It was sideways. This just wouldn't work.
Daniel sighed. "Can I put it on the floor, Mama?"
"Put what on the floor, DJ?" Mrs. Harris looked up from the newspaper she was reading and turned toward her son.
"The paper." He pointed at the easel in frustration. "I have to paint it wideways, and it's hanging longways."
Mrs. Harris rose slowly and grabbed the pad of paper off the easel. She turned it ninety degrees and hung it back up.
"Does that work?"
DJ nodded, licking his lips and staring at the angle of the paper.
"Thanks," he mumbled.
He went digging through the art box, pulling out a paintbrush and two containers of paint: red and blue.
"What happens when you mix blue and red, Mama?" He held the paintbrush up in front of him and stared at the blank canvas.
"You get purple. Why?"
"There isn't purple on the flag, right? Isn't it Daddy's favorite color?"
"The American flag? No, there isn't, hun." She wiped her eyes. "And yes, it was Daddy's favorite."
"I shouldn't mix the colors, then. Or it won't be a real American flag." DJ chewed on the end of the paintbrush and furrowed his brow.
"I think a little bit of mixing would be okay, DJ." She rested her hand on the top of his head and tousled his hair. "Like you said, purple was his favorite color. I think he'd like it."
DJ whipped his head from side to side. "It needs to look like a real American flag, cuz daddy's a real American hero." He looked at her, eyes blazing. "That's what you said, right?"
Mrs. Harris nodded, her eyes shut tight. "That's what I said, DJ."
He nodded himself and turned back toward the easel. He uncovered the blue paint and dipped his brush in. He slowly and meticulously painted a large blue square in the upper left corner.
Dropping the brush in water, he looked up and licked his lips. He opened the red canister, picked up and shook off his brush, and dipped it into the paint. With careful yet childlike brushstrokes, he painted each of the seven red stripes, glancing occasionally at a picture on the table. As the paintbrush got closer to the blue field, DJ slowed his strokes and stared, his tongue peeking out from between his closed lips. Not once did the colors mix.
Finishing the last stripe, he put the brush down, stepped back, and looked over his creation. He picked up a pencil and wrote on the white stripe below the blue field "my daddy is a hero" in uneven block letters.
He grabbed a sheet of star stickers and carefully placed them, one by one, in the blue field, just dry enough to touch. As he placed the 50th star, he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"We leave for the cemetery in about ten minutes. You about ready?"
"Why don't you go wash your hands and change into the outfit on your bed? I'll be up to help you in a minute." She kissed him on the head. "And that's a beautiful flag, Daniel. Your father would be honored to see what you made."
A few minutes later, Daniel entered the car. Once buckled up, he held the flag across his chest.
"I miss him so much, Mommy."
"I know, sweetie, I do too."
Tears dripped down his face and further, a few landing in the flag's blue field. He glanced down a moment later and sighed, his crying increasing.
"There's purple, mom. The red stripe under the blue part has a purple smudge. My crying ruined my real American flag!" DJ bowed his head.
Mrs. Harris pulled over to the side, turned her body, and shook her head. "No it isn't, Daniel." She lifted his chin with her hand. "It's perfect. It has your own tears of love on it. Daddy is looking down on it right now, so glad you made it for him."
Daniel sniffled and looked into his mother's eyes. "Really?"
She nodded. "I think your tears will remind people of the tears we all cry when a hero dies for our country. A crying flag makes sense to me. Don't you think?"
DJ cracked a smile. "Yeah, I guess you're right." He closed his eyes. "And purple tears are kinda special too."
"They sure are, sweetie. Especially when they come from a special boy and his special flag."
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