Paint in the Dark by Aleigha
The headline on Moody’s laptop read “Painter Charles Gibbons a Fraud.” Below was a picture of Charles Gibbons, the cat, with one of his paintings.
Sobs escaped Moody for the third time that morning, and the laptop slid to the hardwood floor. He clenched fistfuls of his hair, agonizing in the torn-up couch across from an easel and canvas.
Gregorian Chant steeped the apartment in murkiness.
Charles Gibbons padded across the floor, giving a “mrow.” Paint encrusted his fur.
“You.” Moody pointed. “Out.”
Charles Gibbons curled his tail, blinked.
Lucille, Moody’s roommate, made her presence known by the swishing of her beaded skirt. With tanned, wrinkled hands she turned on the teapot burner and removed the stylus from the record player; no more Gregorian Chant.
Moody’s eyes hurt. “I’m trending. Hashtag Catgate.” He picked at his fingernail polish. “Could they find an original suffix?”
Lucille sighed, nudged her cat-eye glasses with her knuckle. “Call your mom.”
“She’s busy. With her MET anniversary.”
“And you’re a mess.”
“A mess? You’re embarrassed?” Moody didn’t wipe the stream of tears. “To be seen with me—with him!” Moody jabbed his finger at Charles Gibbons. “My career is over, I’ve destroyed my mom’s, and you want me to go back to her?”
“The only career that’s ruined is the cat’s.”
Moody sunk into the couch.
“Go see your mom.”
Moody strode down the city street. He had his headphones on and his black hood pulled to cover his eyebrows. His eyes still hurt.
Moody stepped down to the front entrance of Abode and opened the door to the coffee shop. The walls were exposed brick. Moody got in line. Someone tapped Moody’s arm.
Moody turned, pulled a headphone off.
The neon-hair-and-nose-rings girl said: “You’re the Charles Gibbons fraud, aren’t you?”
“I don’t know to whom you’re referring.”
“Really? Moody Shalot? Mira Shalot’s son?”
The neckbeard behind her said: “Moody Shalot? Didn’t the appraisal find his fingerprints in the paint? Idiotic.”
“No.” Moody narrowed his eyes. “They found brushstrokes… and everyone knows a cat can’t stroke a brush. Anyway, if I was that person, ‘Moody Shalot’—” Moody air-quoted, “You thought walking up and—”
“Hi Moody,” the barista said. “The usual?”
Moody pulled on the strings of his hoodie; it swallowed his head. “That sounds good.”
His phone rang. It was his mom.
Moody drove through winding roads of Upstate New York in the rental car. His eyes were blurry. He thought about swerving into oncoming traffic. His mom might understand. She always said artists were the world’s most mournful creatures—doomed to dissatisfaction. If Moody could even be considered one.
The rental pulled up to the gates of Moody’s childhood home. He input the password, the gates opened, and he drove around the loop.
Moody’s mom stood on the white marble steps, clinging to her cardigan. The guide dog sat beside her.
“Moody,” his mom said when she heard him stepping up the marble stairs. She wore tinted glasses, held a cane.
“Mira.” He stood in front of her in scuffed boots, eyeliner.
She opened her arms. Moody bent to give her a hug. Her hand patted his cheek; she smoothed his hair. “It’s messy.”
He pulled away, ruffled his hair back to disorder. “How was the MET anniversary… thing?”
She linked her arm with his elbow. “I… cancelled it.”
“Why?” They made their way inside.
“Bad timing. Everyone was focused elsewhere.”
The door closing echoed through the foyer.
Moody blanched at the walls. He remembered his mom’s paintings—the ones she didn’t want to sell— filled this hall. But now, Charles Gibbons’s replaced several.
“Funny.” The red background was always the same in each of Charles Gibbons’s paintings. He stopped at one. Angry yellow strokes cut across it, claw marks marred the canvas, pieces of fur stuck in the paint.
“The paintings? Good investment: fairly inexpensive.”
“You called me here to make fun of me!”
Her cane tapped the marble. “Your desperation is showing.”
Moody’s hand gripped the door handle.
“Why didn’t you sell them as your own?”
He leaned his forehead against the door. “It was a project: to be in the mind of a cat. When the publicity came for Charles Gibbons, I… it spiraled.”
You have your… thing. I—was experimenting.”
He turned, rolled his eyes. “You know…”
“I’m not supposed to feel threatened by your shadow?”
She stamped her cane. “Cliché. Are you the protagonist in a coming-of-age film?”
“If you want to paint like me, Moody, paint in the dark.”
“I don’t want that.”
Her fingers brushed over the strokes, catching on cat fur. “If you want to paint like a cat, be a cat.”
“I was a cat. When I made those pieces, I breathed like a cat, thought like a cat.”
His mom chuckled.
He opened the door.
“I haven’t said what I called you here for.”
“I don’t pretend to understand, but if it was genuine, why don’t you own it?”
Moody frowned. “Own it?”
“Might be the start of your career.”
Cars zoomed by outside, their headlights illuminating the apartment walls every few seconds. Charles Gibbons sat on Moody’s stomach. Moody regarded the canvas.
Orange crept through the apartment window and Moody sat up, pushing Charles Gibbons away. He stood, took a brush, began to paint red.
His strokes became violent. Sweating, Moody moved back and forth. Wiping his forehead, he pulled strands of his own hair and added them into the paint to create the outline of a cat—the last piece in his first collection.
Lucille arced around the canvas glancing over his shoulder. “How was Mira?”
“It looks… incredible.”
“Of course it is,” Moody said.
Charles Gibbons napped between his feet.
Aleigha is a writer, barista, and student from Cincinnati. She is currently majoring in professional writing and minoring in creative writing at Taylor University. Aleigha hopes to use her words to create meaning and beauty in the lives of those around her.