Painting Away a Day

Oh no, not again, I thought as I watched him hoist his paints and brushes and head toward the front door. Predictably, the moment he took two steps away from his car, it began: the high-pitched whining and barking that would not cease until he packed up his paints and his brushes and went home. That could be an hour from now. That could be two shifts from now.

“Hey RG,” he said as he walked in.

I gave him the look, which I gave him every time he came in.

“I know, I know, the dog,” he said in his low, gravely voice. “I’m hoping she’ll get tired of barking and settle down.”

“But…” I started, then didn’t bother to finish.

Why bother to repeat the same thing I said every time he brought the dog: How I personally would let him bring the dog inside, but it just wasn’t allowed. How I wish I could bring my own dogs to work. How when he tied up his dog outside, I worried that the constant barking would eventually elicit a complaint from one of the neighboring residents or businesses.

“She has a big bowl of water, and I’m parked near shade,” he added, as if that cancelled out the yelping.

He is an incredibly talented artist, at least from what my untrained eye can tell. I don’t actually know what else he has painted in his lifetime, but he’s painting in our bar–using a blank wall as his canvas. I don’t know who’s paying him, if anyone. I just know I give him a couple of drafts every time he shows up to continue transforming the blank wall into a window-like view of water and birds and mangroves.

“Hey, Tom, you missed a spot,” jokes someone as the artist creates the tiniest of details in the trees.

“That by number?” another laughs as the artist dabs yellow to turn a bland sky into a golden sunset.

For days I have heard these same jokes. For days the artist has been working on this small mural, which has fascinated me as much as his barking dog has annoyed me.

“She’ll be a good pup, someday,” he has told be every day, knowing by my expression that I am perpetually annoyed by his dog. “She’s just a pup, not even a year old.”

“I’m sure she will,” I always say, and pretty much mean it. She’s a cute little thing, even if she is loud and annoying with the constant barking.

Two days ago, as my shift was ending, and I was trying to x-out my register and get the heck out of the place, I took the call I knew was eventually coming: “Hi, this is Animal Control. Someone called about a barking dog left out in the sun with no water in your parking area, tied to a car.”

Crap. “Yep, there is a dog out there, but I’m sure he has water and can get to shade.”

“Well, that may be,” said the Animal Control person. “But we have to respond to any complaint. If you know who the dog belongs to and can tell him to take it home or whatever, we won’t come out.”

“Yeah, yeah, of course. I can take care of it. I know the owner; he’s right here. Thanks.”

“Tom,” I glared at the artist. “You gotta take the dog home. That was Animal Control.”

“Okay, okay,” he said, sounding as resigned as he was exasperated. “She’ll be a good dog someday; she’s just a pup. Just a pup.”

I was in a bad mood yesterday. I normally love being at work, but for various reasons, I only wanted to sleep in and forget about draft beer and well vodka on this particular day.

“Uh oh, Tom’s here,” I mumbled to myself as I refilled the OJ and Bloody Mary containers.

“Hope he left that damn dog at home,” said one of my customers.

Me too, I thought.

Neither of us needed to have worried. The artist had only brought his paints. He barely nodded as he set up across the room.

A half hour later, after I had filled tiny cups with water for him, after I’d poured his first beer, after I had stopped looking at the clock because the morning was dragging on forever, he suddenly spoke to me: “I lost my best friend yesterday.”

Oh no, I thought. Not another death. Not so soon after AC Bill. Not on the heels of another fundraiser for another family who’d lost someone.

“I am so sorry,” I said to the artist as he continued to touch up the edges of a painted rope.

“Yeah,” he said, “Thanks.” And he was quiet once more.

A long hour after that, he spoke again: “She would have been a good pup. She was just a pup.” And then he started to cry.

Oh shit, his dog died? That little annoying dog that was just a puppy? I wanted to cry with him, for him.

“Found her this morning. Got into some poison,” he said, wiping his cheek with the bottom edge of his T-shirt. “So, if it’s okay, I’m just gonna paint. Paint away this day.”

I poured him another beer. And another. I changed the music every time a sad song played on the satellite radio. But somehow, every song seemed sad on this day.

“Hey, you ever going to finish that thing?” joked a customer.

“What the hell is THAT supposed to be?” laughed another.

“You okay?” I asked the artist hours later.

“No more dogs for me,” he said, the tears spilling again. “A cat. Yeah, I’ll get a cat–a tiny, cute cat.”

“I had cats all my life,” I said, not mentioning my dogs. “Cats are great.”

He shrugged, and mixed up another color on the tray he used as a pallet.

“Nah, no cat. Probably would just eat my bird.” He laughed a little as he said this.

She likely would have been a good dog, I wanted to tell him. She was just a pup.






3 responses to “Painting Away a Day”

  1. iowagirl Avatar

    That broke my heart a little and I did cry with the painter. Poor puppy – poor Tom. It’s been a rough week, huh RG? Hope the weekend brings lightness and sunshine.

  2. emily Avatar

    i just wanted to say how much i love your writing and visiting you here. i’ve been reading for a while, but never yet said hello, so hi! and thank you for writing this addictive blog 🙂

  3. DD Avatar

    You’re a great writer. Very gifted.