Somewhere His Brushstrokes Strike by Caleb Andrew Ward

I hadn’t read the document all the way through. I only knew, at the time, that his name was Jerry, he was five-foot-two, owned a BluRay player and fifty related discs, had his own furniture, and loved the band Jack’s Mannequin. These were all acceptable factors, although to be honest I could have done without the Jack’s Mannequin part. He applied via my Craigslist ad and had been the only seemingly normal one to do so.

When Jerry appeared at my stoop he was wearing a thick brown jacket; Wisconsin in October already screams long sleeves. He seemed normal enough from his overall demeanor, and without hesitation I shook his hand, thanked him for coming by, and asked him when he could move in. In three days, my I had a new tenant residing with me. We worked at very different times: I was still tending bar and would sleep most days, often I would be waking up for work just as Jerry headed for bed. He worked part-time at a grocery store down the street. I would occasionally pop in and say hello as I snagged a few snacks and such for the apartment. Things were moving smoothly until we found ourselves at home together for the same duration, for the first time.

Our conversation began normal: talk of women we'd had and should have had and why we didn’t have them now. Finding out about Jerry’s hobbies felt like extracting a confession from the Clinton administration. He said he grew up in a small home and I found that he took to painting quite a bit. I asked him why I had never seen any of his paintings and he said he wasn’t supposed to show them. “Painting is the epicenter of the creative eye and it is only with that eye that we can see just how dark or bright the human soul is,” was what he left me with before I headed for work. The hell did that mean? I needed to see the paintings, that would be my answer.

Being unable to see what Jerry had been working on began to prod at me. Like being teased as a child, my only goal became, to see his paintings. The locks on our room doors were completely different and the first time I attempted to break in I noticed Jerry had put more than a few locks on the inside of his. What had he been hiding? It wasn’t going to be easy to break in, but I had a mission and I knew I would achieve it.

It wasn’t easy at first, but learning where each lock was, and how to unlock then re-lock them back before Jerry got home, became easier and easier. I had saved up quite a few sick days from work so I used them to get the intel I needed for Jerry’s locks. He had four. It took two days for the first two; a simple Schlage and an American Lock. A week after cracking the first locks I finally opened what Google told me were unbreakable locks made by Keye & Toole. The moment I popped the last, I felt euphoria rush to my stomach. I was overwhelmed by the ability to finally see into Jerry’s soul, and see if it was either bright or dark.

When the door at long last creaked open, a sullenness overcame me: the room was relatively bare, save a bed and small desk, and yet in the middle of the room, shrouded by a beige cloth was a singular canvas. I wasn't able to see what was underneath, so I walked slowly, so as to not disturb any booby traps my paranoid mind was certain Jerry had placed around this masterpiece. I surveyed the placement of the cover so that I might be able to identically replace it when my work was done. The canvas was light and my blood rushed swiftly through my veins as it fell to the floor only to find the canvas considerably naked. No Rembrandt or Dali, no Marc or Kandinsky was being protected in Jerry’s mind, but an almost totally blank canvas and a black painted smear of a smiley face in the middle. Just a simple face, now seeming to mock me for my attempt at true spiritual satisfaction. The face in eternal giddiness reminding those who see it, “Everything is A-O.K., buckaroo!”

Caleb Andrew Ward is the genre-bender editor of Treehouse Magazine who currently resides in Wilmington where he is working on his undergrad at UNCW.