The trees were always green. Never brown. Never orange or red or goldenrod, the way they got November mornings, when the sun lit them up from behind. Certainly never bare.
There would always be a hill, just like our hill, only smoother, rounder. The spikes of your old picket fence would stand up extra stark and white against a blue sky. Royal blue, or ocean. And one bright, yellow sun, which was wrong, because suns burn white in the real light of day, not buttercup or daffodil or banana.
The little inconsistencies bothered you. “There’s a shed there,” you would say. “You forgot the shed again.”
And dutifully I would scribble it in, brown and black and small beside your yellow house, behind the fence. I would pass the paper back for your approval, and you would nod, and turn away to your books.
When I grew older, the details sharpened. Now, there were crows on telephone wires, just above the chimney, each brick outlined in mortar gray. The address numbers hung slightly crooked over your red front door, and there was a little tear in the black screen of the storm door, and Mamie’s rocker sat on one end of the porch.
By then, I was too old and awkward to ask you to look, so I would leave it on the table for you to find, when you poured your morning coffee and shuffled awake in the tatty pink of your bathrobe. Then I would come in quietly through the garden door, and see you looking it over, bleary-eyed in your chair, and I would wait.
You would put your mug on the table and look at me, and give a little grin, and say, “That’s nice, hon. Real good.” And you would go about your puttering, and I would hold onto the little glow of your words in my belly as long as I could, until they were rattled away by something harsh you would bark about dinner being late, or my hair being in my eyes for the twentieth time today.
One night, I found your old paintings stuffed up tight in the corner of the attic. I sat on the naked wood of the attic floor and looked them over, one by one. And there was the fire on the cattle pond at sunset, and a forest full of balding maple trees, and the shed hung with pelts and woodcutting tools, and your papa on an old stump, whittling, smiling.
And you were there, too, somewhere just off the edge of the canvas, behind the color of a blade of grass, or the line of the barbed wire fence on the southern field. It was you as I knew you had to be, before bad men and bad days had left you empty and tired and gray. It was the color I heard in your stories at night, sometimes, after a bottle of whiskey had stirred it up like thickened paint. It was the you that I wanted to know, but didn’t.
So I climbed back down from the attic, and took up my oil pastels, and clumsily tried once more.