I stopped for a minute and looked at her, taking in the ludicrous sight of this old woman barring my exit. “Winny, do you understand what this means? What you just told me? Do you know what’s going to happen to Joseph?”
“Do you know,” she asked, “that I’m going to lose my car? That you’re going to destroy my credit rating? Is that the way you want to pay me back for bailing you out?
“Listen, Winny. It’s not that I don’t appreciate what you did for me. I do. But can you imagine what’s going to happen to Joseph? Do you want that poor kid going to jail, too?”
“No… I don’t.”
I could see her relax her stance just a little so I stepped forward and said in a softer tone, “Then, you need to let me help him. Please.”
She was lost in thought for a moment, but then she looked up at me and said, “No. I can’t let you do that. Bailing you out makes you my responsibility and I will stop you by whatever means necessary.”
“Meaning,” Winny said, “that I have a gun in my purse and I am willing to use it if I have to.”
I looked at the little purse she carried. There was no way a gun could fit in that purse. Winny was bluffing and she wasn’t even that good at it.
I couldn’t wait any longer. I puffed up my chest and stepped forward. “I’m going, Winny. I don’t care if I have to move you aside.”
Turns out, her purse was big enough to hold a gun. She pulled it out and pointed it at me without hesitation. “Don’t you listen?” she asked.
“Of course, I listen,” I replied, backing away. “I just thought you were lying, that’s all.”
“Someone threatens you with a gun and you think they’re lying? What the hell’s the matter with you?”
She took a step toward me, herding me into the living room. I moved out of her way like any good sheep. I’m no fan of guns. “Well, when they do that in movies, it always turns out to be a bluff.”
“Movies?” Winny asked.
“Old movies, mostly,” I told her.
“How stupid are you?”
Winny’s question hung in the air, filling the apartment, waiting for an answer. But I wasn’t going to argue. “I can be just as dumb as you need me to be. Just do me a favor and put the gun away.”
“Oh, come on,” she groused. “It’s only a .22.”
“You were going to kill me with a .22?”
“Who said anything about kill?” Winny took her seat on the recliner and spun it in my direction. “I figured I’d shoot you in the foot or in the leg. You’d bleed pretty badly but you probably wouldn’t die.”
The first time I met Joseph Arillo, I didn’t expect I’d go to jail or even get beat up as a result. And yet, that’s exactly what happened.
Joseph was sitting out in the middle of a parking lot the first time I saw him. He was a small kid, not the kind you’d notice, practically invisible. In a downpour, he’d probably weigh a few pounds but it would all be water caught in that long, brown hair of his that went straight down his back. He had brown skin like everybody else in Southern California, except perhaps for me, and wore threadbare clothes like a badge. I was walking out of the liquor store, Rod’s Liquor on the corner of 14th and Main, carrying my morning Strawberry Quik and…
“What’cha got there?” I asked him.
He didn’t answer. He didn’t even look at me.
What he was working at caught my attention, though. There he was, on his hands and knees, practically lying down on the cracked and weathered asphalt… painting.
I opened the ice cold Quik and took a swig. Nothing went down better after a jog than a Quik. You might say that was why I never took off any weight but the hell with you; I didn’t ask.
I walked around to watch him work and to see what he had done. He didn’t move. He didn’t appear defensive or concerned in any way. There, on the ground between the oil stains, faded parking lot lines and various other markings – tire marks and graffiti – this young man was painting… “What is that? A flower?”
He had a silver Sharpie in one hand and a butter knife in the other. He was working the silver onto the concrete around circles of bright red paint, creating the sheen on what would undoubtedly be rose petals. Whenever he made a mistake, he’d take an old, brown brush and dab it out or go back with the Sharpie – but he hardly made any mistakes.
I knelt down and took a look at the pen in his hand. “What’s that? A one inch fine? Where’d you learn to get that kind of detail with a one inch fine?”
“I’m good,” were his first words to me.
“You’re painting flowers in a parking lot, kid. You’re not Michelangelo.” I noticed his choice of paint cans was interesting: old Advil bottles. Big ones. The kind your arthritic grandmother might have. “Still… What’s with the flower?”
Nothing. Not even a glance.
One by one, they filtered out. Donathon left next. Then, Hosanna.
Graciela stayed behind.
“Was there something you needed?” I asked.
“I just wanted to…” she said, stopping herself.
Graciela had risen from her desk, as if to leave, and now walked to the windows and looked outside. “You know, our last teacher, Mister Farmer? He used to have us turn our desks to the window and draw one thing – just one thing – outside the window. Then, he’d grade it. He always told me to draw more because I would focus on something too narrow. I wasn’t drawing enough.” She stopped talking and just stood there, looking outside.
“Yes?” I asked.
Turning back to me, she asked, “How do you draw just one thing and then get told you’re not drawing enough?”
“I don’t know,” I told her.
“Because I think that’s why Alex is so pissed off. You want him to draw one thing and he wants to draw everything. Mister Farmer probably told him he was drawing too much.”
“Graciela, part of my job is to help you understand the expectations that will be put upon you in the real world.”
“Why?” she asked. She sat down across from me. Now, I guess we were getting down to it.
My answer didn’t require a lot of thought. “Because it would be wrong of me to give any of you false assurances about what you’ll be when you grow up.”
“Your job is to stifle our dreams?” she asked.
“That is not what I said.”
“Because I don’t need you to stifle my dreams, Mister Hollis. Alex doesn’t need you to stifle his dreams.”
Wow. I must have struck a nerve. “Listen,” I said.
“No. I want you to listen,” she countered, and her calm approach, her downright adult-ness about it pretty much shut me up. “You don’t think Alex gets enough people telling him he’s not gonna be an artist? Nobody ever says it to me because everybody assumes I’m gonna do something else with my life. You know? Make money. But this is all Alex has. He’s all about his art. And this is where he goes to draw everything and ignore the people who tell him to draw only one thing.” She rose from her seat and picked up her book bag. Where the other students were dressed in summer casual shorts and t-shirts, Graciela Kim dressed smart in slacks and a ruffled top and her hair was kept neat. But after that little outburst, a few stray hairs fell in front of her face and for the first time I saw more than just competence in there. I saw just a hint of passion as well. And I wondered if Alex Alfaro had ever seen that, too. “I’m sorry,” she said.
“Don’t be,” I told her. “I’m new at this. I don’t know if you know that.”
Title: Work of Art: An Intention of Flowers
Author: Ken La Salle
Genre: YA / Contemporary Fiction
Thick tempera paint.
A parking lot filled with history, fear, and regret.
A young man named Joseph Arillo sits in the parking lot and paints the pavement with flowers.
And Andy Hollis steps in it.
As the new art teacher at Santa Ana High School, he’s too curious about Joseph’s Flowers and unravels both of their lives in his pursuit for answers.
He learns that it’s all part of a rite of passage, an absurd test started by Joseph Arillo’s father, the suspiciously world-renowned artist named only Tom. Which also connects to the drama teacher at Santa Ana High, Katie Bustos. Whose daughter, Desiree, may or may not be dating Joseph. Who is putting himself in danger from a local gang, the lot’s mysterious history, and the police.
Andy puts himself in danger of losing his job, his home, and his freedom. If he can’t solve the riddle of Joseph’s Flowers, both of their lives will go up in smoke – despite any help from Winny, the old, Slovakian bureaucrat at school, or his students, or Tom himself.
But is Tom trying to help? And is Joseph really up to his father’s test?
And is Andy really fit to be a teacher? He doesn’t understand kids, can’t get to school on time, and… doesn’t appear to care about art or families or anything. But Joseph’s Flowers will challenge everything Andy believes: about himself, about the world, and most importantly of all about art.
Before Andy and Joseph are finished, they will witness the power art has to provide inspiration, to waken our hearts, and to shatter everything you ever believed about humanity.
An Intention of Flowers is the first book in a 5-book series, modestly titled Work of Art, about growing into the person you always wanted to be, making the most of what you have to give and not just what you have, and the power in each of us when we chose to be ourselves.
~ Author Bio ~
Author and occasional philosopher and monologist, Ken La Salle’s passion is intense humor, meaningful drama, and finding answers to the questions that define our lives. Ken La Salle grew up in Santa Ana, California and has remained in the surrounding area his entire life. He was raised with strong, blue collar roots, which have given his writing a progressive and environmentalist view. You can find a growing number of his books and performances available online. Find out more about Ken on his website at www.kenlasalle.com.
Twitter Feed: http://twitter.com/KenLaSalle
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/kenlasalleAuthor
YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/theKenLaSalle
Website link: http://www.kenlasalle.com/
Amazon page link: https://www.amazon.com/Ken-La-Salle/e/B004U6OFQ0/
Enter Ken La Salle’s giveaway for a chance to win one of 5 copies of An Intention of Flowers.