he finished the sandwich and his drink, he studied the napkins sketches on the table. They sat in a disheveled pile. He felt the overlapped napkins had something to do with his idea of the bloom, if not more. He studied them hoping to grasp how but could not. He rolled up the sketches, put them in his breast pocket, and left the diner.
Roger followed the street down to the one with the cracked sidewalk. The sun had come more overhead, its light a strong white on the cement. The cracks had lost their morning shadow and their innards showed. They glared with mica and small, pale pebbles. The grass in the cracks had become a vivid green and the largest blades showed bent like bows against the cement. The weeds’ heads around the grass had turned into blotches of yolk yellow. The whole scene had a gaudy look and he disliked it. He sped for the shade of a building up ahead, glad to go.
Roger made the avenue he had taken east that morning and returned to his apartment. He walked past his living room and kitchen space straight to his studio. The room was the quietest in the apartment so he did his art there. The studio had a bare wood floor and white walls; a few canvases sat in a corner of it. A steel framed easel stood in the middle of the room; by this on the floor were a palette and paint tubes. Amber light came through the Venetian blinds from the long bay window to the street. Roger set a blank canvas on the easel and placed his palette beside it. He smeared different colour paints from his tubes onto the palette and mixed a few with a brush. He had done deliberating on flowers, the park, and the sun and meant to paint a bloom. He seized his paint brush then and mulled his first stroke. He dabbed his brush in some black and brought it to the canvas bottom. He thought to create the flower centre as a long blotch. He made a blot with his paint and spread it some on the canvas.
However, he stopped and withdrew his brush quickly. The blotch did not seem right for a centre, he felt; it was too dark and solid, the black too thick for the petals of a flower. He cleansed the brush of black and dabbed it in some purple and grey that he thinned with water. He brought his brush just above the black blotch he had done and made a careful, first stroke. He drew the brush upward and put a short, grey-purple streak on the canvas. He hesitated as he studied it. Suddenly, the white canvas and the purple on it seemed to go fluid and relax. He extended the purple stroke rightwards in a short, low arc before bending it downward. He made the stroke level near the canvas bottom and ended it by the corner. He studied this line and rendered another above it. He began this right over the starting point of his first. He brought the new stroke toward the right, leaving a wide gap above the first. He arched this line long while letting it bulge upward. He then had it drop and flatten as the first line had done.
He returned his brush above his starting point and began a next stroke. He watched the lines unroll and take shape. He considered how to paint each. He saw the long arc that started the third line he set and decided to bulge it in the middle to contrast the two flatter lines beneath it. He had a sense of freedom in adding this line; he did not hesitate and set it feeling it was rightly done. He made the arches that began his new lines lengthen and flatten and the curves that descended from them drop more sharply and shortly the higher he moved on the canvas. After he had added several of the thinner lines, he saw how they had mounted. He felt the lily, for this was the flower he was creating, should stay low and close to the canvas bottom so made the next lines of purple grey closer together than the earlier. He finished the top of the lily petal with them. He filled the gaps between the lines in broad strokes of mauve. The mauve gave a somber, still mood to the petal’s image.
Roger brought his brush to the canvas bottom to start the lily’s left petal. He did not mean for the petal to be a copy of the right side, which would make the picture too symmetrical. He would not believe in the flower if it were. He decided therefore to paint the petals of the left differently than the right. He made the first line for it arch low and long, its tail flat, nearly straight. This line hugged the canvas bottom closely unlike the one across it on the right. He had the next line rise shallow and hook downward in the middle before going to the canvas’s edge. He made the line’s descent quicker than and not as deep as he had in the second line on the right of the flower. As he painted, he considered the petal colour that he had kept a uniform grey-purple. He dabbed his brush in grey and produced a greyer stroke than earlier. He added purple to his brush and created a thick, vivid line of that colour. He added blue and violet. He finished the petal lines and painted mauve in the gaps between them. He had the mauve dark in the bottom strips but graded the rest darker to lighter toward the left. He found the effect like a change of light across the flower, making it more realistic.
The two petals that made the close-up of the lily sat in the bottom two thirds of the canvas. Above them, Roger added light, graded tones to the canvas. He set strips of yellow, orange, and red among the grey bands. He made the strips thin and uneven, sometimes bent, sometimes rippled. He painted the strips fainter and thinner as they rose above the lily.
When he had done, Roger looked at his painting as he thought of his day. He remembered his first idea of the flower bursting open. How wonderful that had been, he considered. He dropped his eye and saw the black blotch in the bottom of his picture. How he had disliked painting that, he told himself. He admired the purple stroke on the right side of the flower, the first that he set down. He believed it a very neat mark. He remembered the ugly buildings outside his window that he had hoped to see past. All of them should go, he felt for the second time. He noted next the many long strokes that went into the flower on the canvas. He remembered the grass and weeds in the sidewalk that he imagined unfolding when they grew. He revelled in the painted flower's many different shades of colour. He thought of the aster in the park that bent and straightened in the wind. He saw the soft, undulating look he had given the picture’s petals in the centre left. He remembered the neat folds the man gave his newspaper. He pictured the ice cream melting and flowing away on the park path. He remembered folding the piled napkin sketches at the diner.
Roger looked at the lines in the space above the painted flower. He loved all the things he saw and remembered. He sensed a great energy in their number. They all had their beauty and wonder. He could not separate them, excited as he was reflecting on them. He felt then the day with its variety and brilliance had to have fed his painting. Fred’s change of mood, his own new vision of the painting. All of it. Roger felt both glad and proud he had painted the bloom. The bloom had become in its way, he thought, a vision of his life that day, its labour, its bright insightful bursts.
Norbert Kovacs is a short story and flash fiction writer who lives in Hartford, Connecticut. He has been published in Squawk Back and Darkrun Review and has a story forthcoming in Scarlet Leaf Review.
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