The story behind brown paint

muddy brown

Over the past few months in response to flash fiction challenges set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch, I have been writing snippets from the life a character, Marnie, whose story is beginning to emerge as I respond to the prompts.

A couple of recent prompts had me writing about a particular situation which involved mixing paints in an art class.  While all flash fiction stories relevant to Marnie’s story can be found on her own page, the two specific to this post can be read here and here (scroll to the bottom of each post for the flash fiction).

I was appreciative of the comments on both posts, with those specific to Marnie’s story encouraging me to reflect and think more deeply about the art class situation in relation to both Marnie and the teacher. While I am still mulling over the appropriate response the teacher may make, I thought I would write a longer piece to explore one possibility from Marnie’s point of view. This episode also relates to other flash fiction pieces, but hopefully the longer episode will be strong enough to stand on its own.

Art class

Marnie looked at the paints. The bright colours reminded her of a rainbow, and her unicorn. Her gaze dropped. She needed her unicorn now, but it was up in the office, drying out on Mrs Tomkin’s desk.

“It will be here waiting for you at home time,” Mrs Tomkin had said, smiling. “Okay?”

Marnie nodded, reluctantly, knowing there was no other choice. At least there was only the afternoon session left, and that was art with lovely Miss R.

Miss R. always wore beautiful dresses with colourful patterns. She had long wavy red hair, the colour of Marnie’s and her nails were always painted brightly, sometimes decorated with stars, sometimes with hearts, and sometimes with other patterns. She smelled of paint, and chalk and crayon and other scents Marnie found delightful. She noticed everything about Miss R.; because Miss R. noticed her. Miss R. always had a kind word to say:

“I like the way you used this shade of blue for the sky. I can see a storm is brewing.”

“Tell me about this picture. What’s it all about?”

“I can see you worked hard to get that looking just right.”

Marnie liked it best when she said, as she often did, “I like your choice of colour, Marnie. Your pictures are always bright. They make me happy when I look at them.”

But not today.

Miss R. stopped and looked at Marnie’s work. Her paper was covered in paint the colour of brown mud.  Marnie felt Miss R.’s eyes on her work, then on her. She didn’t look up. She didn’t want Miss R. to see the tears that were threatening to fall, that would fall whatever was said. Her lip quivered.

Miss R. moved on.

“I am not crying. I am not, not, not . . .” but it took all her strength when her insides felt as muddy as the paint on her paper. She felt like mud. Maybe she should look like mud too. She smeared her paint-covered hands on her shirt, and wiped the strand of hair away from her eyes. She wanted to tell Miss R. She wanted to tell her about Bruce and what he had done. But she dare not. Bruce had threatened her and she knew he meant it.

Bruce had tripped her at lunch time and she’d fallen into the puddle. The mud had covered her from head to toe. She’d tried to hold her unicorn high; tried to keep it out of the mud. But it had fallen as she hit the ground. It was all muddy too. Everyone had laughed. Everyone except Jasmine, that is. Jasmine had taken her to Mrs. Tomkin, who had helped her clean herself up and gave her some clean clothes to wear. Mrs Tomkin had said she’d call her Mum, so that was another problem looming. At least things would be okay in art with Miss R.

But not today.

Bruce had pulled faces at her and made threatening arm movements as they lined up. He made fun of the oversized shirt Mrs Tomkins had found for her. Everyone was sniggering at it; at her.

Marnie looked straight ahead, trying to ignore the stares. “I am not crying!”

Then Miss R. was there and she suddenly felt protected, like everything was going to be alright; for a little while at least.

But not today. Today was a bad day, a very bad day. It had been bad in the beginning, and it was going to be bad at the end too. Nothing she could do.

Miss R. handed out the papers and paints. Everyone had their own brush but a small pot of water was shared by four.

Marnie couldn’t wait to get started. She knew what she was going to paint: a rainbow and a unicorn! Maybe a tree and some green grass, with some flowers. She couldn’t have her own unicorn but she could paint it. Miss R. would like her bright happy colours, and her pleasure would make her feel better, for a little while at least.

But not today.

While Marnie was contemplating which colours to mix for her unicorn’s mane, Brucie reached over and snatched Marnie’s brush. With one flourish he had dragged the brush through the middle of each of her colours leaving a dirty brown trail. Marnie had opened her mouth to speak, but Bruce silenced her with a threatening motion of a finger across his neck, as it to slit it open. He stashed her brush on the shelf out of reach, and turned back to his paper, innocent-like. Marnie’s eyes searched for Miss R.’s hoping she had seen and would come to her rescue. But Miss R. was talking to Jasmine and some others at the front, and didn’t see.

Marnie looked at her palette. “I am not crying,” she thought as she tried to still her quivering lip and stop the tears that would give Brucie so much pleasure.

She looked at him and poked her tongue. He held up a fist.

Marnie rubbed first one hand, and then the other into the coolness of the paint, blending all the colours. It felt soothing somehow, the way her hands slid easily through the paints. She watched each colour disappear into the muddy brown she was creating, wishing she too could slide away and disappear where no one would notice her anymore; where no one would taunt or bully or harm. If they couldn’t see her, if she was invisible, maybe she’d be safe.

She looked at her palms – covered in brown, just like the mud that had covered them earlier. She smeared the paint on her paper, covering it from edge to edge so nothing of it remained. She wiped what was left on her shirt. What did it matter? She couldn’t be in more trouble than she already was. They were already going to kill her. Sometimes she wished they would. Sometimes she wished she’d never been born. Sometimes . . .

Miss R. stood beside her desk. Marnie could hear her breathing; could still smell her marvellous scents above that of the muddy brown paint that was now her camouflage. She longed for Miss R. to paint her life away, to ask her about her work and what it meant. But she willed her not; and it must have worked because she walked away. How could she tell her? Her life was as muddy as the paint and she could see no way out.

Thank you

 

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. I’d love to know what you think of this as a possibility of Marnie’s thinking.

 

 

 

 

27 thoughts on “The story behind brown paint

  1. Pingback: Can you imagine a world without The Arts? | Norah Colvin

  2. Sarah Brentyn

    I love this: “She noticed everything about Miss R.; because Miss R. noticed her.” Beautiful.

    Why did the teacher walk away when she saw the brown paint? I like seeing more of Marnie’s story. Not that I want to see more deeply into her abuse and unhappiness… “She felt like mud.” 😦 Why not look that way, too? It’s such an interesting story and Marnie is a complex, interesting character (grown-up and little Marnie both). Thanks for sharing more of this story.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your feedback, Sarah. I’m pleased that you find Marnie to be a complex and interesting character. What started out as one or two off-the-cuff flash fiction responses is becoming an exploration of character – deeper than I have done before; so I am pleased to think that I am able to create the impression of a 3D character. The teacher is contemplating how best to respond to Marnie as she realizes that something has upset her. She will probably talk privately with her after class to not cause any further distress or give the classmates something to “gawk” at.
      Thank your for encouraging me to delve further into Marnie’s story. I was becoming concerned that I may have been returning to it too often. 🙂

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      1. Sarah Brentyn

        No, I personally don’t think you’re returning to this story too often. As a matter of fact, I think you could do more with it. Like I said, it’s hard to read (sad) but is worth writing more about…if that’s something you want to do.

        Got it. I wasn’t clear on why the teacher walked away (was she upset, disappointed?) but, yes, it makes sense that she wouldn’t want to draw even more attention to an already bad situation.

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        1. Norah Post author

          Thank you, Sarah. I appreciate your encouragement. I’m thinking about writing more, with or without Charli’s prompts. My ‘to be written’ list is so long though, I’m not sure when I will get to it! 🙂

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  3. Sacha Black

    I know your passion is teaching. But my god you can write Norah. I was right there with Marnie. I felt her pain, the anguish of trying to save the unicorn and failing, it adding and mounting on top of the pain of being bullied. You capture her innocence, and her thoughts so wonderfully. She provokes pain in me wanting to protect her. Norah, you simply must continue this story. I love that her teacher is her sanctuary. I hope she can help her. 💜

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Sacha. I really appreciate your comment. I’m so pleased you were able to feel what Marnie was feeling. I did while I was writing it, but I wasn’t sure how a reader may respond. The teacher will definitely be able to help her. Just how, or how much, I don’t know yet.
      Thank you so much for your encouragement.

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        1. Norah Post author

          Thank you so much, Sacha. I appreciate your enthusiasm. I have taught some children with traits similar to those of Marnie. She is a bit of a conglomerate; bits of children I have taught, others I’ve been told about, others I’ve seen around, or heard about in the news. I guess drawn from my varied experiences. 🙂

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  4. TanGental

    She felt like mud. That captures the moment the story really turns in on itself. What is interesting is Bruce and his quisling audience. He appears to be the incarnation of evil but why? Marine is clearly vulnerable, an easy target but what drives him to attack? And why did Miss R walk away? Disappointed? Is she so superficial. And why did the head keep the unicorn? So many questions. Youve given us great depth with Marnie, you’ve let us know here and elsewhere that Jasmine has character too. Now I want to know about the others. Keep writing…

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Geoff. Your comment is very encouraging. I like that you show curiosity about the characters. It makes me feel as if there is some truth to them. I’ve had to dig deep to find what their stories may be. I haven’t done a lot of fiction writing (or reading) for quite some time, so am a bit out of practice.
      I like that you are wondering about Brucie’s motivations, and Miss R’s seeming lack of response as well. I’m thinking that Brucie may have a lot in common with Marnie and may see his vulnerability reflected in her. He hides his with his attacks and aggression. I think Miss R is contemplating how to respond to Marnie and may leave it until after class when she can speak privately with Marnie and not cause any escalation of whatever the problem may be (as yet she is not sure). Mrs Tomkins, the school administrator (secretary) washed the muddy unicorn and kept it on her desk to dry.
      There is a lot more to all their stories than I yet know, but I’ll certainly think about them, and see where it takes me. Thanks for your encouragement.

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  5. Marigold

    Very, very sad. I want to help Marnie!
    I liked how the story showed the inner turmoil, how Marnie was dwelling on things and how that swirled around with her descriptions of the different times. We went from the art class back to lunch to Mrs Tomkin to art class and lunch again… very evocative.

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  6. Bec

    Very moving, Nor, this is just as deep and touching as was the story about Marnie being pushed into the puddle. For some reason it’s the thought about her feeling sad about her unicorn that really gets to me. I find it hard to accept that a person like Brucie exists. How could someone be so mean and so repeatedly? I suppose I’m lucky that I wonder that, and I feel for our friend Marnie. I agree with Anne – education and fiction – I think you can do both!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your support and encouragement, Bec. It’s nice that you and Anne have that confidence in me. Do you think Marnie is too worried about her unicorn? and is Brucie too mean? I’ve been thinking about what makes him mean, and especially mean to Marnie. I’m thinking he and Marnie probably have a lot in common and that the vulnerability he sees and targets in her, is probably what he sees in himself but hides behind the wall of aggression. What do you think? There are many different facets to the stories and the ways they are linked, I’m not certain if I’ll be able to find all the answers. Also, I think I’d rather write a positive story, and this one has taken me some distance away from that. We’ll see. 🙂

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  7. Annecdotist

    Exciting to see the different threads of Marnie’s story linking up. Very telling that she couldn’t share with the teacher what Bruce had done. How alone she must have felt.
    Yet I was reading it a little differently in the first half. I thought Marnie had done the brown smudges herself because she wanted the teacher to see her unhappy side, instead of always having to be bright and colourful, even finding that an effort. Then the disappointment that the teacher couldn’t bear to see her unhappiness.
    Either way, we’ll soon tempt you away from education and into writing fiction! (I do know you can do both.)

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Anne. I really appreciate your appraisal. I was wondering what the therapist would make of it. Do you think the first half was misleading, or out of character?
      The teacher is definitely disappointed to see what Marnie has done, but she hasn’t retreated, just contemplating how best to approach it with Marnie to be respectful both of her feelings and privacy. She realizes that these would be jeopardized by discussing it openly in front of classmates. I think she will probably talk with Marnie after class.
      Thank you for your vote of confidence and encouragement to write fiction. That was probably my first writing desire, but it has been temporarily displaced by educational interests. I’m not sure that I have the persistence or understanding required for developing the depth of characterization needed for a novel, but might try my hand at short stories again – sometime in the future; or maybe another life? 🙂

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  8. Charli Mills

    Marnie has emerged with such clarity. The inner struggle and the despair over her muddy life is so loud, yet on the outside she is silent and suffering. You’ve captured her story and the complexities of being bullied at home and at school while longing for the calm she feels with Miss R. Great use of scents, too. Fabulous story!

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