Monday, May 16, 2011

Blue and Smells Like Red Paint by Case Q. Kerns

The flowers were all potted. They could be planted after. Her father always thought the idea of killing something for decoration was somewhat demented. Even at weddings, he felt that arrangements and bouquets of cut flowers seemed a celebration of death more than love.

Then, the body. Don’t bury me in the ground, he would say. He hated the idea of taking up so much earth. Tombstones were not morbid to him. They were assets. As if the deceased were saying, ‘I may be gone, but I still own something.’

He wanted his ashes dispersed to five different locations, all within a couple hundred miles of each other. The three of them would make this journey together – Stacy, her mother, and her brother, Patrick. She would organize this later, after the funeral.

There would be no wake or church service. The whole event was going to take place at The Red-Tail. It had been the only restaurant that they could always agree on as a family – the prime rib with horseradish cream sauce and smashed red bliss potatoes was one of her father’s favorite meals. Stacy rented it out for the whole evening. The regular menu would be served, but no bottles of ketchup. He never liked it on the table.

She had his Victrola brought in for the event so it would sound like their house. People would be encouraged to stand up and say a few words, if they wanted, but there would be no podium.

There was an hour until the doors at The Red-Tail opened for the event and Stacy was on her way to pick up the final piece.


She had commissioned a painting of her father by a local artist named Fred Hall who specialized in photorealism.

After a night spent sifting through family albums, there were a few fallbacks, but nothing that captured what she was looking for. Then, she noticed it in a small frame on the side table at the far end of the couch, half hidden behind a lamp. It was the most recent photograph of him when his smile was still his own and not partly a stranger’s.

It had been taken four years earlier at his seventy-third birthday party. Stacy knew this because of the movie poster for Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’ on the living room mantle behind him. It was a joint family gift that year and he hung it up in his study the next morning.

When she had dropped off the photograph to Mr. Hall, she emphasized the importance of the piece - that it needed to be an exact recreation of the photograph. The artist assured her that this was his expertise. She stressed the point, again. He told her that he couldn’t walk on water, but he most certainly could paint a photograph.

And she knew that he could. She had studied his portfolio, thoroughly. She just had to make it clear.


The studio was a fifteen-minute drive from The Red-Tail. She would have to hang the painting and then make the rounds to see that everything was in place. It would be tight, but as long as she held it all together and stayed focused, there was no reason to fall victim to anxiety.

Mr. Hall was cleaning his brushes in the sink, rubbing Murphy’s oil soap into the bristles. She asked him if it was finished and he said he just put on the final touches, but it was still wet in places and to be careful while transporting it to the restaurant.

He handed her the photograph and asked if she would like to compare the two. She took it between her fingers and felt queasy. He went over to his easel and rotated it so she could see the painting. The canvas was eighteen inches by twenty-four inches. She had asked that it not be too large, but not so small that it couldn’t be seen across the room.

Stacy glanced from image to image. They were the same. She narrowed in and examined smaller sections, but could find no differences and then looked at the painting alone.

“Wait,” she said.

“Is there something wrong?” Mr. Hall asked.


He was confused and doubtful.

“The eyes are red,” she said.

“Just like the photograph,” he said.

“My father’s eyes were blue.”

“You asked for an exact recreation,” he said. “And his eyes are red in the photograph. It’s the effect of the flash. I thought that’s what you wanted.”

She looked back to the photograph. She hadn’t scrutinized it enough. She had seen the look on her father’s face and didn’t realize that somewhere along the way she stopped looking and was just remembering at the photograph. And now she had a portrait with red eyes.

“If it’s a problem, I can change them to blue,” he said. “It will only take about twenty minutes.”

“There isn’t time,” she said.

Mr. Hall apologized for the misunderstanding and she told him it wasn’t his fault and that he really had done a remarkable job, it was perfect.

She took the painting to her car and started driving towards The Red-Tail. She had forty-five minutes until the memorial started.


She remembered her father’s seventieth birthday party. He had just retired three months earlier and was trying to learn how to spend his days relaxing and enjoying life. He was always looking for new hobbies, or ‘positive obsessions’ as he called them. The transition was hard on him.

The unveiling of Patrick’s gift had been the grand event. It was in the middle of the living room, obelisk-like and covered with a white sheet. The sheet was pulled off and it was their father’s Victrola, which hadn’t worked in years. It had been overhauled and refinished. There was even a set of unused needles. It sounded as if it had never been played before.

While Patrick selected the next record to play, Stacy and her father danced to a 78 of ‘Mood Indigo,’ performed by Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra. “Your brother understands the importance of details,” her father said to her, quietly.

‘Patrick’ had been the last of their names that he started to forget.


The painting sat in the backseat of the car behind Stacy, but she wouldn’t look at it, not even in the rear view mirror.

The eyes were still drying.

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