This is Part 9 of our fictional Lockdown Short Story series. The next instalment of our weekend Solo Lockdown Short Stories will be published tomorrow (Sunday) with the final two instalments following next weekend – Saturday and Sunday the 30th and 31st of May 2020.
Rowan had never sold a house before, had never had to deal with moving by himself either. A year ago today, when his house first went on the market, it had seemed like a thrill. Now, surrounded by unpacked boxes, reality was finally dawning on him.
The bathroom badly needed TLC, but plumbers were unavailable. The hallway needed new carpet, but decorators were shut. The bedroom badly needed a new coat of paint, but there was nowhere to buy it. He had bought a house intending to fix it up to his liking; but now, weeks into lockdown, he was stuck with it as it was.
And really, when the house was a disaster, he didn’t feel much like unpacking.
Scowling at the tower of boxes in his living room, Rowan couldn’t even remember what was inside them. In hindsight, he should have labelled them better. He ran a hand through his short blond hair, a huff escaping parted lips. “I should just do it,” he muttered to himself, “putting it off won’t help.” It wasn’t like he had anything better to do; nowhere to go, despite the whole city being new to him. He was lucky he timed the move when he did, or it wouldn’t have been an option at all.
The biggest box, one even he had struggled to carry from the car, sat sadly in the corner of his living room. He remembered tucking it away there intentionally, unwilling to commit to finding a place for so much stuff, but with a heaving sigh, Rowan decided why the hell not? It was about time he stopped procrastinating. Settling down beside it, he got started.
Books. That was the first thing that caught his eye; old books he was unlikely to ever reread, given they had sat on his bookshelf for years. Why hadn’t he thrown out all the stuff he had no need for? Instead he had thrown it all in boxes, mixing it up with the actual useful stuff. Quietly cursing his past self, Rowan set the handful of books aside.
Next came an old camera, the heavy kind with a real shutter and a strap for hanging around your neck. Flipping it, he pressed the on button – nothing. It was confirmed then; this was the dreaded junk box. Brows crinkling, he set it aside – gently, despite the fact it was useless anyway.
The box was endless, and every time Rowan thought he made headway, instead there was just more stuff. Old hobbies he never stuck with, items that probably would have been worth a lot if he had only taken better care of them. A battered stamp collection from when he was fifteen, old photos of his first horse riding lesson, old vinyl without anything to play them on.
And there, right at the bottom of the endless box, was something that made his stomach skip. Canvasses. Rough, white canvasses crammed underneath a folded up easel, the wood dulled with age. Complete with his old brushes, their surface stained. When he gently lifted the topmost easel – unused, still wrapped – he saw there was even a collection of acrylic paints and old watercolours tucked at the very bottom.
Rowan hadn’t painted in years. Back in college, it had been his lifeline; every wall in his student accommodation had been filled to the brim with art. That had been over ten years ago, although it felt like a lifetime.
Unopened and untouched, he could probably sell the art supplies for a decent price after lockdown was over. Yet as he looked over the supplies, Rowan already knew he couldn’t part with them. They had been a huge part of his younger years, and Rowan couldn’t even remember why he had stopped. Wasn’t now the best time of all to revive old hobbies?
There was a spare room upstairs, intended to be an office, that he could turn into an art room. Setting the canvasses back inside the box, using all the care he could muster, Rowan silently vowed to at least try to paint something. Sometime.
The cramped little office wasn’t much – plain terracotta walls and hardwood floor – but once Rowan set up his easel and shoved a table and armchair into the remaining space, it almost passed as an acceptable art room. If nothing else it was quiet, and the wide window opened up to a gorgeous view of the street and garden below.
Rowan hadn’t felt truly relaxed in months. The stress of the move had him losing sleep long before he had even sold his old home, and now he was stuck in lockdown in an unfamiliar city miles away from everyone he knew. Yet as he stared at the – currently still blank – canvas, a feeling of calm washed over him. Smiling, Rowan pulled up a stool.
His hands worked on autopilot; muscle memory taking over. He squeezed out a drop of amber coloured paint from the set of acrylics, absently wondering how they were in such good condition after sitting for so long. He lifted a second paint tube, then a third, a fourth, until his little white pallet was drowned in an array of colour.
Without even thinking, Rowan started painting. Back in the day he never would have started without having at least an idea of what he wanted – a mental image of the finished piece, a colour scheme, even a theme. He would never have dived in with acrylics without a sketch either. Yet this time, his hands skimmed across the rough surface of the canvas as if of their own accord.
The pleasant afternoon sun, streaming through the open window, slowly faded as it dipped lower over the horizon. The breeze turned cool, fluttering the thin curtains as the hours ticked on. Eventually the sun disappeared entirely, hidden behind the dark silhouettes of neighbouring houses, and rain began to patter outside.
Rowan’s hands ached. His eyes hurt from squinting. But as he stepped back to admire his work, the aches and pains shifted to the back of his mind.
The painting in front of him was far from his best work, but there was something about it that left Rowan breathless. The damp acrylic was glossy, delicate in a way such thick paint had no right to be. The gentle swirl of cheerful colours brightened the entire room, made everything look less dreary. The painting itself was simple, but the colours brought it to life. More abstract than his usual style, the subject was still clear.
His old home, painted in soft warm tones, the sky overhead a beautiful shade of amber, like the setting sun.
It was no comparison to the real thing of course, but as Rowan let his gaze rove across the canvas, it brought a smile to his face. Was it childish, to miss his old home when he had chosen to move? Maybe, but as Rowan gently pried the canvas from its easel, he couldn’t help the rush of nostalgia that settled in his gut.
Setting it down on the coffee table to dry, he cast a look toward the corner of the room. Several other canvasses lay there, neatly stacked side by side. There were so many left, and it wasn’t too late to start a new piece. Maybe he could take his time this time, make something really memorable.
No. He had only rediscovered them today – and with lockdown, it wasn’t as if he could run to a craft store for more. If he really was going to be an artist again, he had to make his supplies last.
An artist. When was the last time Rowan had considered himself anything close to that? The thought made his grin broaden, his heart skip. Honestly, he hadn’t realised just how much he had missed this until now.
Eyes flickering to the window, Rowan realised for the first time just how dark it was. Without the sun, the room was quickly becoming dim and grey. Had he really spent the entire day painting? A glance down at his watch confirmed so; it was already after nine o’clock. His chest fluttered again, smile tugging at the corner of his lips.
It wasn’t as if everything was fixed. He was still in lockdown, stuck in an unfamiliar house in an even more unfamiliar city. Yet he found it difficult to care. Maybe all of it – the move, the lockdown, the stress – was the world’s way of helping him relight his old obsessions. Or maybe it was just a lucky coincidence. Regardless, Rowan wanted to think that his struggles had led him to the point for a reason, and that perhaps lockdown could be used for something good. Grinning, Rowan cast one last look back at his easel before slipping into the hall. Yeah, he thought, despite it all, something good really has come from this lockdown.