KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 9: Spring 2018
Flash Fiction: 856 words

A Stained Canvas

by Kika Dorsey

When Joan’s children were young, she worked as a dog trainer and had little time to draw anymore, a hobby she had enjoyed. Her mother had been an artist, and Joan’s walls were covered with landscapes, portraits, still lifes, and pictures her children drew. Her daughter drew people that consisted of a circle with eyes and mouths and huge belly buttons. One was a picture of her depicted with antennas and looking like a Martian. Her son liked to paint abstract explosions of color like dying stars.

She liked to cover her white walls. White was a problem. Her country was crawling with white supremacists, her white British skin was not aging well in the Colorado sun, and the worst dogs she trained were the white shepherds. She had read from Temple Grandin that animals with less pigment—white skin or fur and blue eyes—were the most high-strung and difficult to handle. They were unpredictable.

Now her children are teenagers. Her daughter paints sunsets and giraffes, and her son sketches black crows. Her daughter, especially, loves to cover up things. She likes buying clothes and patterned rugs for their oak floors. She paints sunrises over oceans far away from their land-locked home. Joan is good at covering things, too. When her daughter is sassy and Joan wants to call her a “fucking bitch,” instead she asks if she wants eggs for breakfast. When Joan was on probation, she told the probation officer, Angela, after being accused of flunking a drug test, which actually had been diluted from the pot of coffee that Joan drank, that the name Angela was pretty and she liked Angela’s hair. It was thin, dirt-brown, and stringy. When a dog took forever to learn a command, Joan patiently repeated herself, waited, and eventually gave the dog a treat anyway.

Even though she doesn’t draw anymore, she’s putting color on a damaged canvas, one whose white landscape had grown stains when her schizophrenic father decided he didn’t love her. It had been a reasonable decision, she knew. She was an addict. She was uglier than her sisters. She got a C in French. She had fantasized about having sex with the minister’s son in church even though she should be thinking about Jesus. She had slept with her best friend’s boyfriend. So her father was not fond of her, and he colored his internal world with conspiracies that Joan was often a part of.

Once she visited her psycho father and dear frazzled mother in Vienna after Joan had been married for a year and before she had children. She had visited the Naschmarkt on a cold winter day and had eaten roasted chestnuts. She had walked along the Danube to watch the snow melt in the green water. When she returned, her mother was gone visiting a friend, and her father was sitting at the piano, frowning.

“It’s cold out there,” she said.

He turned to her with small piercing blue eyes, his freckles red as if paint had splattered on his face, and asked, “Who told you to say that?”

Now Joan had often heard that question from him. Sometimes it made sense, like when she told him she loved the Talking Heads. Since he was psychotic, he was haunted by plenty of talking heads. But cold? Well, she assumed she could be blaming winter for being so damn itself and maybe that spirit of white snow was oppressing him.

She changed the subject. “What have you been doing?”

He stood up and pointed to the wall. “Who told you to steal Mom’s painting?”

She glanced around the room and backed toward the exit. “I didn’t.”

“The one of the Mississippi, from Aunt Velma’s.” He approached her and grabbed her arm.

Joan thought this might be the time he’d kill her. It was really an inconvenient time to die. She was just too young for it and there was so much to do, though at the moment she couldn’t think of what those things were.

She pried his fingers off her arm, pulled away. and ran out of the apartment.

She didn’t talk to her father for two years after that.


Now she has children of her own and covers her walls with landscapes and portraits. Her parents are dead. No one asks her about her role in conspiracies, but her daughter does point out to her all her flaws that she could definitely work on covering up, like her foul language in the car or her abhorrent taste in fashion with the black boots with all the silver buckles and her leopard-skin patterned robe.

In her bedroom is a charcoal sketch by her mother. It’s a naked woman draped over a blanket, bare moon-curves, a body from which she had once emerged perfect. She touches the red frame, which is chiseled with a garland of flowers. It’s as if she were touching the curved landscape of her Colorado home from a heaven that welcomed her and blames her for nothing, loves her as much as the rain loves rivers, joining their curves—without covering up anything.


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