Painting Worlds (Part 1)

Brief Introduction

The following is the first part of a story that comes from my Creative Writing capstone completed June 4, 2010. It is the first of six stories that cover the experiences of three generations of women from the same family. The stories are not in chronoglogical order. They span the 1920s to the 1970s. I will post little bits of each story every day. Enjoy!

Painting Worlds

            Viola could smell the familiar mixture of coffee and blossoms that hung on her father’s skin. She sat close to him on the piano bench and watched his hands travel up and down the keys. He swayed back and forth with his eyes shut. He didn’t need to see anything. He was seeing through music. Viola closed her eyes and saw a vast green meadow freckled with orange wild flowers. A woman appeared in a creamy white dress that seemed to float in all directions. The woman never touched the ground but twirled slowly in circles, gently moving with the clouds. Then it stopped.

            “It should be a crime for you to close your eyes,” her father said, taking his hands away from the piano.

            He always said that her violet eyes looked as if the deep blue sea had swallowed a field of lavender. In the light, they looked almost transparent— illumined crystals of lilac.

            “Where shall we go next?” he asked.

             “I want to go to a carnival! With a carousel, and popcorn, and games!”

            “And cotton candy, and animals?”


            Jim thought for a moment and rubbed the keys with his fingertips. Then the mahogany upright piano burst to life again as Jim began his own rendition of “The Entertainer.” Viola’s eyes widened and she clapped. When she couldn’t contain herself any longer she got up from the bench and danced. She was transported to a world of twinkling lights, painted faces, and balloons in bright reds and deep purples. Her waif-like, pale limbs kept time to the bouncing melody that soared through the air. When the tune was over Viola took a seat next to her father once more.

            “Let’s go somewhere else,” she said, “somewhere filled with grays and slow, dark blue waves.”

            Again her father stroked the keys before he played a slow, melancholy tune. Viola closed her eyes again and felt a pang in her stomach that seemed to turn it inside out. It happened every time beautiful things made her sad. She didn’t know why she seemed attracted to this feeling—to sadness, but she was.

            “Viola Standish!”

            The blur of grays and shadows spiraled out of thought when she heard her mother’s sharp voice behind her. She looked up at her father who smiled at her, and patted her leg.

            “What are you doing? I’ll bet you haven’t studied or finished your chores today.” Her mother folded her arms and arched her eyebrows.

            “Well, no. I—I helped Daddy garden today,” Viola said. Jim got up from the piano and disappeared through the backdoor to dig around in the small garden he cultivated in the tiny yard. Estelle tapped her foot on the hard wood floor.

            “Victor!” Estelle yelled. “Victor!”

            Victor poked his head out from the stairwell. “Yes, Mother?” he said, his voice dropping lower at the last syllable. Viola could see his eyes roll at the question they both knew was coming.

            “Have you studied today?” Estelle asked.

            “Yes, Mother, I’ve been studying most of the afternoon!”

            “Now, Viola, look at the hard work your brother is doing. How will you ever keep up if you spend your time dawdling on this piano in your dream world all day? I’ve spoken to you about this before. This is unacceptable.”

            Viola never got used to being scolded for something that felt so natural—something that brought her joy. She didn’t understand how letting her father’s music sweep her away to another world was so wrong. The violet eyes widened in defiance as she opened her mouth to speak, but her mother beat her to it. 

            “Unacceptable,” Estelle repeated. The arched eyebrows told Viola the argument was over. She got up from the piano and climbed the stairs to the room she shared with her brother. The echo of her mother’s screech for Jim grew muffled when she shut the door.


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