Missed the competition deadline but here's the story anyway

UNLEASHED

Years of extended minutes where each thought is patterned and bound are his history. But his drawers are no longer squared with folds and presses. The tangles in the curls and waves of her auburn hair have found their way into his sock drawer. There once was a time that for him all was compressed under the weight of treading carefully – not breaking the written rules of the military nor the unwritten rules of what was once home.

Now a different she takes him with her into stores to peruse glittery add-ons and one day he loses himself in the painting aisle.

He can hear her humming a little way across the shop- oblivious that she is interrupting the silence of choosing. It is the childlike attitude of this woman that leaves the door open for him to venture into a playroom full of colour and sound. The Christmas sound of her laugher, the absent minded sound of her singing, the colours of her eyes – so many blues at so many times within each eye that life with her is a daily scuba discovery.

He picks up a pack of paintbrushes, one of each size from 1 to 12. The bristles are clean and palomino in colour and each light wood handle is encased in a strip of aluminium at the top. They are neatly arranged in numerical size order in a canvas pouch. He takes the first tube of 75 ml, Winter Blue acrylic paint from the rack and feels the cool plastic between his fingers. Next to it is Coastal Blue and near to that is Violet Deep. Grass Green calls out to him as if fearing being forgotten. He has never painted before and here he stands in this wanton aisle with its shameless display of colour and in the same guilty pleasure of tracing the stocking top on a new lover’s leg in anticipation he begins to gather tubes of colours together. He notices a dent in his chest cavity beneath his tee-shirt but chooses to ignore it, thinking it is the folds in the material as he makes his way to the cash register.

She does not question his choices and the drive through their small town streets to the two-bedroom flat they inhabit together is punctuated with her chatter and more absent minded humming. He climbs the steps to their front door wondering what he has done. Did he really buy paints? Once inside he stares at the tubes, the brushes and a piece of cardboard he has retrieved from the recycle bin on the way in.

Following rules leads to a tightness of the torso. A reduction of air to the lungs until on the minimum remains for survival. There are no holes, no gaps; there is no room to expand laterally but – a hole had most definitely appeared in his chest.

Raw Sienna mixed with Gold and Antique White, he finds, gives him a golden colour but applied to show shadow is effective. He doesn’t know where this information comes from. There are no rules attached to the tubes and the hole was getting bigger. He can hear her in the room next door, playing Mexican music and strumming on a beach guitar. He wants to show her the hole, but there are the shadows to work on the window of the house he is painting and he doesn’t want to stop. He doesn’t feel unwell and so continues, enjoying the space, the lack of constraint, the experimentation.

Each time the bristles dip into the paint on the makeshift palette of a china plate from the kitchen cupboard, a piece of thread, no longer than his little finger, appears on the carpet. At first they are barely noticeable but by the time the lights from a nearby service station shine though the window, he is standing amongst a seamstresses discards. The hole was now gaping but empty, and on inspection in the bathroom mirror, appeared dark, with nothing inside.

When she kisses him goodnight, he startles at the human contact, up to then, unaware of his absence to their habitual Saturday together. “See you when you are ready – any time” she says as she makes her way to the bathroom and as he hears her close the bedroom door, he wakes himself from his trance and steps back from the picture.

He is disappointed. He sees the delivery of a child even though he knows this is the first time he has attempted such a project. His subsequent fall into books of pictures only serves to clear up the threads around his feet bit by bit.

By the time he walks down the hallway to their bed she is asleep. He watches her unruly hair pressed against the pillow and in the outside lights streaming through their uncurtained bedroom window frame he notices, for the first time, the duvet cover. It is covered in tiny pieces of thread, not unlike the ones below his painting. As his eyes become more accustomed to this quarter light it seems to him that she sleeps surrounded by them. He carefully pulls back the duvet cover from over her naked body so as not to wake her and she smiles, eyes flickering momentarily, still deep in sleep. She rests on a nest of threads. He removes his tee-shirt and stares alternately at the cave that has formed inside him and her white, soft skin. With his thumb he traces along her body outline; more threads appear and the hole in his chest grows bigger.

There are no straight lines or rules to follow with this one and he is drawn to her every day – as new – but he is stuck, sitting on the bed beside her, in the emptiness of the self-perceived failure of his chosen project for the day and the gentle colours of their life together. When the idea first arrives, he pushes it to one side, not wishing to acknowledge or give credence to its unconventional suggestions. But in the deep reds and blues of their bedroom it begins to take shape and leans into him from behind until he is surrounded by no other option but to follow. He steps back from the bed, leaving her exposed, turns on the wall heater to keep her from waking and glancing at the expanding recess he turns with intent. Walking into the kitchen, he takes the number 1 brush, drying on the sink side and returns to the bedroom. He undresses quietly, lies beside her upon the soft bower of her making and with the brush held between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand; he dips the bristles into the cavity.

He expects to feel excruciating pain but instead, the slow pink glow of kisses begins to fill the pores of the skin on his neck. Each immersion into the darkness, each brush stroke, invigorates the senses. He is driven, compelled by the surrealism of the experience to adorn and add flourish. Each time he moves back, he is not disappointed; to the contrary, he is filled with heroic satisfaction, without ego, without pride and without the judgement of anyone else.

It is morning when he has finished. The canvas of his painting now glistening with all that is himself. All that had been fettered in previous lives and choices lay around them spilling off the bed onto the floor. The hole, closing in the dawn’s blue strips across the bed seals when the final touches are applied to the promise of everything he had, until this morning, left undone.

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