Fiction: Cobalt

James Bates

- James Bates

During the first month of lockdown, my wife Courtney and I had a family meeting in the living room with our three kids. She did the talking.
“Okay, the school is setting up for distance learning, so that’s what we’re going to do. Your father and I have organized our schedules so he will be here on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and I’ll be here on Tuesday and Thursday. Any questions?” She looked at me, and I gave her the thumbs up sign meaning I had nothing to add. And why would I? When Courtney was on her game, like now and most all the time, the kids sat up and paid attention. If it were me doing the talking, their attention would definitely wander. I’ve been told I’m not the liveliest speaker. Boring, some have said. 
Anyway, my wife looked around the room waiting for a response. Nine-year-old Hunter, seven-year-old Audrey and five-year-old Kaylee solemnly shook their heads in the negative. Message clearly delivered and received. “Okay, then,” Courtney decreed, “tomorrow we begin.”
And we did. We finished off the school year in early June, got through the summer with a break from classes, and then started back at it again in the fall with more distance learning. Then we had a break through the holiday season before moving on to the new year with more coursework. 
In general, the distance learning went well. It turned out both Courtney and I had an aptitude for working with the kids one on one. Especially me and my daughter, seven-year-old Audrey. Then, in the beginning of this new year, we started a unit on art.
Frankly, doing anything art related was never my thing. I was always drawn more toward numbers and empirical data. That’s why I became an accountant. I can dissect a spreadsheet in the blink of an eye. File a tax return? Can do it blindfolded. But, ask me to make a clay figure, and I’m lost. You might ask as well ask me to do a back flip into a bowl of jello. It’s not going to happen.
Audrey was a natural, though. She was good with her hands and connecting her brain with whatever she wanted to create. We did clay modeling and finger painting and then moved to watercolors and finally to acrylics. I enjoyed the whole process of helping her get set up and watching her creative mind at work. And I joined in. Yeah, the guy who as a kid had a tough time with paint by numbers. And I’m a numbers guy! 
But with her I tried. With clay and finger painting and watercolors, I did it all. It was fun. But I really found myself drawn to the acrylics. I loved the vibrant colors; the reds and yellows and greens and blues. 
To wrap up the unit our final project was to paint a seascape. Our model was a painting by the famous east coast painter, Winslow Homer. It had waves crashing on a rocky shore and lots of motion and energy. It even had a lighthouse in the background and two men in a boat. It was quite the scene. 
Since Audrey and I had been doing various forms of artwork for about three months, I was feeling pretty cocky, like I could really pull off this final painting project and show my seven year old daughter that I was pretty good at this art thing. I checked the paint supply. We were running low on cobalt blue and cobalt yellow so I ordered them online and they arrived two days later. By then we’d roughed out our canvases. 
I’d purchased easels for each of us at the beginning of the unit and this was going to be the first time we’d used them. Squeezing paints onto our pallets, I turned to Audrey, “Fun, huh?” I asked. 
I should say right now that throughout the pandemic my daughter has been less enthusiastic working with me than I have been with her. I think she’d rather her friends Jenny and Sophia were around, but that was not possible. What with Covid and all we only allowed the kids to play with their friends together outside. With masks on, of course. So, she was stuck with me.
In answer to my question about fun, she tried not to roll her eyes, but I saw her. And she saw me see her and at least have the decency to turn a little red before answering, “Sure, Dad,” she managed to say with somewhat of a straight face. “Fun.” I tried to ignore her and we went to work on our respective paintings. 
We worked about an hour a day for a week. I used some cobalt blue and some cobalt yellow. I looked it up online and I guess the mineral cobalt makes the color last longer or something. Anyway, the colors with cobalt in them were really pretty. I even used some cobalt green along with various other colors. 
In the end, I had a roaring, raging seascape that I was really proud of. I showed it to Audrey and, nice kid that she is, did an admirable job of not giving me the eyeball roll. Instead, she said, “That’s nice, Dad,” in a way that it was apparent that, to her, anyway, it wasn’t all that nice. Humph. To each their own. Undeterred, I took it into the living room and showed Courtney. She tried to hide her true feelings but only lasted for maybe three seconds.
“God, Norman, that’s pretty amateurish,” She blurted out.
Well, I never. “What?” I confronted her, forgetting that I actually was one. An amateur I mean.
She could see me getting my hackles up, “But it’s okay, though,” she quickly smiled and gave me a conciliatory kiss. “Just don’t quit your day job.”
“Funny,” I said, stomping off to show Kaylee, my five-year-old. She didn’t help matters when she giggled and said, “Daddy, what’s that?”
I didn’t bother with my son.
But I not giving up. I like the colors of the paints. They even have a cobalt red. It’s awesome. I could sit and look at paint colors all day long. So what if I can’t paint very well? At least it gives me something new to do. Something new to learn. Obviously, I’ve got the time with the pandemic is still going on and all.
But back to the painting project. How’d that come out? Well, Audrey sent off photo of her seascape to her teacher who loved it. She said it was going to be displayed in a school district art exhibit along with twenty-seven other paintings when the pandemic was over. Audrey is excited and I’m very happy for her. It was fun for me to have been a small part of her learning process for art. It’s apparent she’s got a lot of talent, which I’m pretty she got it from her mom. In fact, the more I think about it, I’m positive she did.
Audrey and I have moved on to a unit on geography. We’re doing lots of reading and worksheets, stuff I’m comfortable with. Audrey’s doing really well. She just turned eight and that was exciting for her, but, she’s kind of lost interest in painting. I guess that happens when you’re a kid.
But, I haven’t. I love all those colors. I’ve set up my easel downstairs in a walk-in closet I cleaned out. Now I can paint to my heart’s content. And I do, too. But like Courtney said, you know, about my day job? Don’t worry. I’m not planning on quitting it. Ever. No matter how pretty I think the colors of the paints are. Because those paintings I keep churning out? I have to be honest, they really are pretty bad.

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