James M. Welke
The Cobalt Incident

“Damn it! Again. Where the hell are my shoes?”

He trips over the shoes parked right smack on the rug, where he always leaves them. When he is sober.

Now he is drunk. Drunk enough to drop a tube of cobalt oil paint on the floor, and step on it when he bends to pick it up. He stumbles forward like a misguided marionette. Ka-thump! Spla-a-a-a-a-t! Viscous, blue, oil paint sprays from between the toes of his left foot. Momentum carries him forward another step, onto his right foot. He tips forward, palette and brush in hand. As if he intended to, he releases the palette and brush as both hands reach the floor; the left hand props him -- his painting hand. He inclines in a sort of a track runner’s starting block pose. He deposits the brush and palette on the maple floor planks, shakes his left foot in the air behind him, like a cat that steps in a puddle, and sends the tube of cobalt cart wheeling. It leaves a meteor trail of paint spots on the polished, rented floor.

In his half-cocked runner position, he observes the tube land, and spin, wheel of fortune like. After a dozen or so scratchy, bluey-spewey rotations, it halts. The tube, uncapped, gapes at him, blue-eyed. He rises halfway to his feet, rests his right hand on the small of his back. Incrementally, vertebrae-ically, he straightens all the way up. A sprout grinding up out of a nut, time-lapse style. He looks around the room; surveys it, as if he expects to discover a cowboy villain, with a handful of paint tubes, ready at the draw. Ready to toss them in a misguided marionette’s path.


No one is there. Again. Embarrassment envelops his battered psyche. He is alone. Embarrassment makes no sense. But he can still imagine someone knocking on the door.

A half empty quart of Jack Daniels, the cap gone AWOL, stands on his paint bench, under a humming fluorescent light. Center stage. He is drunk. His latest work, a thirty-six by thirty-six canvas, looks like a child painted it; a drunken child. No one ever knocks on his door.

He sits down on a table, on which rests a tray full of old, nearly empty, mostly dry paint tubes; a cup full of inverted brushes, and another palette with a few palette knives for those smeary moments.

A table leg gives out and he falls to the floor.


He sighs, and pulls on his left shoe, blue-lubricated. A knock at the door interrupts his reverie. He stumbles toward the buzzer.

“Who the fuck is it?” he says.

“Dave. ...From the gallery.”

“What do you want?”

“I’ve brought a reporter. From the New York Times. A critic. He wants to do a story.... He needs an interview. Open up, Diego.”

“Fuck off,” the misguided marionette says, embarrassed.


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