Public Domain – Per the British Library
The Etienne Chevalier Books of Hours
The excess pigment pooled off Jonathan’s favorite brush as he touched it against the cup’s side. Now safe, he passed it over the manuscript page to the illumination panel. Three quick strokes blended the new lapis blue with the still wet paint of the background. Large fills were the hardest. If the paint fully set between brushstrokes, a clear line would develop between the old and new paints.
Desert heat increased the difficulty. The pigment in the cup constantly needed adjusting with additional liquid and binder. After the noon sun had burnt off the last of the night cold, the parchment absorbed water as fast as he applied it. Once, the paint had dehydrated on his brush before he could transfer it to the page.
It could drive one mad.
Which, Jonathan chuckled to himself, is exactly the opposite of the results he was hoping for.
The painting was to keep him sane between skirmishes. A mediation to take him away from the here and now. Many of his fellow brothers of arms had their own ways to escape the boredom and terror. The few who didn’t fell into a dark place where only the terror circled.
He reloaded the brush. After an inhale and exhale, he followed the outline supporting the capital letter.
Abruptly, a siren sounded.
Jonathan steadied his hand, pleased to see no paint went outside the sepia lines he had inked yesterday.
The sound dragged him away from his artistic center; the solider part of him translated the shrill noise to “incoming aircraft”. No doubt their new lieutenant will be rushing them into bomb shelters.
… And there’s the second siren for the tail tuck. Shelter time.
The feral-warrior imbedded in every man’s head since Neanderthal times snarled, until the solider which boot camp had programmed into him slugged the lizard-mind. Jonathan pushed them both aside, staring at the manuscript page until the art spoke to him again.
Reviewing the page being painted, Jonathan estimated he could take a break in six to eight minutes. He dipped his brush to continue. Really, the enemy could at least do their runs when he was on-duty. Quite rude of them to interrupt his off-duty hours.
A head topped with rustic red hair poked inside the doorway. “Private Swartz, didn’t you hear the siren? We need to get to safety.”
“On my way, sir, just cleaning my brush.” Jonathan started filling in the final area he wanted blue.
Verbally assured, the lieutenant continued his hurried walk.
Too much paint had dried on the brush, creating lumps above the portion of the brush tip. Jonathan swirled the brush in his water glass. He glanced around the abandoned adobe building he had appropriated for his recreation time. One of three buildings located in the crossroad they were guarding. Millions of feet over thousands of years had hardened the unpaved paths. And only three families though it worthwhile to live here.
Uncle Sam thought it an excellent location for an inspection station.
Wonder who has the guns today? Haven’t heard the planes yet. Flying too high, or still a ways off? Well, we all will find out who is on duty as soon as the shots are fired. Manuel and Sebastian had very different approaches.
Gently squeezing the water from the horse hair, Jonathan brought the brush to a point. He took the cap off the binder and added just a touch to the pigment cup. Quickly resealing, the artist wiped the outside of the container. The binder was sticky. Then he added a little more water to the pigment.
The brush was dipped, twisted, and compressed in the cup until the pigment amassed throughout the fibers. He brought the brush to the parchment just before the last moisture left his previous stroke. The grumbling of engines became audible.
The ground trembled as Manuel let loose the anti-aircraft. Trust Manny to wait until he could see the whites of the enemy’s eyes. Dust drifted from the ceiling of the clay structure, but Jonathan’s make-shift fly crafted from one of his blankets kept the dust from falling into the wet paint.
If Manuel was firing, the run was for real. The spic didn’t like giving away range to anyone. The guy was a miser with bullets; he only shot when in danger and if he thought he could hit. And he was even stinger with missiles.
After capping his pigments and cleansing his brush, Jonathan reached down to lift the cover he made with four small feet. He carefully positioned it over the manuscript where it would hold the parchment down without touching the paint. Satisfied he had done everything to protect his art, Jonathan ran to the shelter.
Sebastian had been watching and opened the door for a split second. Sebastian or Manuel always was by the door; if the guns fell, the backup needed to be activated.
“Painting?” Sebastian smiled.
Jonathan nodded at the needles in the doorkeeper’s hands. “Not all of us are lucky to have portable art.”
“I got extra.” Sebastian kicked his yarn basket. “I could teach you.”
“I might take you up on that tonight. Painting sucks once the sun has set now that the lieutenant insists on blackout conditions. Seriously that man needs a hobby.”
“Scared he might start crucifying mice like the last one?”
A deafening exchange of the aircraft and anti-aircraft exchanging munitions prevented a verbal response, so Jonathan nodded. Watching your superior officer make little crosses and execute rodents for treason was terrifying beyond anything else in Jonathan’s experience. And Jonathan had done some stupid-ass, shouldn’t –be-alive-now shit. Sanity was precious.
(words 940 – first published 9/3/2013; republished new blog format 6/5/2016)