A Picture Worth 500 Words

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A Burned Woman
Dianne McKnight

So this guy Bates who lives upstairs comes to my door last night about 11:00 and says we should have a yard sale and stretches out his arms and grins big like it’s an inspired idea. Right now, he says, come on, and he tells me he’s got some beer.

Okay I guess, I say, thinking I’ve got some good stuff and I could use the money.

Bates says we should set up out next to the street so we can use the fence for display. Presentation is everything, he says. I agree. He’s pretty smart.

I don’t have a lot to sell, only a couple of big ticket items: an electronic typewriter my boyfriend left behind and never came back for (even though it works great) and a real painting. It’s a painting of a woman who looks like she’s sitting at a meeting somewhere, but she’s naked. The painting was here when we moved in. Her skin looks funny; it’s all orange and yellow blotches, even her face. In a way it looks like she’s got a really bad tan. Like maybe she used quick tanning stuff that streaked. But sometimes the painting reminds me of my Uncle Perry after he got burned in a propane explosion. He lit a cigarette at the wrong time.

I know the painting’s not supposed to look like that. I mean I know the artist wasn’t trying to paint a burned woman but sometimes that’s the way I see it, like one of those now you see it, now you don’t type things. It’s just that lately I’ve been seeing it a lot.

So we’re sitting there and James, a classical guitarist from across the hall, comes out to play. I’ve seen him around but we’ve never been introduced. He plays concerts for real though they say, and Bates got him to be the entertainment for tonight.

He plays these songs that I hear him practicing all the time. Really all the time. That’s about all he does, I think. But it’s nice. Even up close they sound gentle. James calls his guitar “her” and “she” and he’s so careful with her I have to hold my breath sometimes. Bates goes to sleep right on the ground.

The music alone would be worth coming for, but the funny thing is we’re there for hours and nobody comes, not even one car drives by. I hug my knees and listen and look at the painting. I remember after a while the skin on Uncle Perry’s face was like brand new, pink and smooth, and he looked great even though his ears were gone.

This morning Bates scratches like a dog who slept under the porch. He stands up and shakes and says he’s going to bed. I ask him if he wants his stuff and he says shit no.

So I’m leaving it all here. Maybe somebody else can use the painting. It’s not just on paper. It’s on canvas, I mean.

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