The Color of Time


A painter stands before a canvas in a studio warmed by a dying fire. Shifts one foot to the other under an old denim apron and a panoply of colorful mistakes, sensing more than seeing that something’s not right. Not wrong—just not quite right.

Dabbed and daubed, speared and smeared, the dancing figures shift and twist in their vivid world. The studio dissolves; the painter disappears. The dance goes on in spite of it all.

The painter steps back…absorbs, surveys. The studio reappears; dusty mote-swirls give abject approval, and an old grandfather clock in the corner proclaims the time at almost half-past four, as it has for the last thirty years. Only the keenest ear can hear the fantasy chimes.

The painter leans in to adjust an angle, to caress a color into being. And uncovers further imperfections invisible to the untrained eye.

Dips and dashes, swipes and wipes, and again—the dancers move. Another step in time with the music, whirling around in oil-soaked splendor. A few more flecks adorn the apron.

A gossamer spiderweb softens the corner of a rafter. Soot-streaked windows block out the world. A curl of blue fluffs out the woman’s dress until the painter edges it back with a fingernail. Somewhere behind the walls, a mouse scuttles to safety.

Mouth set in a grim line, the painter peers at the scene. Feels like a voyeur, and thrills at the thought. Jabs without mercy, and slashes a shadow to change the lighting. A glob of violet joins a scattered rainbow on the time-scarred oak-plank floor.

Again, a rest. Appraisal. An inquisitive tongue pokes out from the corner of dry lips to inspect, and likes what it sees. But if only…

Another furious adjustment. More lines, fewer lines, deeper shadows, brighter light, tapping toes, graceful fingers, blowing hair—

The music. Never. Stops.

Rain patters at the windows, trying to see inside. A peal of thunder like a hungry growl rolls over the shingled roof. A bucket catches rogue raindrops that have succeeded in getting past the studio’s defenses. And the dance continues.

But something is still not right! The painter scoops some scarlet—a knee is bent. Brushes some brown—an elbow crooks. Scrapes cerulean—the dress swirls. And the cadence…the cadence…the cadence…

Exhilarated and bemused, disappointed and fatigued, the artist succumbs to the beckon of a wing-back chair. Without bothering to doff the spattered apron, collapses into the soft leather, scuffed and strained; tattered and tired, but alive, alive, alive. Eyelids droop in the enveloping whisper of rain on the roof.

Suddenly up! A mad dash to the canvas, and knobby knees nearly knock the dancers to the floor as the painter streaks a flourish of motion, and the dance returns to life. The abandoned chair puffs up indignantly, never one to approve of abrupt haste. Wrapped in dreamy remnants, the painter trowels teal and glops grey. A knife cuts capers, and the dancers sway. Shining smiles replace concentrating frowns, and the dance changes with each stubborn stroke; active, alive.

With jealous zeal, the artist creates some space between the pair. Lavishes attention on one and blurs the expression of the other. But no! that isn’t right either. Another flurry, and the man reacts with fervor, swinging his laughing lady around and around. The nosy tongue returns to its place at the corner of chapped lips and applauds with a low whistle. Time loses meaning, and the music plays on.

Outside, barely noticed, the storm murmurs and dwindles. Steam rises, bearing a message of endless energy and nonstop melody. Twilight comes and goes past hazy windows. One by one, though the painter cannot see them, the stars poke through to catch a glimpse of the untiring tarantella.

More paint—and more! Layer upon layer of twirling spinning laughing grinning, and through it all, the meter. One–two–three, one–two–three…

Frantic fingers fix and add, move and smooth, trying to stay in time.

But weary.
Trying to hold a brush, direct a line, add an angle.
And then, just at the point of collapse, the music takes over.

The painter slumps, reddened eyes wide: the dance continues! No brush, no blade now guides this rhythmic swirl.

Half stands. Shaky fingers falter, held up and examined in wonder. Eyes trail back and forth across the canvas. Mouth left open mid-gasp. Brows knit, and hands tremble.

The painter collapses once more into the chair, heavy with fatigue. Struggles and fails to keep eyelids open. Fades away, finally finished.

And still the lovers dance on.


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