tea, two houses, and mixing watercolors

This is part of a series of Instagram essays, or instaessays; writing exercises where the images are informed or subverted by accompanying long-form captions. Follow me to see more @decleyreandco

watercolor and tea

I could see him from my desk in the corner, small fingers and a nose pressed against the glass, searching for signs of life. The boy from the apartment beside ours had recently taken a liking to creeping in the porch doorway we left ajar, for fresh air. Each time he did it, he became more adventurous, until his head was in the apartment. I threw a pen at the door, it thwacked the glass, and he jumped. Moments later, I caught his shaggy blonde hair bobbing in the doorway yet again.

I invited him in. He sat on the settee that’s too small for us; it engulfed him. I asked if he wanted water, and he nodded. I asked if he wanted to read. He looked at the sandy carpet and said, “I don’t read very well.” “Here,” I handed him an issue of AFAR, “this is a travel magazine with nice pictures.”

I went back to work. “You sit on a bouncy ball at your desk?” He asked. “It’s more fun,” I said. “You don’t work?” “I’m working now. I work from home.” “My dad rides his bike to work.” “Is he there now?” The kid nodded. I let him play with the other exercise ball, but I drew the line at standing on the bed.

“You have paintbrushes,” he said. “Do you like to paint?” I asked. He nodded. “Do you have any paints?” “Yeah, but at my other house. I have two houses.” “That’s what I had when I wad a kid. Two houses. Mom’s house and Dad’s house.” “Really?” “Yes.” We looked at each other. “Does your Mom live far?” “She lives near my cousins, and my Dad lives next door to you.”

I set him up on the porch with the pocket-sized box of watercolors, despite his protesting that he preferred to paint inside, using the settee as his easel. He picked out a thick round brush, dipped it in the glass of drinking water I had given him.

He said he liked water and tea. “Me too. What kind of tea?” He shrugged. “Black tea?” “I don’t know.” And after a few moments, “can I try some tea?” And, “is it a black color when you drink it?”

I returned with a small clear mug so he could see the tea steeping, turning the hot water sepia and then brown. “Do you ever mix the colors?” He asked. He’d pushed the brush indiscriminately into each neatly arranged cube of color, a habit I can’t stand. The yellows now held a film of green. I showed him how to mix them in the tiny palette lid, and went back inside to work.

“I don’t like the tea. Can I please have milk and sugar?” Before I could oblige, his brother came out to say “we’re going to Lovejoy.” He said it half a dozen times, but the kid kept painting.

When they finally left, I scraped the top layer of mismatched colors from the paint cubes, changed the water, and arranged it beside the porch door, as if he’d never left.

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