All right, so I needed gas and rolled into the Sunoco practically on fumes and next to me was Bob Ross. And I’m like, hey, hey man, Bob? Bob Ross? He nodded. Look at those trees, I said. Tell me about those trees, and Bob Ross was like I’m just filling my gas, friend.
He was filling up with Premium. Must be something, to live like Bob Ross. I ran into the food mart quickly, keeping my eye on Bob through the window. I slapped down a ten on the counter. Pump three please. Under the harsh lights and amidst the aroma of slowly churning hot dogs I realized maybe I was dead and this was a kind of waystation to heaven and Elvis and Jesus would pull in any moment. Gran always said she saw Jesus in things: toast, tea, Target.
I ran back out and selected the cheapest gas. Bob Ross was at the pump next to mine and his car was a 1985 Plymouth Voyager. You know that minivan? The one with the wood paneling along the side. It was just like Gran’s living room – minus the crystal bowls of Werthers and Precious Moments dolls. But the wood paneling. Sometimes it felt like those panels were prison bars. She eventually had the paneling taken down and after that I’d push my cheek up against the cold plaster of the wall and feel free and soothed, but like something was missing. Gran raised me after my parents left, together. I spent hours watching PBS while my grandmother knit in the corner. She made scarves that never ended. She didn’t say much except to say the following things: Are you capable of anything? What do you want to be when you grow up? Why don’t you apply yourself in school? But then, once she gave me some paints and a book of fancy paper just because. She’d run her fingers along the paint when it dried and pulled her lips into a line and said she liked my use of textures
One of my first paintings was of a great big tree with a nest of robins in a high branch. Robins don’t nest that high up, Gran said, but she hung it on the fridge anyway, where it still was, nearly twenty years later, hidden beneath coupons, childhood school photos of my mom, and reminders of doctors’ appointments long passed.
I said, hey Bob Ross. Your car reminds me of my Gran and he was all offended and I was like no, no, in a good way. You know those Precious Moments dolls? I said. With their eyelashes and cow eyes?, he asked. Yeah, I said. Those. I didn’t mean it like that but I didn’t think Bob Ross wanted to hear what I really meant.
Bob Ross was quiet for a moment and then was like, yeah. They were cute.
I loved watching your show when I was a kid, I said, toeing my shoe along some old gum, suddenly shy.
Thanks, he said and began to clean his windshield. Small rivers of dirt water fell off the ends as he completed one line then the next. Even finer strips of dirt were left on the windshield. It went dirt, clean window, dirt, clean window, so that when Bob was satisfied, he replaced the brush into the murky water bucket by the pumps. I looked at the not entirely straight lines in his windshield and thought, this was an artist.
He didn’t say anything else and I felt compelled to fill the space of silence. The trees, you know. The little trees, you made it seem so easy.
Yeah? He paced by his pump, his dollars ticking away behind him on the screen.
Yeah, in the end, just those little marks made everything so beautiful. That’s art.
And I paused for a moment, heard the click of my own gas pump. Yeah, it is, he said.
Back in my car I realized: I just saw Bob Ross. I picked up my cell to take a photo but the Voyager was gone. But I did notice a shiny rainbow puddle where the van had been and believed it was beautiful, in its way, the way all toxic things are. I snapped a quick photo. Maybe I’d share it on social media. My Gran just got a smartphone, so I zipped the image off to her and hoped she’d be able see it.
Jennifer Fliss is a Seattle-based writer whose writing has appeared in PANK, The Rumpus, The Washington Post, and will be in the 2019 Best Small Fictions anthology. She is the 2018/2019 Pen Parentis Fellow and a 2019 recipient of a Grant for Artist Project award from Artist’s Trust. She can be found on Twitter at @writesforlife or via her website, www.jenniferflisscreative.com.