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The Rush arena parking lot was empty. I expected that given I was two hours early for the unveiling of the painting I’d been commissioned to create. I hadn’t seen Elo since that night two weeks ago. He hadn’t come to see me, or contact me, and Beth said he’d left her alone as well. Somehow whatever happened that night was enough for him to sever all contact.
That is what I’d wanted.
So why did it hurt so bad?
And now I was here, right where I didn’t want to be, because I had something to say. Not to Elo, I would keep my side of the bargain and not even look at him.
No this was a statement for my dad. When Layton Foxx had contacted me asking for a series of paintings to hang on the wall of the Railers arena, he’d added that he wanted one for the Rush as well, a connection, a link between the places. It was a trial run and I knew it, even though Layton had praised the work of mine he’d seen, I doubted dear old dad wanted anything of mine in his space.
It was the easiest painting to create. Everything on the canvas was me. The things in my heart, my head, the feelings I had of being trapped with no way out, it was all on the painting. I hadn’t been given a theme, I think if I’m honest with myself the expectation was hockey.
Players. The game. The history. Yeah, hockey.
What I’d painted was very loosely connected to hockey. Like if you said that playing hockey and walking on the moon were related in any way.
I carefully unwrapped the canvas, leaning it against the wall where it would eventually hang, and stepped back to consider positioning. Celia, the general go-to for all things maintenance in this arena stood next to me, staring at the same wall.
“You want to tell me where?” she asked, after some more staring.
In answer I took another step backward and looked at the light. Normally I’d take way more time to analyze position, but this had been a fast turnaround, press had been invited, and that had been my deadline. This was only my second really good look at the damn wall.
I took a pen from her hand and made a mark on the cream wall next to the Rush trophy case.
“There,” I said, and let her get on with putting up the complicated framework that would have taken me way longer than her ten minutes. She hung the painting and I fussed with it for a few seconds and still she said nothing about the image itself. Probably wondering why the hell there wasn’t the image of a hockey player on the ice, being that this was a hockey arena.
Finally, she covered it with a rectangle of fabric, and not a moment too soon, as people began to arrive. A couple of local journalists, and the team wandering in singles and groups. I didn’t see Elo, but Taz caught my gaze and raised his eyebrows, a million questions in his eyes. Last to arrive was Henry McAllister, all blustering self-importance, calling the already quiet crowd of people to order, and then launching into a speech about connections, the Railers, hockey, history, and the value of family.
I think that last bit was meant for me, and he even smiled at me. Not that it was a smile that actually reached his eyes.
Then it was time for the reveal, and I pulled the fabric off, standing to one side of the painting and looking directly at dad.
I saw the moment his fake smile faded, and his face began to go scarlet.
“Can you tell us a bit about your inspiration?” one of the journalists asked.
“It certainly wasn’t hockey,” one of the players said under their breath, and those near him chuckled.
Dad was now kind of purple, and I swear if there weren’t journalists here the painting would be on the floor.
I turned sideways to the painting and gestured at it as I spoke.
“Hockey to many is freedom, the ability to lose yourself in skating, just you and the ice. Hockey is a foundation for opportunities. Then, as we move up the painting, you will see the ghostly image of a skater in the swirling mist of an early morning.” I felt the entire crowd lean forward a little, like maybe they could see the skater if they looked hard enough. I heard some murmurs. There wasn’t an actual real skater there, just a few colors that to me indicated the speed and beauty of skating, but they would probably believe what I told them. “Then you can see the clearer image of the hands, breaking free of chains, from the mundane, from promises, from all the things that hold you back, and finally the rainbow, which is a promise for a better tomorrow.”
There was a pause, then a few people clapped, which led to everyone clapping. The only discernable image was the word I’d mixed in with the rainbow and the hands breaking free, ‘For Love’.
I skimmed the crowd, saw Elo at the back, right behind Taz, his hands crossed over his chest, and he was wide eyed.
I hoped that every time he walked past this painting he saw that one day I could be free, and then we’d be together.
The journalists left, taking photos, talking about a wonderful installation of art that would mean so much to children who visited the rink, alongside the initiatives for diversity in sport. They praised my dad for his forward thinking commission, but he remained tightlipped.
Finally it was me and a couple of players, and when they went I knew I had to face my dad.
“My office now,” he ordered.
I glanced up at the painting. I’m doing what he wants, what he’s blackmailed me into. But did that mean I needed to talk to him?
I turned to face him, shoulders back, pulling inspiration from the meaning behind the painting.
And then I left the arena, and despite everything, I felt just that little bit lighter.
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