Flash Fiction: Art Show at the Swim Meet

Welcome to the Spot Writers. The prompt for this month is to write about a mishap involving paint. Today’s tale comes to us from Val Muller, author of the kidlit mystery series Corgi Capers.

Art Show at the Swim Meet

By Val Muller


Why would they leave out the senior art show during the state championship swim meet for ten-and-unders? Why?

Why, why, why?

Alice bit her lip. No one had seen. Her body acted without her brain’s permission, and before long she had shifted the large wall panels so that the ruined artwork faced the back wall. No one would know.

Not yet, anyway.

What the heck was she thinking, bringing the three-year-old to a swim meet? Not only that, but letting her sit alone while Alice went up to the balcony to watch Conner race!

The artists would be mad, for sure. They would be livid. Their work had been defiled. Desecrated. Their hard work disregarded and ruined by a careless toddler.

No one would understand, though, if they’d not been to a swim meet. The private swim clubs held meets at local high schools and colleges with pools to rent out. The events were like refugee camps, with swimmers’ families spreading out blankets, towels, and portable chairs in the cafeteria or hallway. They would camp out, and the rounders would come gather the swimmers. Then, parents would make their way into the humid pool area, elbow their way into the overcrowded bleachers to watch the brief race, then fight their way off the bleacher to return to their campsite and wait for the next race, only to do it all over again.

And while a meet would last for hours, free time happened only in small chunks. By the time the swimmers made their way back from the pool, there was only a matter of twenty minutes or so before they had to line up to get on to their next race.

Conner was old enough to deal with this. Alice helped him pack easy-to-eat snacks and small bits of entertainment like books or sketch pads that could fill in the random minutes. And besides, for the swimmer, just sitting and relaxing was a nice break between races.

But for Conner’s three-year-old sister, it was a very different story.

For a three-year-old, a half day’s swim meet was an eternity. Alice realized long ago that dragging Sally up to the bleachers was not a good idea. The crowded quarters and humid air made her cranky, and Alice spent most of the time calming the child instead of watching the swimmers. So, this time she let Sally pack a bag of art supplies to keep her busy. The first two races had gone swimmingly, and Alice created several masterpieces in her sketchpad, washable markers and colored pencils covering the pages in rainbow colors.

But after the second race, Sally was hungry, and she didn’t want to wait. Conner had a 90-minute break between his third race and his last one, and Alice promised to get something to eat from the food truck outside—but Sally had to wait until after the third race.

Sally did not want to do that.

But Alice promised her ice cream and hurried to Conner’s third race.

Fast forward to her return, discovering that Sally had wandered from the blanket and picnic chair setup and found the high school’s senior art show panels pushed into the back corner, a useless “caution” tape pulled across them.

As if caution tape could keep out a toddler.

Unbeknownst to Alice, Sally had packed her paints in the art bag she’d brought, and while Alice was watching Conner’s third race, Sally had gone ahead and added some finishing touches to an entire wall of senior art.

There was “Scarecrow at Dusk,” a beautiful gouche, which Sally decided needed some giant red sunflowers and a smile drawn across the rising moon.

The watercolor “Portrait of Strength” depicted a naked woman, which Alice clearly thought needed to be covered in a cursory blue and yellow bikini in thick, dripping paint.

And “Spaghetti Lunch” was painted over in a rainbow, turning the lunch into something nightmarish and gaudy.

There were others. Seven of them. Ten pieces, Sally had ruined. Sure, the paint was washable, but you couldn’t wash paint off paper, not without ruining the artwork underneath.

Mindlessly, Alice bought an ice cream from the truck outside to keep the toddler distracted. Then she sat down at her own little campsite in the cafeteria and pondered the possibilities. She could just go home. No one would be the wiser. Well, that’s not true. In the morning, the discovery would be made, and angry high school students and teachers would call the swim team, demanding answers. There would be a witch hunt, and someone would remember seeing a three-year-old painting.

Anyone who saw Sally remembered her. She was like an angry rainbow. The crime would be traced back to Alice within days, if not hours. That would never do.

She could come clean now. Tell the director what happened. That would cause a panic, but at least they would be on the front end of it.

She snuck to the back corner and ducked under the caution tape, taking one more look. The rainbow mess had gotten on the name cards, too. This particular painting, “Magic Flakes” by Jonny Rhoades, had been a study in shades of white, but the snowy scene was turned an angry palate of red and orange and yellow. Underneath the title was the word “oil” and then “$45.”

Forty-five dollars?

Wait, were these paintings for sale? Alice could buy them!

All of them?

All of them!

That’s right, she could take them with her, pin a note to the board, leave her contact information for payment…

She did the math. All the ruined paintings, all ten of them, sold for a grand total of $575. Worth it?

A small price to pay to avoid the embarrassment to the team and her own personal embarrassment, of course. She took a piece of Sally’s sketch paper and penned a note. “I was so inspired,” she wrote, “I just had to purchase all of these. Please contact me for payment.” Then she left her contact info.

She unpinned all ten pieces, stored them flat in Sally’s art bag, which she packed up to prevent any further impromptu artwork. She wondered if the students would be excited in the morning to learn their work had sold. Maybe this was their first sale. Maybe this would inspire them to keep going.

A steep price to pay for encouragement, but all in all, the mistake could have been much costlier than that.

The rounder called Conner to his last race, and Alice grabbed Sally’s hand, a sticky mess from the ice cream, and dragged her up to the bleachers overlooking the pool. Watching the race would be a battle with Sally fighting every step of the way, but it was one Alice would win. $575 was enough mistakes for one day.

The Spot Writers—Our Members: 

Val Muller: http://valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com

Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.com/


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