"Dreaming in Acrylic" By Christine Stoddard

The garage hummed with the sounds of dying light bulbs and stray crickets' songs. A fan spun crookedly in the center of the moldy ceiling, threatening to smash against the artist's workbench if not soon replaced. Selena, a short redhead, flicked her blue-tinged paintbrush in between her fingers. A fleck of paint splattered her baggy corduroy pants. She tried to scrape off the splotch with her thumbnail, only to bray in frustration a moment later. "I can't believe I stained them already," Selana muttered. When she wiped her brow, the stench of rubber cement and old acrylic seared her nostrils. Five long strips of film lied before Selena on the concrete floor. Two, blank. Three exploding with dots and ribbons of teal, aqua, forest green, beige, and gold. On the first strip, the word "Peacock" appeared in stylized scrawling. "Flapping through" graced the second, while "the sand" was on the third. Selena seized one strip and held it up to the light that struggled to imbue the room. Traces of glitter flickered in a faint line along the sprocket holes. When the fervent filmmaker noticed a mangled moth in the strip's last frame, her bottom lip curled down clownishly. "Sorry, little martyr."

Selena shoved aside the boxes and cans cluttering her workbench. She placed the strip down on the musty wood and gently tried removing the moth. It writhed the moment she touched one of its torn wings. Then its legs kicked with the intensity of a young bamboo plant shooting up from the earth. "Just..." The girl's whole body tensed up as she prepared to touch the moth again. Using only the crescent moon on the edge of her pinkie, she nudged it. The moth flapped even more furiously than before. "Please...be...still." The moth did not heed Selena's words. The girl became even stiffer when she realized that she could not save the insect from its slow death. She sighed and relaxed her shoulders a second later. Leaving the strip on the workbench, Selena returned to her spot on the floor. She grabbed a toothpick, positioned it between her dirty fingers, and began scratching her initials into the third finished strip of film. The toothpick's squeaking added to the garage's ambient noise, noise that in any other neighborhood in Arlington on any other day of the week would have gone unnoticed.

The artist's evening stretched on for a few more hours. Paintbrushes flew, toothpicks snapped in half, and cicadas eventually serenaded the urban suburb. "There," Selena whispered to herself, "For once, a vision realized." She turned to her workbench. Her eyes scanned the bench's contents, from plastic rulers to stubby pencils to orange tissue paper to plastic doll arms to scented permanent markers. Finally, her gaze landed on an aerosol can full of fixative. Selena picked it up, shook it, and then sprayed her filmstrips like her fingertip was glued to the button. Within a minute, the fixative's vapors danced into a big cloud and enveloped Selena from the waist up. She started coughing and spitting, eyelids a flutter. "Christ...how...did..." Selena threw down the can and ran outside for a gulp of fresh air. A block party, just waning down after half a dozen neighbors chit-chatted about PTA meetings and garden societies over hotdogs, stood mere yards away from where Selena panted. Hands on her knees, Selena looked up. One of her neighbors, a bald man in his late twenties, waved at her. Selena swallowed, managed a weak wave, and headed back into the garage. She slammed the door behind her with a short-lived burst of strength.

"I'm dizzy, but I'm not so dizzy I can put up with them," Selena said and coughed again. She beat her chest. "Just have to hang these up and then I can go to bed." Selena scooped up her filmstrips and approached a rickety garment rack in one corner of the garage. Lungs still burning, she quickly clipped each strip onto the line hung across the width of the rack. Then she scurried to the door closest to her house. Before leaving, she took one more glance at the suspended filmstrips and then another at the one on the workbench. She winced at the thought of the moth's death, but swiftly shifted to the thought of her finished film. Smiling, Selena stepped out the door and headed to her futon. The remnants of the block party disappeared just as Selena had stripped herself of her T-shirt and corduroys. By the time she had slipped into her favorite velour sweatsuit, silver clouds began to billow in the sky. A barred owl cried for its supper just as Selena rested her head upon her pillow with another cough. Selena darted out of bed the next morning, auburn curls whipping through the breeze until she halted at the garage door. She jangled the keys in the lock, wrists shaking. "Please be dry, please be dry, please be--"

Selena pushed through the door, but stopped in her tracks at the sight she beheld. "N-n-no..." The rack, bereft of its filmstrips, discreetly occupied its usual corner. The clothespins were strewn across the floor. And a neatly formed mound of sand sat by the rack, shimmering with bits of mica. Randomly sticking out of every side of the mound were glorious peacock feathers. Their emerald eyes winked at Selena, who had crumpled in the garage doorway. She stared at the floor in shock until a whirring caught her attention. Selena looked up. The moth from the previous night soared above her, carrying the weight of the filmstrip on its tail. The strip flowed as elegantly as if it was part of the moth's physiology. It glimmered in to the streams of early sunlight. Pumping harder and harder, the moth flew above Selena's head, into her backyard, high into the surrounding yew tress, and then higher still. Selena pressed her back against the doorframe and wept.

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