“Poor old Vincent Galloway,” people always say. “He sits on his tiny balcony, surrounded by inspiration and has never done anything to show for it.”
How truth does hurt. By the age of seventy-two, Vincent was the proud creator of thousands of lackluster paintings that collected dust in his little house, taking up more room than his sparse furnishings. He longed to create one amazing work of art. If he could only paint a single picture to make the people stop and stare in awe, he might die a relatively happy, albeit, lonely man. There didn’t exist an unluckier artist than him.
Vincent’s paintings had potential, and many who saw them agreed, but something was missing from his style. The key element that caught a person’s eye and caused emotion to turn in the pit of their stomachs was fundamentally absent.
It wasn’t his technique. He painted as well as Picasso or Van Gogh, who he was named for. He even gave Bob Ross a run for his money yet, time and again, people passed him by.
A cool breeze tickled the hair at the nape of his neck and sent a shiver up his spine. The city skyline was just starting to fall under the cloak of darkness. The bright fall colors on the trees below his perch would soon fade into shadow, like the dimming of his ambition. It had been a glorious day to find motivation, but as each day passed and age withered his thrill for life, he found it difficult to obtain, and winter drew ever closer.
Vincent sighed heavily and rose from his tattered chair. A walk through the busy city might elevate his mood. He loved to be in the middle of the hustle and bustle, absorbing the emotions of the people surrounding him. So much joy, anger, sadness, and contempt rolled into a simmering ball of commotion. It was this feeling that gave him ideas for his paintings, and he started to wonder if, perhaps, that was the problem. He tried to paint with empathy, but the more of himself he put into his work, the emptier the result turned out to be.
Nobody could say what caused Vincent to stray off his usual path that evening, but he soon found himself walking down a quiet, poorly lit street. Abandoned shops lined the narrow sidewalk, but a soft light emanated from a window a short distance away. The warmth of the glow drew him closer, and he arrived at an old wooden door, pausing to read the chipped words painted on its window.
“The Enchanted Artist Supply Store,” he whispered. He stuck a hand in his pocket and frowned as he pulled out a handful of loose change meant to buy his next meal. With a shake of his head, he returned the coins to his pocket. He certainly didn’t need more paint or brushes as he already owned more than he could use in his diminishing lifetime. Still, something about this store left him with a sense of urgency and he had to go in.
As the door swung open, it tapped a little bell, announcing his presence. A small, balding man popped his head up from behind a cluttered counter.
“Hello, friend! Come in, come in. Close the door. Leave out the cold.”
The little man spoke in halted sentences, but his voice contained friendly and inviting tones. His smile reached nearly ear to ear, and blue eyes glittered behind the gold wired frames that rested on his bulbous nose. He was the sort of person you took an immediate liking to, and Vincent did just that, despite being a wary pessimist.
“Just looking around,” Vincent answered. “You new here?” The question said acridly on his tongue. A quick study of the grime on the crowded shelves proved without a doubt that the store existed for some time. “I just haven’t seen this shop before.”
“A hundred-and-seven years next month,” the man replied, still smiling widely.
“Ah. Family business, then, one would assume.”
“Yes, one would assume,” the little man cocked his head.
Shrugging off the unusual response, Vincent started poking around the crammed shelves. It looked like any other store he encountered. The brands of paints were familiar, as were the stacks of canvases, and various brushes. He really had no intention of purchasing, given his limited funds.
“You look like a man in need of a win. Paintings aren’t selling well, hmmm?” The shopkeeper didn’t wait for Vincent to answer. “Come over here. I have something to show you.” He reached up and grabbed a small box from the shelf behind the counter. A fine layer of dust lay across the top, and he blew it off gently before setting it on the counter. “You’ll never find better quality in a brush than this one right here,” he said, sliding the box open. “Look. See.”
Vincent studied the brush. There was nothing truly interesting regarding it. Gold lettering stamped into a dark-stained wooden handle identified a brand unknown to him. The bristles were made of exquisite sable and tapered to a fine point, which made it a very good brush. But, still, just a brush.
“May I?” he gestured toward the box. The man nodded excitedly. Vincent picked up the brush and held it in his hand, poised as though ready to paint in the empty air. It felt comfortable in his grip. Doubt clouded his mind that it would make a difference in his painting, but maybe he did need something new to work with. All his brushes were well used and though he struggled to let them go, many were past their prime. He remembered the meager amount of change in his pocket and placed the brush back in its box. Out of curiosity, he asked, “How much is it?”
With quick movements, the man placed the cover back on the box and held it out to Vincent. “For you, no charge. I think you need this more than I need the bit of change in your pocket.”
Vincent cast a startled glance at the man, wondering how he knew about his pittance of cash. “Take, please!”
Vincent murmured a suspicious, but grateful, acknowledgement of the gift as he reluctantly reached out to take it. He turned to leave, but the man placed a gentle hand on his arm and pointed a finger at him.
“The secret is not to paint what you see, but what you want to see.” He winked and released Vincent’s arm.
As Vincent walked home, he replayed the strange experience in his mind. The man had to be insane, clearly, but if he got something free out of the exchange, then he voiced no complaints. His mind didn’t tarry too long on the thought as he was surprisingly eager to get home and try out his new brush.
He walked through the door and tossed his coat onto the back of a chair. Immediately, he got to work setting up a canvas and palette. The paintbrush practically sang to him from its slumber in the dusty box and he rushed to mix colors and prepare the framed fabric surface. He had no clear ideas on what to paint, so he decided to capture the room he was in.
After several hours of painting, he had a lifelike version of his living room on the canvas, but comparable to all his other paintings, it was dismally forgettable. Then, he remembered what the shop owner told him. He had to paint what he wanted to see. As he considered what he wanted, he tapped the handle of his brush against his lip. He didn’t have to think long. What he desired most of all was to see Ginger again. His old orange tabby passed away more than a year before, but he still missed her every day. He quickly began adding her likeness to the painting, placing her figure on the little mat that still lay before the radiator. Even after all this time, he couldn’t bear to move it.
When he was done, Vincent stood back and admired his work. Ginger appeared so real sleeping on her mat that he almost reached out to touch her. Tears welled up behind his eyelids and he finally realized what was missing in his paintings. He needed to draw on people’s heartbreak or their absolute joys…anything that made them remember they were alive. Did the brush give him the ability to add such sentiment to his painting, or did he just need a nudge in the right direction? Weary with sorrow and excitement, Vincent cleaned his brush and rubbed his eyes, determined not to dwell on it until morning.
As he turned to retire to his bed, something caught his eye. His heart skipped a beat. There on the mat by the radiator, Ginger lay sleeping. For a moment, he stood frozen, watching her ears twitching at every creak the old house made.
Unable to contain himself any longer, he ran to her and cautiously placed a hand on her back, afraid that doing so may destroy the illusion. His hand met soft hair, and he pushed deeper into her fur, rubbing tenderly. Ginger lifted her head with a wide yawn and stretched one front leg. Tiny toes splayed, revealing the thin webbing between. Vincent observed every little detail with wonder. After slowly opening two lazy eyes, she looked up at him and began to purr. He scooped her up and held her close as tears of happiness rolled down his cheeks. He felt he must be dreaming.
It occurred to him then he had the ability to paint everything he wanted in life. The shopkeeper had given him a rare gift—one with the power to destroy as easily as it created, but there was enough pain in the world. Vincent Galloway would paint a euphoric new universe full of color and laughter. Like a god, he planned to alter reality. He would create his masterpiece, at last…but not until morning.
For tonight, he had Ginger.