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The Painter

The painter begins every morning in her studio the same way. She sets out her oil paints and mixes the colors she’ll need for the first layer. Then she cracks open her south-facing window and turns the oscillating fan on low. She pours turpentine into old sour cream containers recycled from the sports bar she used to work. Then she lines up each paintbrush on a towel that rests on her painting table her ex-husband made her. Their divorce was finalized last week. After that, she sits on the balcony with a black coffee and a grapefruit and sinks her spoon into the deep red flesh nestled in pith, she turns on NPR and eats. After her grapefruit, she smokes exactly one and a half Marlboro Red 100’s, an unfortunate habit she picked back up during the last few months. She sucks on her pointer finger and thumb then pinches the cigarette to extinguish it when it hits halfway. She places the cigarette on top of the ashtray she’d thrown on the pottery wheel back in college.

When the painter was interviewed two years ago by a journalist from The New Yorker, he’d asked about how her studio space developed. She told them it developed organically, especially since her husband had moved them to a bigger apartment. Her husband also bought her a facemask with a filter and a powerful fan, to help with ventilation so she’d stay healthy and safe. She doesn’t wear the facemask anymore. The journalist, like all the others, asked her the same types of questions. But her favorite question is when they ask about what paint brand she uses. She loves to talk about making her own paint, and the meditative process of stirring pigments that it brings. She’d said there is nothing better than explaining why every color should have a different texture because every color is a different pigment, so it matters. She told the interviewer how she always wanted to paint in the dark and choose the colors just by the feel of her own paint. When he’d asked her about her future plans, she said, “Hopefully kids.”

“Hopefully kids.”

The painter starts working promptly after she finishes her breakfast. She paints until noon then walks to the bistro at the end of the block for pastrami on rye and another black coffee. She tries not to think about all those weeks she drank only decaf. Back at the studio, she examines her work while finishing her lunch. She sits with the painting for a while as she plays Billie Holiday’s record, Solitude. Then she drips turpentine down her canvas, already wet with color, and stabs her paintbrush into the figure she’d just spent four hours creating. For the last six months, she has painted Venus of Willendorf from memory. She plans to paint this figure for only three more months, then she will be finished with it, finished with it all. Some days she paints it in primary colors, other days she’ll render it in monochromatic tones. But most days, she paints it in earth tones adding burnt umber and yellow ochre. She’ll paint on canvas, linen, birchwood panels, or slates of Masonite. This is the only way that the painter knows how to pray.

This flash fiction piece is about a painter who had a miscarriage (without saying she had a miscarriage) and how she deals with it, highlighting grief and the female experience.


About the Author

Kristen B Tetzlaff

Kristen hopes to accompany others in the wonder of poetry. She writes and paints on themes such as honoring the mundane, the exploration of grief, and questioning death's mystery without expecting an answer. Kristen plans to use both her degrees in Creative Writing and Art Therapy to help and connect with others through creative means.

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