The painting was quite large. Perry meant to ask his nephew where he’d gotten a canvas of that size, but upon coming around to the front of it, he forgot his voice momentarily.
“Hi, Uncle Perry,” Ryan said from the other end of the community center art room, where he was alone, cleaning paintbrushes in the sink. He had just completed an entry for the local art show, and now, on this dull summer afternoon, his uncle could see it first.
Perry stood in front of the painting as it leaned against the west wall. “Hey…this is amazing, Ryan. Wow.”
In a sea that was almost hypnotically, serenely blue, a column of silver fish rose up toward the rippling surface. The way shafts of sunlight darted through the ranks, glinting off gleaming backs and fins, sending flecks down toward the darker waters…it made the painting seem to glow faintly, from a source of its own that defied the clouds obscuring the light of the real world. Perry’s eyes trailed the fish as they swam in a circular fashion, each one followed closely by another.
“Mom couldn’t get off of work to pick me up?” Ryan asked as he walked to the table nearest his uncle. His voice, characteristically, was quiet, and the long room could easily drown his words; Perry only heard them as an afterthought.
“Hmm? Oh, yes, she called me about noon. Listen, Ryan,” he went on, gesturing toward the sea of fish. “What inspired you to do this?”
Ryan didn’t look at Perry, but instead followed a long cut on the tabletop with his finger. “I don’t know. Just a thought I had.” The words were almost a whisper. He shook his head slightly, and then walked over to his art bag which sat on a countertop underneath a bank of windows. Instead of picking it up, he paused, with his gaze on the white-gray clouds.
Turning for another glimpse at the painting, Perry sighed slowly. What an incredible talent the boy had at just fifteen, and how long it had been dormant inside of him. A year had passed since they buried Ryan’s father and with him the terrible abuse, and it was plain now that any healing would come slowly. Ryan was still deeply affected, and admitted to quite depressing thoughts. Though Perry was able to spend time with him and show him what it meant to be Christian, Ryan needed the kind of healing that no one on earth could truly supply.
It was difficult. Ryan found the idea of God, after such a traumatic life, ridiculous.
As Perry thought of this, his eyes grew wet with tears. He hated knowing that his brother-in-law had perhaps ruined any chance for the boy’s happiness.
“It’s a dream,” Ryan said quietly.
Perry looked over quickly. “A dream?”
His nephew nodded, and turned from the window to face him. “A dream I’ve been having, almost every night. Except…I’m in it. The fish are all around me, and they’re carrying me up to the surface. And I know above the water there’s a place I want to be. But I always wake up first.”
A tear threatened, trembling in Perry’s eye as he stared at the sad boy. He struggled with a response. He wanted to laugh, in release of joy—he wanted to interpret the dream for him right away—he wanted to witness then and there.
Instead, as drops of rain began to hit the window behind Ryan, he felt a gentle push backward, into stillness. The Lord wanted to speak with His own words, in His own way. In perfect wisdom, He was moving in the water.
“I’m glad you found a way to express your dream, son,” Perry said. The statement did not satisfy him, for he could think of so much more, but in the place of testimony he simply asked, “Are we on for lunch Saturday? Twelve, as usual?”
Ryan slung on his art bag and let out a heavy breath. “You want to talk about God again, don’t you?”
Perry smiled just a little, and turned to look at the stunning painting a last time. He touched his fingertips lightly to it, feeling the raised edges of blue and silver and palest gold. “I just want to make sure you’re okay, that’s all,” he replied.
Shrugging, Ryan walked to the door, staring down at his shoes as a couple of people passed. “Twelve o’clock, then.”
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