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Inspirational Fiction

“Why did you take this class if you are only going to stare at a blank piece of paper?”


I glance up to see who's speaking. It’s a man with boyish looks and curious blue eyes. He sits at the desk next to mine. His paper already holds all kinds of objects. A square with deep shadows. A sphere with lots of pencil shading like the one on the board in front of the class. It looks even cleaner than the one our instructor drew. The rest of his paper holds a flawless cylinder. It captures the light hitting it at the perfect angle. It’s so smooth it looks like a photograph and not a sketch. I can’t help but glare. It’s obvious he’s taken art classes before.


I straighten my paper on my desk. It’s still crooked. I straighten it again. I take my box of charcoal pencils and lay it evenly next to my paper. I straighten them both once more. My eraser is too far away. I place it next to the box of pencils. Perfect. Everything lines up in a nice, neat row. All I have left is to get started. I glance back over at the guy next to me who is waiting for a response.


“Oh, you’re one of those,” he says, answering his own question.


My brows knit together in confusion, “One of what?”


“A perfectionist.”                          


My heart misses a beat. I hate that word, perfectionist. I look away from the guy without answering him. My blank paper stares at me from the table. It taunts me. Go ahead and get started, what’s stopping you?


“I wouldn’t say I’m a perfectionist,” I tell him quietly. I move my pencil box to the left side of my paper, deciding it looks better there. Now the eraser is in the wrong spot. I move it again. It’s only after I tidy things on my desk one more time that I tell him, “I do like having things a certain way. It helps.”


“Helps what, exactly?” he asks, in a playful tone. “It’s painful to watch you.”


“Everyone has their own way of doing things,” I snap back, defensive. “You don’t have to watch me. I’d rather you didn’t.” Waves of anxiety hit me at the thought of someone judging my work.


“Right. Okay,” he says, smiling in a carefree manner. “I didn’t mean to make you feel like you’re doing anything wrong. My name’s Gausik. What’s your name?”


“Camellia,” I whisper, turning my attention back to my paper.


The sharpest charcoal pencil I have sits between my fingers. I start to mimic what our instructor created on the board. The sphere feels like a safe place to start. My pencil scratches at the center of the page as I persuade it to create a perfect circle. It’s too messy. I erase it and start again. The second attempt isn’t any better, so I erase it, too. No amount of furious scrubbing with an eraser can remove my past mistakes. I pull another sheet of paper out and begin again.


It was an impulsive decision I made to be in this class. The local high school had posted a flyer. It said they would be hosting several different night classes with guest instructors. The classes went all throughout summer. Anyone above the age of eighteen were welcome to attend. I had wanted to go to college when I was younger. My dream had been to major in art. A pipe dream. College is for kids who land scholarships or have parents who can afford to send them. I didn’t fall into either of those categories.


A new blank paper looks at me from the desk. I pick up my pencil and then put it back down. Class is almost over. I wasted the last forty-five minutes too scared to draw a circle. Of all the “P” words used to describe me, “Perfectionist” was the wrong one. The guy next to me should have used the word that really fits. Pathetic. No wonder I’m painful to watch. Tears form in the corner of my eyes. The last thing I want is for Mr. boyish good looks to see me having a breakdown on the first night of classes. I scoop all my things into my bag and dip out of class early. What had I been thinking?


My shoes hit the sidewalk in loud steps on my way to the parking lot. It isn’t fair for the night sky to look down on me with a perfect moon at its center. The moon’s round face has a smug smile hidden in its craters, as if to say, look – even I can make a circle.


My keys shake against my car door as my fingers tremble with frustration. Anyone who happens to be watching me will think I’m the first one to die in a horror movie. My keys drop to the ground, and I snatch them back up. I can’t do anything right, can I? A yelp escapes me when someone grabs at my shoulder. It’s all reflexes when I swing myself around. My bag connects with something solid.


“Ouch,” it hisses. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”


The solid object is Gausik. He rubs at his arm with a sheepish look on his face. A ping of guilt for hitting him stabs at me before I push it away. What business does he have sneaking up on a woman in a dark parking lot? Without confinement to a desk, his height towers over me. His hair is a mess of brown curls. He looks around my age, late twenties.


“Why did you follow me?”


“I wanted to give you something,” he says, and opens his hand to reveal a small slip of paper. “Don’t let tonight discourage you from going after what you want.”


I stare at the paper confused for a moment, and when I look up, I notice the guy had walked away. He reaches a scarlet motorcycle on the other side of the parking lot. Light from the moon reflects on the back of his leather jacket. It reminds me of the cylinder on his paper. A single line of reflected white light trails between his shoulder blades. The white then fades to various shades of grey before it disappears into solid black.


“Hey wait,” I yell. “What is this?”            


He gives me a mischievous grin before he slips on his helmet. He slides onto his bike and the engine rips through the air with a violent sound. He offers a thumbs up before he pulls out of the parking lot. Fury builds inside me as I watch him go. How hard is it to answer a damn question?


I study the piece of paper. It reads:


1412 King Ave, Tulsa OK

Friday, June 13th

6:30 p.m.


How stupid would I be to show up to this address without more answers? I climb into my car and listen to the familiar whine of the engine. Anxiety claws at my chest. I’m not good at doing new things or going places I’ve never been before. It’s up there with my other fears like “meeting new people” and “ordering food over a drive thru speaker.” It took insane courage to come to this class. What good did it do? Isn’t it time to let go of the idea that I could ever be an artist? 


***


My nails drum against the desk. My heel taps against the floor at the same speed. The clock above the door grabs my attention. Hello, it’s four forty-five in case you care, it tells me. Ohh ho ho, it’s 5 o’ clock and you know what that means, it continues. I glare at its red digital numbers and debate throwing my shoe at it. A broken clock can’t tell time.


My computer blinks into a black void as I power it down, readying myself to leave for the day. There are no last-minute calls needing me to schedule appointments. All the accounts payable paperwork has been filed. I can’t think of a single thing left to do that would keep me at the office late no matter how hard I try. My desk is organized to the point that a furniture magazine would use it for advertising. The only thing holding me back from going to that address tonight… is me.


***


It's a tall building. I didn’t expect that. The architecture suggests it’s from the 1920's. Lots of old buildings in downtown Tulsa are from the 1920’s. My fingers itch to park myself across the street, pull out my sketchpad, and draw every old brick one-by-one. The glass doors are covered by a moss green canopy. The windows are arched and a staircase zigzags down the left side of the building in a series of black iron bars. Next to the staircase is a giant painted canvas of a black bear. It holds a yellow daisy in its paw, sniffing it. Above the bear reads, “Black Bear Hotel.”


It’s when I get to the doors that I take note of an important detail missing from Gausik’s slip of paper. Where am I supposed to go? There isn’t a room number. It’s not too late. I can still turn back and go home. No one is making me go inside. My traitor feet drag me through the hotel doors and dump me into the lobby. Cherry red sofas and chairs are spread across the room. Old black-and-white photos of Tulsa landmarks decorate the walls. A turquoise chandelier hangs from the ceiling with thousands of dangling beads. There isn’t anyone behind the counter to check guests in. My shoulders sag in defeat, and I head back to the hotel doors. I did try. I should get points for that.


I yelp as someone grabs at my back. My body turns before I tell it to and my hand connects with something solid. It takes a second before it registers that my hand has been captured. It’s wrapped tight in fingers larger than my own.


“I was ready this time,” Gausik laughs.


A girl stands next to him. She’s in overalls. A striped shirt with long sleeves is underneath. She’s covered in splashes of paint all the way down to her black combat boots. Bright blue hair is tied into pig-tails high on her head. She smiles at me with brilliant red lips. “You must be Camellia.”


Gausik lets go of my hand. “Everyone is waiting. Let’s get going.” He tosses a grin to the girl, “told you she’d show, Maddie. Where’s my ten bucks?”


She fishes a ten dollar bill from her front pocket and shoves it into his hand. Then, she snakes her slim arm around mine. “We love new faces. I’m happy to be wrong. Let’s go,” she says, dragging me up a flight of stairs hidden behind the check in desk.


“Is anyone going to tell me what’s going on?” I ask.


One flight of stairs turns into two. Two turns into three, three turns into five, and I ask another reasonable question. “Where are we going?”


“The rooftop,” Maddie says, as if it’s obvious.


Gausik throws open the door at the end of the last flight of stairs and we funnel onto the roof. I let out a gasp. On the top of the roof are at least eight huge canvases. Buckets of paint, paintbrushes, and tarps, are scattered everywhere. Strings of lights hang low with glowing yellow bulbs against a fading sun. Several more people are on the rooftop. A trio near the right corner of the roof sing in time with music I’ve never heard before. Their hips and paintbrushes sway to the beat. The words are off key as they sing. They don’t seem to care.


Maddie lets go of my arm and runs to the center canvas. The image makes my heart skip a beat. A nude woman is turned around in the center of it. You see her arms crossed above her head. Her hair is trapped in her fingers as it tumbles down her bare back. The curves of her hips meet the bottom of the canvas leaving the woman’s lower half to the imagination. Her head is angled away. All you see there is the side of her angular cheek, her curved nose, and the lines of her chin. Above them, a closed eye with long lashes. The picture is painted in several shades of grey and blue.


“It’s mine, Camellia. What do you think?” Maddie asks.


A nauseous feeling hits my gut. I shouldn’t be here. “It’s stunning,” I tell her.


Something slaps me in the stomach and I look down. Gausik had put a large paintbrush in my hand. “This is my sister’s art studio. Welcome to Novice Night. We host these every third Friday of the month. Pick any blank canvas you want.”


He says this like it isn’t a big deal. Anyone can pick up a paintbrush and lay it against a blank canvas. Anyone can choose the right colors. Anyone can make something out of nothing. Anyone can create art. My breath comes out faster and faster until I can’t keep the panic inside any longer. I push the paintbrush back into his hands and turn to the door.


“Camellia, where are you going?” he asks.


“Thanks for inviting me,” my voice comes out tight and my eyes sting. “But I’ve never painted before.”


“Hey… hey. No need for crying,” he says to soothe me. “It’s okay if you haven’t painted before. It’s not a test. Don’t you want to make art? Did I get that wrong?”


“You have to be an artist to make art and I haven’t had a chance to learn yet. I’m not ready.”


He tilts his head in confusion before he says, “Who told you that?”


“Well, it’s true. I’m not like everyone else here. You guys are talented.”


He laughs and it’s a full sound that shakes his whole body. Shame burns my cheeks and I take a step closer to the door. He grabs my hand pulling me back. “Camellia, everyone is an artist. Don’t you know? If you wait until you think you’re ready, you’ll never get started. The time will never be right or perfect. You don’t have to have talent to create art. The only thing you need,” he leans in close to my ear, “is to be human.”


His words sink into my head. I blink a few times. He pushes the paintbrush back into my hands. A blank canvas mocks me as it stands next to Maddie’s perfect painting. No matter what he says, I still can’t bring myself to move. He shoots me a toothy smile before picking up a bucket of paint at my feet. The color is black. In one large movement he lets the paint fly. It coats Maddie’s painting and she shrieks. Instead of anger, she surprises me, and lets out a laugh. She takes her brush blurring the black paint into the background. When she finishes, I'm struck again by her talent. Everything is black except for fingers twisting into hair and the side of the woman’s face.


“What’s it going to be, Camellia? Worried you'll make a mistake?” Gausik asks. “Are you going to let the fear of not being good enough hold you back for the rest of your life?”


The first color I choose is red. Red like the anger inside me for needing to be perfect all the time. A voice is loud in my head with every stroke against the blank canvas. I can’t tune out the words.


Oh, you only took second place in your track meet? Why didn’t you take first?


You have a B on your report card this semester. It was all A’s on the last one.


You need to try harder.


We expect more from you.


Camellia, your hips are hanging over your jeans. Don’t you think you need to slow down on the food?


Your face is breaking out again, Camellia. Why don’t you ever wash your face enough?


Is that what you’re wearing?


I don’t want people to think I raised a daughter who doesn’t care about her appearance.


Tears run down my cheeks when I see the canvas in front of me is no longer white. All I see are shades of red. I attack the canvas further as if the sound of paint strokes can drown out another voice in my head. My own.


You’ll never be good enough.


You’ll never be loved.


Everything you do is a mistake.


You’re trash, Camellia.


Don’t you know that?


Who are you to think you can be an artist?


Don’t make me laugh.


How can you create something that means anything when you mean nothing?


How can you make something beautiful when you’re so ugly inside?”


I grab black paint and keep going. The place painting takes me to is a state of release. It’s a symbiotic relationship between chaos and peace. Its Maddie’s voice that brings me back to the present. “Oh, this is truly something… it’s beautiful Camellia.” My fingers still against the canvas, finished, and I hear Gausik say in a low voice, “I told you, didn’t I? We’re all artists.”


I study the painting, surprised it’s my own. Looking back at me are ruby red petals. They belong to a Camellia flower. They ripple against the canvas in a way that steals the breath from my lungs. Around the Camellia flower are black bars. Such a beautiful delicate flower and yet, it’s trapped in a cage. The petals are messy. The lines aren’t straight. Despite it all, I sink to my knees. A weight on my shoulders has been lifted. This is what it means to be an artist. Everything about my painting is… right. It’s perfect.


It’s human.

November 02, 2023 21:39

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32 comments

Michał Przywara
20:40 Nov 03, 2023

I see we're in the same ballpark this week - only your story digs deep into perfectionism, anxiety, and the fixed mindset - three of my favourite (ugh) things :) It's visceral, no doubt relatable to many, and uncomfortable (in a good way, the story provoking empathy). And the ending is fantastic. It's not epic, it's not world changing, and for anyone outside that scene, it's completely unremarkable. But for Camellia, it very much is a breakthrough. She hasn't conquered her demons, but she's taken a massive swing at them, and it's the first...

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Danie Holland
12:32 Nov 08, 2023

"we only see the finished product, and never the years of instructive failures it's built on." Oh, I loved that very much. You are right, for those who struggle with perfection it can be a heavy dose of reality to realize that nothing is ever "perfect." Or even worse, we strive for "success" and get so lost in deciding what standards it will take to reach success for ourselves. It can be a disgusting spiral of comparing ourselves to others. I think our generation really gets an extra dose of this with social media. It's so easy to see t...

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Helen A Smith
17:50 Nov 16, 2023

Hi Danie. It was great to see the progression of Camellia, both as a human and as an artist. If we wait for the perfect moment, it will never happen. She literally flowered through the expression of her art by the end of the story. I think she is very brave to take the plunge here, especially given the difficult voices in her head pulling her back. It takes courage to do what she did and great to see release by the end. I actually see writing and painting as two sides of the same coin. A positive and uplifting piece about growth and self ...

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Danie Holland
13:42 Nov 17, 2023

"She literally flowered through the expression of her art by the end of the story." - I love this Helen. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and connect!

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20:35 Feb 20, 2024

I love all your stories but this might be my favorite. I can relate to Camellia with the " We expect more from you. You’ll never be good enough. Everything you do is a mistake." Except mine was "it doesn't matter what you do in your life, you're always going to fail" The anxiety and pressure to be perfect ruined a lot of things for me.

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Danie Holland
14:01 Feb 21, 2024

Tess, I love this comment so much and hate it too. I love that you were able to engage with one of my characters but hate that someone tried to convince you that you'll fail no matter what you do. I grew up with someone who was very critical. It's been an active battle trying to erase that voice from my mind. I became such a people pleaser because I thought the harder I worked, the harder I tried, maybe then I would be 'good enough' maybe then I could earn love. It doesn't work that way. The truth is we are all worthy because we are hu...

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Amanda Lieser
06:00 Nov 28, 2023

Hey Danie! Oh my goodness, I loved this piece! I am always in love with the moments that a writer decides to talk about another form of artistry, because I think that’s such a masterful talent. You conveyed each and every detail beautifully, which can be difficult to do with words, when you can’t literally see the art. However, I thought that this piece certainly lived up to my expectation of what it is like to be an artist, and how we are all forced to stare at the blank canvas of Life. I’m also glad that it ended so hopefully because I thi...

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Danie Holland
11:25 Nov 30, 2023

Amanda - I live in a city that is heavy into the art scene. So glad it came across believable. Our downtown is beautiful and we have so many talented people here when it comes to art, music, and writing, and now even acting. It's amazing to watch it unfold and grow. I wasn't sure how well the art would be understood because as you say, it is difficult to describe in words. Everyone sees things from their own perspectives as well. "I’m also glad that it ended so hopefully because I think that's something that we as creatives can lose in the...

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15:48 Nov 09, 2023

Fantastic! I hope this wins. Relatable protagonist, wonderful arc, very inspiring.

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Danie Holland
10:30 Nov 10, 2023

Wow, thank you. This comment is a win enough in my book. Thank you for dropping by and connecting with me. 💜

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Michele Duess
19:32 Nov 07, 2023

Great story. Isn't that what any art is about? Putting the human experience out for everyone to see.

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Danie Holland
14:43 Nov 08, 2023

Yes, it sure is Michele. What an equally joyous and frightening ride it can be to share our human experience with others. No matter what though, being bold begets fortune. Thanks for connecting with me this week!

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Belladona Vulpa
19:15 Nov 07, 2023

Beautiful story, thought-provoking, and also emotional. We empathize as readers with the character. I was reading mesmerized and interested to see what happened. I'm glad it ended on a hopeful note, art helped her in a way to see things differently and set herself free. Beautiful writing as always!

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Danie Holland
13:46 Nov 08, 2023

Thanks so much for reading and for your insight. I think art is great at doing exactly that - helping us to see things different and set ourselves free. I appreciate you stopping by this week and connecting with me! <3

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AnneMarie Miles
21:55 Nov 06, 2023

Oh Danie, this is inspirational indeed. How human is it to be insecure, especially when we choose to do something as vulnerable as create something. OMG is there ANYTHING more vulnerable? I love these people, Gausik and Maddie, who have taken Camellia under their wing and decided she deserved to be a part of this "novice night." I wish we were all so lucky to be seen for our humanity and determined we are worthy simply because of it. The imagery of the imprisoned flower is so poignant and beautiful. I imagine we have all been that flower at ...

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Danie Holland
13:18 Nov 08, 2023

Yes Annemarie, it can feel very vulnerable and yet. I think it's a very human thing. To want to connect and be connected with other humans who are all doing this human experience together. Art in all it's many facets is a great way to see each others struggles and know we do not struggle or suffer alone. Not only feelings of struggle but also love and joy and all the different textures of human emotion. Have you felt them like I have felt them? Do I feel them as you do? Maybe I am the only one who thinks deeply like this but I like to think ...

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Kailani B.
16:56 Nov 05, 2023

I can't relate to the need to express oneself through art (I think I have too straightforward of an approach to art), but the fear of "...ordering food over a drive thru speaker" hit a little too close to home.

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Danie Holland
12:21 Nov 08, 2023

I dread the drive thru so much. Really just ordering food anywhere. Really just having to answer anyone's questions in a timely manner with out the option to thoroughly take my time thinking them through! Lol Thanks for connecting with me, have a great week!

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Karen Corr
16:25 Nov 05, 2023

How beautiful, Danie! I loved everything about it, but I especially liked the argument with the clock , the perfect companion to anxiety and indecision. Great story! (:

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Danie Holland
11:45 Nov 08, 2023

Karen, Thanks so much for stopping by! Yes, please name one person who hasn't wanted to throw a shoe at a clock at least once in their life. I am glad you were able to relate!

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Karen Corr
18:20 Nov 08, 2023

Thanks, Danie! 😊

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Humble Sparrow
01:30 Nov 04, 2023

Aww! I love this! The build-up is amazingly paced and the denouement very satisfying. May I inquire about the choice of name Gausik? I could probably Google search to see if it's a famous artist, but where would be the mystery in that. :-)

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Danie Holland
11:15 Nov 08, 2023

Hi Humble!!! Thanks so much for reading. Yes, actually I am so glad you asked. I picked out the name Gausik because upon some research I stumbled to where it was suggested it's a name that means freedom and joy, someone who is not bound by others. And I thought it was a well suited name for someone who was going to help our protagonist break the chains she has been restricted by since he doesn't feel the need to be chained down by others or what they think! Thank you for connecting with me and your curiosity.

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Nina H
00:24 Nov 04, 2023

I think a lot of people can relate to the self-doubt and insecurities of this character. It’s a cathartic experience for her, and she finds a way to confront her feelings and anxieties through her art. That makes for a satisfying ending here!

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Danie Holland
11:44 Nov 08, 2023

Nina, Thank you for reading! Self doubt and insecurity are walls indeed. I am happy our protagonist is able to climb over them. Well, she is dragged over them by her friends but all the same! Thanks so much for connecting with me this week. <3

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Tom Skye
14:25 Nov 03, 2023

A beautiful story about finding the courage to express ourselves. I expect this has parallels with your ambitions as a writer (in which you are already brilliant). Really clever build up of mystery regarding the meet up place. There were other things it could have been... She also did have a bit of a crush on Gausik. The main character was very insecure. The inner dialogue depicted this perfectly. Brilliant inspirational story. Makes you want just GO for life! Thanks for sharing.

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Danie Holland
10:49 Nov 08, 2023

Tom, you devil, You see right through me. I wasn't hiding very well though, I'll admit. Writing is such a fun place to go to town with your own demons, sometimes. Also, *blushes* did not at all realize how else that situation could have been misconstrued. I wish I could claim I did it on purpose but my mind was only on the ending and not the vehicle to get there. Yikes. She would have to have a crush on him to blindly follow him into that situation. You're right! I'm glad she learns to push through her insecurities in the end. Thanks for st...

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Malcolm Twigg
13:37 Nov 03, 2023

Charming and very insightful piece. Struck quite a few chords with me. The only reason I took up writing is because I can't paint.

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Danie Holland
10:45 Nov 08, 2023

Malcom, thank you for reading. Sorry to hear about your run in with paint. Although I dare say that Gausik would say you can! You define you're own success after all, not others. Either way, happy you ended up in the writing pond to swim around with the rest of us. Have a great week!

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Mary Bendickson
03:07 Nov 03, 2023

Such art! Thanks for liking my Run Forest Run

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Danie Holland
10:18 Nov 08, 2023

Mary, Thank you for dropping by this week!

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14:21 Dec 12, 2023

The last one was more my thing (sci-fi), but now I'm starting to wonder what my thing really is, because I love this one even more which I didn't think was possible! 😁💖💗 Ohhhh gosh I hate the drive-thru thing. How I'll be able to do it when I'm older, I don't know. I could have a mental breakdown just ordering food in a café! I love the name Camellia, and the fact that she didn't just draw any amazing drawing at the end, she drew - her. Her representation, in the flower that her name represents. Novice Night seems to be the perfect, care-...

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