Many things can inspire stories––words, pictures, and music, to name a few. This song––”Stand Still” by Mia Buckley––inspired me to write a story.
I hope you enjoy “Golden Hour,” my look at loss and letting go.
The tip of my brush dips into the paint, then hovers over the canvas propped up on my knees. The bench wood presses against my back as I close one eye and mark the painting with a golden streak.
It had been a beautiful hour––an hour I thought would lead into the rest of our lives. But life is strange that way.
Footsteps pound against the concrete. A man jogs along the park pathway, backlit by trees and a cheery blue sky. I turn back to my painting. Then I hear the wheezing. His footsteps slow, and his ragged breaths quicken. I look up.
“Sorry, can I sit here?” The redness of his face highlights the pale stubble clinging to his chin, sparse in some areas, thick in others. “I’m dying.”
“Don’t apologize for dying.” I pick up my palette to clear room on the park bench.
“Sorry,” he says again, plopping next to me. The bench rattles. He holds his head between his knees and inhales, exhales, inhales, exhales.
I balance the palette on my lap and resume. Another stroke of gold. Another spark of memory imbued in color.
The man lifts his head and unscrews the cap of his orange water bottle, then begins guzzling the liquid. Frizzy blond hair curls over his reddened, protruding ears.
“Sorry for interrupting your flow.” His voice comes out in gasps. “I know it’s hard to get into the zone or whatever.”
“You don’t need to apologize.” He’s a moment in my head I need to capture. But first, I need to capture this golden hour so I can finally let go.
“Whoa.” He lets out a low whistle as he leans over to look at my painting. A drop of sweat slides off his face onto the paint, but I don’t think he notices. “You’re, like, really good. Wait––am I supposed to look at it before you’re finished? I don’t know if there’s like an artist code––”
“There is no code.” I lift one shoulder. “I try to capture moments, hours, days. It’s simple.”
“Are you kidding?” His eyes guzzle the painting. Aaron never looked at my work like that. “This is awesome. You’re right; it’s like time froze or something. I bet you could do that with any subject you tried. Could you, like, paint me?”
“I could.” And I most certainly would if I didn’t have this one to finish. Maybe another time––if I ever see this strange man again.
“Yes!” He pumps his fist. “I mean, if you want to. Eventually. Hey, wait.” Now his expression shifts to a pronounced frown. “Why is the sky gold? Aren’t you painting”––he gestures in front of him––“you know, this?”
“In a way.” I gaze at the forest across the path. The scent of paint fills my senses. “I am painting a day that is not today.”
“Oh.” His face smooths out. His chest moves up and down in a slower, steadier rhythm now. “So you’re painting something that already happened, right?” He points at the figures, almost touching the wet paint. I stiffen. “Who are they? Is that you?”
“That one, yes.” In the painting, I’m leaning my head against Aaron’s as we sit in this very bench, staring at the golden sky. I can almost imagine that this man next to me is Aaron––or maybe I can’t. Aaron was smoothness and sophistication; this nameless man is all rough edges and honesty.
“What about the other one?” the man says. “Who’s that?”
There shouldn’t be a lump in my throat. My heart shouldn’t have skipped a beat. “He made the days beautiful.” Once. But things change.
“Oh.” He swallows hard. “Sorry if I’m bringing up a painful subject or something; I can just go now––”
“No.” Painful, yes, but it’s a good pain, a pain I need to deal with. “I am celebrating what was beautiful about our relationship.”
“Oh.” The man coughs. “Um. Is he . . . like, is he still . . . ?”
“Alive? Yes.” My lips flatten. “Very much alive.”
“But you’re not . . . together anymore.”
“He is engaged now.” The words come out with a bite. I exhale, trying to expel the bitterness. Let go.
“Oh.” The man runs his fingers through his sweat-soaked curls. “Look, I’ve bothered you long enough––”
“No, stay.” I lay my paint-stained hand on his slick arm. “I appreciate the company.” I then dip my paintbrush in pale gold and brush it across the already-golden sky. It bleeds streaks of light across the painting.
“I feel like you should at least know my name since I’ve been asking all these personal questions.” Words spill from his mouth in a rush, though he has caught his breath by now. “I’m Seth.”
“Stella,” I say. My brush flies across the canvas as I perfect the sky. I swallow hard. Yes, that was exactly how it looked.
That was a slow moment of time, but it was a good one. Usually the good ones go by too quickly, a day spanning a breath. But sometimes the slow moments crawl, and you just want them to be over, but you can’t fast forward.
“I just don’t love you anymore.”
“Look, I’m sorry.” Seth stands, shifting the weight of the bench. “You’re probably totally creeped out that a stranger is asking all these questions about your art and stuff––”
“I always appreciate interest in my work.” I set the brush down and smile up at him. “You, Seth, have made my life beautiful for these few minutes.” In a different way than Aaron had, yes, but perhaps just as potent.
His eyes widen.
I look back at the painting, my golden hour. Only the backs of our heads show as Aaron and I sit facing the trees. Maybe his smile wasn’t really as bright as I remember it being.
Standing, I gather my paints and brushes. My spirit exhales. The memory is etched into art. Now perhaps I can let go.
“Thank you,” I say. Then I start down the concrete path––to where, I don’t know, but it won’t be with Aaron hanging over me.
“Wait, don’t you want this?” Seth grabs the canvas from the bench. The sun turns the gold paint into pure light.
I do. I don’t. It’s a moment where time slowed, expanded, seemed endless.
But there will be more moments like that. I just need to keep walking the path that is placed in front of me.
I shake my head. “It’s for anyone who wants it.”
“But it’s special to you.”
“I did not make this to keep it.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
It has served its purpose. Now perhaps it can give someone joy instead of pain. I cock my head at him. “Would you like it?”
“I––” His mouth opens, then closes. Then his head bobs, swift and jerky.
I leave the painting in Seth’s arms. The sun shoots a ray of gold across the sky.
What about you? Can you come up with a story, five sentences or less, based on this prompt (in this case, a song)? Leave it in the comments.