One day in winter Amaury Prado was walking home from the library in the San Francisco Mission District when he saw an easel that somebody had thrown out with some other junk on the sidewalk. It was standing on its three legs as though it was just waiting for an artist to come along. Amaury was twelve years old and he had never thought of himself as an artist before. But he picked up the easel and walked home with it over his shoulder, believing that he was on his way to a great career in art.
Amaury brought it home and put it in the garage. He could not wait until he could take it out and set it up and paint different places in his neighborhood. It was a cold and gray winter and he figured he would wait until spring. He would set it up in front of his house and he would paint the people and houses on his street. He thought of how happy and proud the people would be when they saw him painting them. They would say hello to him, just enough so as to not interrupt him. A boy with an easel, he thought. What else could he possibly need?
The easel looked much better standing in the garage than folded up against the wall. It looked like the world wanted him to be an artist. He would look at it each morning and look forward to the spring. The easel was waiting with him, nobly and patiently. That’s how I ought to wait for things, Amaury thought. The easel was already beautiful, before there was any artwork sitting on it, before an artist even came along. It seemed to know what it could do, when the time came.
He thought of the easel sometimes when he was at school. A man does his real learning by himself, he thought. The learning he did at school was okay, but there was something he could learn at the easel that he couldn’t learn anywhere else.
One day he came home and his father, who drove the owl bus for the city at night, was not asleep as he usually was.
“I’m sorry, Amaury,” he said. “When I came in this morning, I pulled in too close to your easel. I cracked one of its legs.”
Amaury ran to the garage. The easel was leaning to one side, like a wounded animal. The break hadn’t gone all the way through, but it was just barely hanging on. Amaury got some medical tape and began taping up the break. He rolled it over several times, until it was bulging with tape.
How would it be now when he took the easel out to paint the people and the places? The people would laugh at his easel, and they would forget to be proud of themselves for having somebody paint them and their street. He didn’t want to paint them laughing like that. Even if somebody saw the painting afterwards and thought that it was just a friendly laughter. He wanted to paint them going about their day.
It rained for days and days in February and it seemed like spring would never come anyway. Amaury got used to seeing his easel with a taped-up leg. Still sometimes he thought of how he should’ve kept it folded up against the wall before. Then he wouldn’t have minded all this rain and his only thought would’ve been of when he could take the easel out. The whole street would’ve known when it was spring then. It must be spring, they’d say to each other, because the artists are out with their easels. And he’d be too busy to notice them, same as the birds and the trees and everything else that came alive in spring.
When there was a break in the rain, it seemed hopeful again. The city looked so beautiful when the sun broke through for even just a little while that Amaury thought the people would care more that an artist was painting than about his easel having a bandaged leg. They would know where the priorities lay. But the rain would start up again and he wouldn’t be so sure.
It would be lousy if the accident kept him from a great career in art. Something didn’t add up though: His father was a nice man and he had apologized. That was all he could do. Maybe it was an artist’s job to not care if the people he was painting laughed at his easel. Maybe he was supposed to paint them the way he wanted them to be. If that was how it was, then it seemed like being an artist was much harder than he realized, and it was possibly the hardest thing in the world. Because you couldn’t start thinking of how you wanted them to be only when you stood at your easel. You had to be thinking of that before you got there, at least a little bit, at least enough to see a little crack of how they could be that would lead to the big picture. It might be just a very small crack, but that was all you needed.
Somehow a small glimpse of that was as big as a view from the top of the hills of the city where he’d seen artists standing with easels before. And he felt foolish for having brought home the easel because a real artist knew they were an artist before they found an easel on the street. Even if he was right that an artist ought to paint people the way he wanted them to be, he knew he was not great at painting or drawing. He was just a guy who liked easels. That was not enough of a reason to keep one though, and the next time there was a break in the rain, he took the easel and left it in an empty lot on Valencia Street, leaning against a fence beside a wall that had a mural of the Aztecs and Tenochtitlan.
His father was going to work that evening and when he passed by the lot, he saw the easel leaning against the fence. He recognized its taped-up leg. He didn’t know what it meant. He liked the sight of the easel in the garage as well, and he still felt bad for having cracked its leg. He thought about it all night as he drove up and down Geary Street. It made him sad to think of the easel leaning against the wall like that and it made him sad to think that Amaury had given up on it. When he drove past the lot in the morning, the easel was gone.
In the afternoon when Amaury came home, his father was not asleep as he usually was.
“You got rid of the easel,” his father said.
“Yes,” Amaury said. “I’m not an artist, Pop. I’m just a guy who likes easels.”
“What else do you like?”
“I like books.”
His father was quiet. “If you like easels,” his father said. “That’s a perfectly good reason to keep an easel around.”
Amaury saw that the easel mattered to his father. It wasn’t just something he’d happened to bump into with his car.
“You’re right, Pop.”
“You don’t have to be an artist to have an easel around.”
Amaury went to his room to read his book and he thought that even if he wasn’t an artist, there sure was something he understood about art, which wasn’t only that a guy who could paint ought to paint people the way he wanted them to be, it was that the moment of art was the moment when the way he wanted them to be turned out to be the way they were, and then some, and he sure hoped that even if he didn’t paint them, he would be able to do something with that someday.
Siamak Vossoughi was born in Tehran and grew up in Seattle and lives in San Francisco, where he came because he loved the writing of William Saroyan. He writes short stories and is also working on a novel. Some of his writing has appeared in Faultline, Fourteen Hills, Prick of the Spindle, River and Sound Review, the Brooklyn Voice, and Lost Coast Review. He is the recipient of the 2013 Very Short Fiction Award from Glimmer Train. He does miss Seattle too.