“It’s for a good cause, Mrs. Bentley. That family that got burned out.”
“Come in, Danny, while I get my handbag.”
Danny waited while the white-haired woman hobbled along the hallway. He looked at the umbrella stand, the coat rack, and then ran a hand along the deacon’s bench. He peered at the painting over the bench, then noticed more paintings in the parlour. Many more.
“Would you like to see, Danny?”
Mrs. Bentley gave Danny change for his collection, then led him into the parlour. Framed paintings of every size lined the walls, filling every bit of space. Tall ships and tigers, butterflies and birch trees.
“Who did them?”
“Mostly my father, but I dabbed a few myself.”
The eyes of the tiger appeared to follow Danny as he moved around the room, and the wings of a butterfly were so velvety that Danny thought he might reach out and touch it. He didn’t know anything about art, but he knew he liked Mrs. Bentley’s pictures.
“Did you see that, Mrs. Bentley?”
“What, dear?” A sly grin twitched at the corner of Mrs. Bentley’s mouth.
“That parrot. It moved.”
“It is very realistic, isn’t it?”
Danny stared at the painting in question, and the brightly-hued parrot stared back.
“Well, I have to go. I have more houses to go to.”
“Perhaps, you’d like to come again, Danny. Maybe you’d like to try painting, too.”
“I can’t paint, Mrs. Bentley.”
“You might be surprised.”
Within a week, Danny was in Mrs. Bentley’s parlour again, listening intently as she described brushes and details about complimentary colours, tints, and shades.
“Actually, Danny, let’s just have fun. Do what I do, and I’ll illustrate as I go.”
Mrs. Bentley stroked swathes of colour onto her canvas. She explained her actions, and then indicated a picture on the wall.
“See that tall ship? My father was sailing off the coast of Zanzibar and a squall came up. The sky turned a dusky green and rain sluiced down. The ship struggled through thirty foot waves.”
The ship began to rock and the sky darkened ever so slightly...
”All hands hoay!”
“Trim the mains’l!”
“Hard to starboard.”
A salty mist settled on Danny’s hair.
“See?” Mrs. Bentley’s brush strokes blended together into the robin’s egg blue of a storm-washed sky. Danny mirrored her movements and a sky emerged on his canvas.
“It’s lovely. What would you like next?”
“Then, let there be trees.” Mrs. Bentley’s silver curls bobbed as she squeezed out fresh paint. She daubed at her painting, and Danny watched in fascination as a trunk sprang forth, grew limbs, then leafed out under her deft fingers. “Trees are actually light and shadow. Watch the forest picture.”
Did Mrs. Bentley say watch?
Dappled sunlight rippled on broad leaves while smaller leaves quivered. A dewdrop trembled on the edge of a petal, then trickled away. Danny blinked.
Mrs. Bentley loaded Danny’s brush with paint, and again, he mimicked her stroking, and a tree materialized, primitive but unmistakable.
“May I do a bear?”
“We can try. My father went bear hunting in northern Canada once.”
The leaves rustled.
”Over here. I see him.”
A grizzly! Rising onto its haunches, it took a mighty swipe.
“The bear is like the tree, shadow and light. And there are colours that you wouldn’t imagine. Yellow, red, and even some blue.”
The bear took much more concentration. Unnoticed, a butterfly landed on Danny’s shoulder, surveying the synchronized movements of the artists, its wings folding in silent applause of their efforts.
“This is fun, Mrs. Bentley.”
“I’m glad you’re enjoying it. Anything else?”
“Maybe some grass?”
“As you wish.” Mrs. Bentley handed Danny a magnifying glass.
“Why do I need this?
“Come.” She indicated a painting of an alpine meadow, the grass strewn with tiny flowers and vines. “Look.”
Danny looked through the magnifying glass. Worms, beetles, and centipedes crawled in the grass, weaving through the leaves and fine roots. Danny gazed in wonderment, then pulled back, light dawning in his eyes.
“I know. Now, here’s a brush suitable for grass.”
Danny finished his painting. His tree swayed in the breeze, the bear roared, and clouds skimmed across his azure sky. He smiled in satisfaction.
After he left, Mrs. Bentley moved the easel, lest the paint drip on her Aubusson carpet.
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