The Itinerant Painter

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The Itinerant Painter

Postby TiffanyLuckey » Thu Jan 19, 2012 2:43 pm

In those days, some guy, he might have been named Mac or Pete, would knock on our door. It always seemed to be the hottest part of the summer. Mom would be sitting in the living room, shades down, her blouse open, to beat the heat. She’d button up to answer the door. Mac, or Pete, would offer to paint our address on the curb. He’d carry a wooden box with just black and white paint cans and a couple brushes. Seemed like whoever it was, there was always a cigarette hanging off his lip, a pack of Luckies in the shirt pocket. The uniform was khaki pants and a white tee shirt, paint spattered of course.

The day I remember best, I followed him to the street. He, let’s call him Mac, tolerated me watching. With a few quick strokes, he painted a neat rectangle of white on the concrete curb, right beside the driveway, inside the circle of shade from the huge old maple tree. While the white dried, he made a little small talk.

“Enjoying your summer, kid?”


“You look like you’re about old enough to start high school.”

“I’ll be starting junior high this year.”

“That’s swell. What do you want to be when you’re all grown up?”

“I don’t know. I’d like to be an artist.”

“You want to paint pictures and things, huh.” Mac scratched his slicked back hair, and dragged on his cigarette. “I don’t know. I gave that one a try myself. If you’re going to shoot for that, you better be real good.”

“I am. I think.” I was usually a shy kid, but for once I blurted out, “Would you like to see my drawings?”

He paused to stomp out his cigarette. “I’ll have to take a rain check on that one, kid. I got a lot of blocks to cover. Maybe next year.”

He opened the can of black and painted the numbers. Just the fewest possible strokes, and there was 218, bold and sharp against the white. Mom came out, nodded, and handed him a buck. With a “Thank you, ma’m” and a “See ya, kid”, Mac walked down the street.

I sat on the massive root of the tree long after he was gone, wondering how far he’d get that day. Wondering if I would grow up to do a job like that. Mom went back to sitting, smoking a Pall Mall, slowly drumming her fingers on the armrest. The day passed till Dad came home. As always, he was drunk. They resumed their daily argument, voices rising as the night fell. I lingered in the yard as long as I could.

Now, fifty years later, my advertising company had sent me to my old hometown to show my artwork to a new client. There was a little time to visit the old house. Mom had died thirty years ago. Dad had hung on a little longer. When I cleaned out my parents’ belongings, there had been little worth keeping: family photographs showing us appearing to be happy, a brown teapot my mother was fond of, a few tools my dad had accumulated and seldom used. I had thrown away the furniture, with the worn out armrests, and beer stains, and the curtains that reeked of cigar and cigarette smoke. A new family moved in soon.

I barely recognized the place. The grandfather maple, a landmark on the block, was reduced to a stump. The driveway was as choked with weeds as the front lawn. A scar ran across the face of the house where the porch had been torn off. Wooden steps, makeshift and rotting, replaced the porch.

A yellow placard was taped to the front door. There seemed to be no one around, so I walked up closer. The sign announced that the house was condemned by the county for reasons of public safety. When I peered in the window, I startled a pigeon from her roost on the fireplace mantel.

I retreated to the street. The concrete curb was eroded and breaking up. I glanced at the corner of the driveway, wondering. I bent closer to inspect some flecks of black. Would there still be a trace of Mac’s lettering? But it was only tar.

There was nothing else I wanted to see, nothing else I wanted to know. I started my car. It was time to meet the client.

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