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New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings. – Lao Tzu


JUNE 19th

Banks Bartel hated deadlines. As an artist, limits were what he was taught to throw off in school. Time and space should never interfere with his creative process. The absolute pouring of his soul into his art couldn’t and shouldn’t be bound by mere days on a calendar or sleepless nights of introspective pondering. And yet as he sat in his studio and gazed at the sculpture he’d been obsessing over, what mattered most wasn’t the texture, the line or composition of the work. It was the time frame he was being held to. Commissioned artwork had deadlines and this one fell on his least favorite day of the year.

In what was to be his hometown’s Sesquicentennial celebration, the forty-foot, six thousand pound stainless steel sculpture for the rehabilitated town square needed to be finished, delivered and installed for the upcoming Independence Day celebration. He had two weeks – two short weeks.

As Banks watched the sliding door to his barn studio open to the sunlight, he had an inkling of who was coming to see him. What he didn’t know was if he wanted hear what she had to say.

“Banks!” his sister shouted.

Grace Bartel squinted – impatient for her eyes to adjust to the dark conditions her brother was accustomed to working in. She was a spark plug at four foot ten inches tall and as petite in frame as she was in stature. But Grace’s looks were deceiving. She had a temper as fiery as the red hair on her head and a short fuse to accompany it. She was tiny, but a force to be reckoned with. It was the face she presented to the world, but underneath she was a girl on the verge of giving up.

A sommelier and owner of her own wine shop, The Seller, Grace was a shrewd businesswoman – even if Banks did have to talk her out of naming her store Grace’s Whines.

She pushed the wide doors of the massive studio barn closed allowing the sunlight to brighten the expansive area for a mere moment.

 “For pity’s sake, it’s dark in here.”

“Hey, Gracie,” Banks nodded as he pulled the heavy welding helmet from where it sat perched on his forehead. He rubbed his face, unable to recall when he’d put it on or exactly why it was there. He’d not worked, let alone tap-started an arc in days. He had good intentions, but couldn’t seem to finish and let it go.

“How’s it coming along?” Grace asked, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek and promptly wiping his salty taste from her lips.

“I need more time.”

“To do what? Wring your hands and worry that it’s not right? It’s never going to be right…for you.”

He knew what she said was true. What he didn’t know was how to commemorate something so personal. How did he translate what he felt without baring his soul in one piece of art that was to be shared by so many?

 He shook off the emotion and shoved his hands in his pockets. “What brings you to the boonies? Surely you didn’t come all the way out here to see if I was still on task.”

As the words crossed his lips, he knew no matter what she said that was the reason she’d come to visit.

“No,” she smiled at him, dropping her shoulders. “I just worry about my big brother from time to time. Is that okay?”

“Does the worry come with a sandwich from your shop?” Banks asked as his stomach growled. It was nearly noon and he’d begun toiling away in the studio at four in the morning after a fitful night of sleep – if you could call what he did sleeping. He hadn’t realized how empty his body felt. He’d been too consumed with the emptiness of his mind.

“What do you think?” she asked, giving him a half-grin.

“You wouldn’t make the effort to check up on me if you didn’t bring me some sort of sustenance, and since I’m pretty damn sure you’re not going to bring me wine from your store at noon, hopefully you’ve got a sandwich tucked somewhere in that huge bag you call a purse.”

Banks and his sister Grace looked enough alike to be siblings, but bore no resemblance to either of their parents. Adopted at the ages of seven and nine from Russia, they had been inseparable for most of their life. In fact, the Bartels initial plan twenty-two years ago was to adopt one child. But when they discovered Banks had a younger sister who refused to leave his side, they knew they would be getting a package deal. Now that they were grown, not much had changed.

The Bartel family wasn’t one of power and wealth but love and support. Banks had worked hard to be the type of artist that didn’t worry where his next meal was coming from and in turn had afforded Grace the opportunity to travel to Europe to find herself. The fact that, for the time being, Banks’ works were sought after and the money was good wasn’t something either of them took for granted, as they were both still able to remember what it was like living in an orphanage in Astrakhan, Russia.

Now that they were older, they remained closely knit, clinging tightly to each other for support just as they’d always done.

“How’s the arm?” Grace asked as she handed over the saran-wrapped turkey on whole wheat and strained to check out the bandage on her brother’s left forearm.

“It’s fine. I’m fine,” he droned. “I’m going back to have the stitches taken out in a few days. The doctor said just to come back in the ER and he’d take care of it for me.”

For as beautifully artistic as Banks was in his work, he seemed careless or perhaps just accident-prone while in his workshop. Three weeks ago he’d fallen from a ladder while working above the metal sculpture, slicing his forearm open resulting in a trip to the emergency room in town. He was unhappy with the physical pain, but thankful to have an excuse not to work for a few days.

“Do you want me to go with you? You know, for moral support?” Grace asked with a mixture of sarcasm and sincerity.

“I think I’ll be just fine alone. Besides, I’m sure you have better things to do than sit with me in the ER.”

“Actually, I have a massage scheduled.”

Banks let out a quiet chuckle. He’d given her a gift certificate for a massage over a year ago and soon found out she had no intention of disrobing and allowing someone to rub their hands all over her body while tranquil music played in the background.

For Banks, a monthly ninety-minute massage was a necessity. The constant movement and isolation of his body in contorted ways meant sore muscles. Regular massage was the best way for him to unwind the tension in his body. Still, it did nothing to unwind his mind.

 “Did you schedule it with my girl Belinda?”

“Yes,” she replied as she cocked her hip to one side and shook her head.

“Excellent. I know you’ll have a good experience with her. I would hate for your first massage to be…”

“What?” she asked. “Horrible?”

“Weird,” Banks replied with a smile.

“What could be weird about it? Damn you, Banks. Now you have me thinking.”

“About what?” he laughed. “I’m sorry. It won’t be weird. She’s great. Go and relax. I’m glad you’re finally using your birthday present.”

“You’re killing me, Banks. You know that?” Grace sighed as she came in for a hug. “If you weren’t my brother, I’d think you were some good-looking guy who holes up in a barn in the middle of nowhere and welds crap together and calls it art.”

“You mean that’s not who I am?” Banks whispered into her shoulder as she hugged him tightly.

“No,” Grace shook her head. “You’re my good-looking brother who needs to find a girl.”

“Grace,” he sighed.

“Okay, okay.” Grace backed off her words with her body. “But you’ve got to get out more, Banks. I worry about you. You’ve really not gone anywhere or done much of anything since –”

“I know,” he replied as he shoved his hands back into his pockets and looked away. He didn’t want to have this conversation. Not today. Not this close to July fourth.

“I’m saying this because I love you. Everyone is trying to move forward, Banks. You should too.”

“Why do you think I agreed to do this piece?” he asked, gesturing to the mound of steel that hung over them. “This is for everyone.”

“Honestly?” Grace replied as she slid the barn door open just enough to slip out and into the daylight. “I think you did it for her.”



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